The Sons of Katie Elder

The Sons of Katie Elder
"First, we reunite, then find Ma and Pa's killer...then read some reviews."

Friday, August 2, 2013

Wild Geese II

Stumbling across the DVD for 1978's The Wild Geese about five years ago, I was one happy movie fan. An all-star cast and wall-to-wall action in a men-on-a-mission movie, it quickly became one of my favorite movies. A sequel was made some seven years later, but it received generally negative reviews and hasn't even approached the cult status of the original. It is one hard to find movie, but I kept on looking just the same and found it, 1985's Wild Geese II.

A former soldier, Lebanese-American John Haddad (Scott Glenn) has become an effective if high-priced mercenary. Working out of London, he is approached with a seemingly suicidal mission. One of the last remaining Nazis, Rudolf Hess (Laurence Olivier), is wasting away at Spandau Prison in West Berlin having lived in almost complete isolation for 40-plus years. This group is willing to pay whatever it takes to get Hess out, basically offering Haddad a blank check for his services. Looking over the layout of the prison while also planning ahead for what he hopes is an easy getaway, Haddad agrees to take the job. He recruits an old friend and fellow mercenary, Alex Faulkner (Edward Fox), to help him with the job, but upon arriving in Berlin, the duo finds out that their mission isn't so secret. Several underworld types and other intelligence representatives are very aware of what they're up to. Can they still pull off the job?

If I love a movie -- maybe even just really like it -- I'm usually psyched to find out there's a sequel out there for my viewing pleasure. Without giving away any major spoilers, I can say that the original didn't seem to leave much room or storylines for a follow-up story. The only real link (other than an oddly pointless prologue showcasing the original) is that Fox's Alex is the brother of Richard Burton's character from the first movie. Other than that? It's just your typical mercenary action movie, this one from director Peter R. Hunt. While it is far from a classic action movie, I did enjoy it for what it is; a somewhat deliberately paced men on a mission movie with a unique location (the Berlin locations especially stand out). Maybe it's better if it was a stand-alone film, but it ain't so here we sit just the same. Don't expect too much and you should get some entertainment out of it.

Besides the differences in story, the biggest gap between the original and sequel is the lack of star power. Where the first movie had Burton, Roger Moore, Richard Harris and Hardy Kruger among others, the follow-up doesn't have many names that jump off the page. Glenn is solid if unspectacular as Haddad, the chiseled, efficient mercenary who hasn't met a job he won't take on. It's a good anti-hero part, but I never found myself rooting for him. Fox is more of a scene-stealer, hamming it up as the malaria-ridden Alex, a fellow mercenary who always seems to be in the right place at the right time. Robert Webber makes a quick appearance as McCann, the leader of the group who wants Hess with Barbara Carrera as his on-site specialist working with Haddad.

Enlisted to write a follow-up novel to his Wild Geese, author Daniel Carney turned around and wrote The Square Circle, the basis for this sequel. I've yet to read it (currently seeking out the novel), but I'm very curious to see how much the movie differs from it. For starters, the reasoning here for busting Hess out of Spandau seems forced to say the least. Webber's McCann works for a major TV news network who wants to interview Hess about people he worked with, people with higher up positions in other country's governments. Really? A TV network organizing a prison breakout? I don't buy it. There had to be a better choice to reason paying a mercenary to bust a Nazi war criminal out of prison. Second, the ending is brutal. It basically washes away the previous two hours, throwing it in the nearest garbage can. It is a lazy ending, wrapping things up because....well, because. It just ends. Weak stuff.

There is the potential here for a pretty decent movie, and I say that having liked it in spite of its flaws at times. All the intrigue and suspense works well as Haddad must elude hired Russian killers while also dealing with Russian (Robert Freitag) and English (Kenneth Haigh) officials, juggling it with how to manage the breakout and getaway. Even look for future Capt. Picard Patrick Stewart as a Russian general! The mission itself over the last 40 minutes is the high point by far, Haddad's intricate plan coming together detail by detail. Too bad the follow-up is just plain bad.

One other thing, more wasted potential as Haddad puts his team together to pull off the mission. Along with Fox's Faulkner, there's Ali (Stratford Johns), the well-connected underworld member, Hourigan (Derek Thompson), the hateful IRA gunman, Murphy (Paul Antrim), the drill sergeant, Michael (John Terry), the TV network rep, Pierre (Malcolm Jamieson), the driver, and Joseph (David Lumsden) and Jamil (Frederick Warder), two Middle Eastern men. Little background is given to any of these characters unfortunately, leaving more untapped potential.    

Wild Geese II (1985): ** 1/2 /****


  1. Evidently Burton was going to reprise his role from the original, but died just before filming started. Hence the awkward stage setting for Edward Fox's character.

  2. Would have been curious to see that version of the film for sure if Burton had been able to make it. It is dedicated to Burton so that's something. That said, Edward Fox ain't a bad fallback option.