Sunday, August 01, 2010

Lions, Lyin', Legends and Wind

...It's a delightful film. As a specimen of cinematic art, The Wind And The Lion is at least a decade out of its time: a big movie, a film in which dramatic scenery, boldly sweeping narrative and larger-than-life actors carry you off to a place and time you'd never otherwise see. It's a thumping grand adventure; fans of Kipling and Heinlein will be right at home.

As history, it's bunk. Razzle-dazzle; the real Perdicaris kidnapee was a man (and his son), one Ion Perdicaris, who'd swapped his U.S. passport for Greek citizenship to avoid losing properties in the Carolinas during the Late Unpleasantness. And while Mr. Perdicaris did indeed come to admire and consider "Raisuli" a friend, the real Mulai Ahmed er Raisuni, splendid though he was to his nominal equals, was equally capable of the most appalling cruelty toward prisoners he considered unworthy. His cinematic counterpart delivers a quick, clean death to lowly opponents; the real Raisuni once burned out a Moroccan emissary's eyes with hot coins. The Marines barely landed; the French and Germans sat on the sidelines, heavily armed. If you're looking for an history lesson, you're in the wrong classroom.

That said-- If you're looking for a sense of who Theodore Roosevelt was, of the men who comprised his Presidential cabinet; if you're after the mood of the times, a glimpse of the complex politics of North Africa in the dawn of a new century and how the United States Marine Corps solves problems, this is a film for you. In playing fast and loose with the facts, in turning a minor incident (and a major slogan -- "Raisuli Dead Or Perdicaris Alive!" is cold sober history) into a moving tale of derring-do, in scrubbing up a pirate for the drawing-room, John Milius (wotta man!) sacrificed strict truth and cold reality for the true-to-heart, for a look at men (and women) not so much as they were but as who they aspired to be. (This film even gets attaboys from North Africans -- and it's not at all flattering to the ruling powers).

Highly recommended. Brian Keith's TR is exactly the fellow who stood up to asthma (and knocked it down), the cowboy in eyeglasses, the man who read Tom Paine and concluded him "a dirty little atheist," the courageous soldier, the Progressive* who, for good or ill, created the National Park system, the bold leader who used the Big Stick as an artist wields a brush: three-dimensional. Sean Connery's Raisuli is equally well-drawn and Steve Kanaly's Marine Captain is everything you'd want a USMC officer to be. Candace Bergen, cast at the last minute, handles her role as though it had been written for her.

Trailer here. Have a look; you might want to get a bigger TV before buying the DVD.

Tam tells me we have Matt G to thank for pointing her at this film and pointing this film at her. Well done, sir!
* For additional perspective on T.R. and the early Progressive movement, I'd suggest Selected Letters Of William Allen White 1899--1943. Fascinating reading, though if you favor a simplified take on U.S. politics, it may knock a few pins loose.


Anonymous said...

Glad you found this. This has been one of my favorite movies since the mid '80s (I have it on Beta). Another good Candice Bergen adventure is "Bite the Bullet", and of course "Sand Pebbles" is top notch.

Fuzzy Curmudgeon said...

I always loved this movie, even though I knew the first time I watched it that the plot was more than a bit askew (I took two semesters of American Diplomatic History for my undergrad major and it was hard not to snort and giggle most of the way through the film).

And you're spot on -- Brian Keith was TR as TR should be portrayed.

Drang said...

I'm having a hard time dealing with the fact that you (and Tam?) apparently just discovered one of the greatest movies of all time. Didn't think I was that much older than you. Dang kids, not appreciating good cinema. Damnit, get of my lawn!

admin said...

You hit the ail on the head. Another good one of similar vintage is Robin and Marian.

Blackwing1 said...

A great Sean Connery/Michael Caine movie is "The Man Who Would Be King", the stupendous adaptation of the Kipling story by John Huston.

The role of Kipling is played superbly by Christopher Plummer, but the duo of Connery/Caine cannot be beaten. Saeed Jaffrey is also great in the role of "Billyfish", and there are line in the movie ("enemies all around") that are household phrases here.

Well worth seeking out.

Fuzzy Curmudgeon said...

Any man who does not have tears in his eyes after the bridge scene in TMWWBK is a sad specimen of the species.

Justthisguy said...

Oh, yeah. I actually did sleep with a woman with a sword between us, once. We had both recently watched the movie. It was a Saturday night and she was simultaneously begging me to attend Mass with her on the morrow and getting all mink-like with me. It weirded me out, and there was a saber lying around, so I went and got it. I'll never understand the Roman mind.

Justthisguy said...

Yeah, Nathan, but I liked the funny parts better. I mind the Afghan-arithmetic scene with the cartridges in the campfire, the ventriloquistic Sergeant-voice incident, the meeting with the failed Pundit in the train, etc.

The most emotionally affecting part for me was the very end, where Caine opens the bag to produce The Head.

WV: micedi. What my kitty would say.

Borepatch said...

Great movie, and both boys loved it. It's not often you get something from Hollywood that you want your boys to watch. Happened more often hack then.

Matthew said...

When I attended Boot Camp in 1990 the Marine assault scene, from the pier to the capture, was shown for motivation.

It worked. =)

Tango Juliet said...

I pimped this flick fairly extensively on my blog (while it existed anyway.) One of my all time favorite flicks.

I kinda consider this film a "poor man's Lawrence of Arabia. The epic that almost was.

Yeah, it's terribly inaccurate, historically speaking, but still, as most here have observed, it's a well done and fun flick to watch.

T.R's (Keith's) soliloquy under the trees, in the hunting camp, after the bear attack, with horses rolling in the background, is priceless.

Brian Keith was T.R.

So many memorable moments in this film. Where does one start?

The cannon battle, the historically accurate firearms? T.R's Sedgely Krag?

Winchester?! Winchester?!! I've never heard of such a rifle.

You will.

Why spoil the beauty of the thing with legalities?

Sherif, is there not one thing in your life that was worth losing everything for?

I'll see you again Mrs Pedicaris, when we're both like golden clouds on the wind.

To Theodore Roosevelt:

You are like the wind and I, like the lion. You form the tempest. The sand stings my eyes and the ground is parched.

I roar in defiance but you do not hear. But between us there is a difference. I, like the lion, must remain in my place.

While you, like the wind, will never know yours.

Mouli Achmed Mohammed El Rasuli the Magnificent Lord of the Rift Sultan to the Berbers

Milius has contributed so many great lines to filmdom (I love the smell of napalm in the morning...)
good to see one of his films get some recognition here on your blog.

And the soundtrack was, and is, fantastic.

Be sure to watch it with Milius' comment track enabled at least once.

What a movie!!! What a story!!!!

Excellent review btw.

Ed Foster said...

What Massa Drang said. One of my favorites of all time.

And all the T.R. dialogue bitching about the fit of the Winchester is taken word for word from his correspondence with the Winchester plant in New Haven.

Technically, they should have been carrying Lee Navy straight-pulls, as the Krags weren't issued to the Navy and Marines until the Army replaced them with 1903's, but it was solid cool, and yes, it does say something about the American character back in those days.

Plus, the squids were wheeling a Colt "Potato Digger" machinegun into position. When was the last time you saw one of them in a movie?

And the British gent with the Webley had a certain style as well. His "Damn" seemed more annoyance with the lack of ammunition and losing the chance to drop a few more "wogs" than with his imminent demise.

Welcome to the club.

Matt G said...

I cannot believe that I missed your review of the very movie that I sent you and Tam!

Ed Foster nails my view of the British ambassador. Lorimor sees what I loved, too.

The Marine assault should be run on a constant loop at every Marine recruiting booth, everywhere. Damned if I didn't want to join them.

The thing is, even if the sultan's palace wasn't specifically taken by force, the threat that it could be, by the Great White Fleet in the harbour, was implicit. That's a win by military intervention, even without firing shots or swinging sabres.