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The Wild Geese is a Britishmarker 1978 film about a group of mercenaries in Africa. It stars Richard Burton, Roger Moore, Richard Harris and Hardy Krüger. The film was the result of a long-held ambition of its producer Euan Lloyd to make an all-star adventure film similar to The Guns of Navarone or Where Eagles Dare.

The film was based on an unpublished novel titled The Thin White Line by Daniel Carney. The film was re-named The Wild Geese after a 17th-century Irish mercenary army (see Flight of the Wild Geese) and Carney's novel was subsequently published under that title by Corgi Books.

The novel was based upon rumors and speculation following the 1968 landing of a mysterious aeroplane in Rhodesia, which was said to have been loaded with mercenaries and "an African President" believed to have been a dying Moise Tshombe.


The year is 1977. Allen Faulkner (Richard Burton), a Britishmarker mercenary, meets a man at a London airport who takes him to meet merchant banker Sir Edward Matherson (Stewart Granger). They discuss plans for an assignment, and Faulkner is hired to rescue Julius Limbani(Winston Ntshona), the former leader of a central African country, who is due to be executed by the military dictator who overthrew him. Limbani is being held by the ferocious troops known as the "Simbas" under General Ndofa.

Faulkner recruits 50 other mercenaries including a pilot, Shaun Fynn (Moore); South African Pieter Coetzee (Hardy Krüger); and Faulkner's old friend, Rafer Janders (Richard Harris), who plans the mission. Shaun Fynn enters the mansion of Sonny Martinelli (David Ladd), a mafia drug dealer where Fynn confronts him about unknowlingly smuggling a package of heroin. Fynn kills the bodyguard, then forces Sonny to swallow the entire package at gunpoint, thus choking to death, or dying from (strychnine) poisoning. Faulkner visits Janders who is planning a Christmas vacation with his son Emile. Faulkner persuades Janders to join the mission as the tactician.

Sonny's uncle places a contract on Fynn. Janders and Faulkner find Fynn just before the gangsters can assassinate him. They all three escape as Matherson forces the crime boss to lift the contract by threatening him with blackmail. They meet a government official who is endorsing the rescue, and Janders proposes the contract and plan. The operation is moved ahead of schedule and Janders is forced to cancel his Christmas vacation. Faulkner hires and recruits Sandy Young (Jack Watson) as the drill sergeant for training. Fynn recruits Pieter Coetzee as a lieutenant, and 4th in command under him. Faulkner, Janders, Fynn and Coetzee interview and recruit the enlisted men and the training begins in Swazilandmarker. The night before the mission Pieter expresses reservations about the mission but stays with it. Faulkner thanks Young and tells him that he wants him to be home with his family, and that he won't be needed for the final mission, but Young insists on going.

The group successfully infiltrates Zembala Prison and rescues Limbani. Coetzee uses a powerful crossbow with cyanide-tipped quarrels to take out the prison sentries. The rest of the guards are killed silently with cyanide gas. The group then makes its way to a small airfield to await pickup, but must dispose of numerous hostile soldiers at the airport bar. Thousands of miles away, however, the backers of the project, led by Sir Edward Matherson, reach an agreement with the Zembalese government, and betray the mercenaries. The aeroplane due to collect them is recalled at the last minute and the soldiers are left to fend for themselves deep inside hostile territory. The group then has to fight its way across the country pursued by the Simbas.

The relationship between Limbani and Coetzee is significant, developing from initial animosity: "I bleed red like you, white man; don't call me kaffir" to one of understanding as Coetzee, despite being from deeply segregated South Africa, comes to understand and appreciate Limbani's struggle.

The group is strafed by a low-flying plane which also drops a napalm bomb on their truck convoy and many soldiers die in the attack. Separated into two groups, they try to make their way to Limbani's home village, where they intend to provoke a revolution. Faulkner is forced to kill his own men who are gravely injured as Coetzee observes, "can't leave them to the Simbas."

Coetzee is then killed while saving Limbani from an ambush, leaving another soldier to carry Limbani. Arthur Witty (Kenneth Griffith) is killed while trying to fend off another ambush allowing the rest of the platoon to escape. Arriving at the village, an Irish missionary alerts them to the presence of an aging transport plane, a Dakota. In addition to the Dakota to provide for their escape , the mercenaries also use a Vickers machine gun to defend themselves.

As hordes of Simbas arrive, the group prepares for an all-out attack. Many of the mercenaries are killed. Fynn prepares to pilot the plane as Limbani is loaded aboard and one by one the soldiers climb into the plane as it taxis down the dirt runway. Fynn is shot in the leg through the fuselage but manages to keep the plane going. Rafer Janders, the last to board, is also shot in the leg and can only hobble along pathetically as the plane gains speed. With the Simbas approaching, he implores Faulkner to shoot him.

Faulkner cannot bear to shoot his friend, but there is no hope as Janders cries out his son's name: "Emile! Emile!" and he pulls the trigger.

The plane is initially refused landing permission in Rhodesia but after they provide proof that Limbani is aboard they are given permission to land. By the time they land Limbani is dead from a wound he received while being loaded aboard.

Faulkner then returns to Londonmarker with Fynn to exact revenge on Sir Edward Matherson. Faulkner breaks into Sir Edward's residence and takes half of the originally agreed payment from his safe, and then kills him.

The film ends with Faulkner fulfilling a promise to Janders by meeting with Emile at his boarding school. They walk away from the rugby field after Faulkner offers to tell Emile about his father.


Principal filming took place in South Africa, with additional studio filming at Twickenhammarker Film Studios in Middlesexmarker. The 'rugby' scenes were filmed over a period of two days at Marble Hill Park in Twickenhammarker with extras drafted in from nearby Teddingtonmarker boys school. Marble Hill Close nearby Marble Hill Park was also filmed. The fictional country is said to lie on the border with Burundimarker; Rwandamarker and Zambia are also mentioned to be close by.

United Artists were enthusiastic about the film, but insisted Lloyd give the director's job to Michael Winner. Lloyd refused and instead chose Andrew V. McLaglen, a British-born American previously known mainly for making westerns. The finance for the film was raised partly by pre-selling it to distributors based on the script and the names of the stars who were set to appear. This would later become a more common practice in the film industry, but was unusual at the time.

The music, by Roy Budd, originally included an overture and end title music, but both of these were replaced by "Flight of the Wild Geese", written and performed by Joan Armatrading. All three pieces are included on the soundtrack album, as well as the song "Dogs of War" (which was included in the movie without the vocals). The soundtrack was originally released by A&M Records then later released under licence as a Cinephile DVD.


Although Lloyd had both Richard Burton and Roger Moore in mind for their respective roles from a relatively early stage, other casting decisions were more difficult. As the mercenaries were mostly composed of military veterans (some of whom had fought under Faulkner's command before), it was necessary to cast a number of older actors and extras into these physically demanding roles. A number of veterans and actual mercenary soldiers appeared in the film.

Irishmarker actor Stephen Boyd, a close friend of Lloyd's, was originally set to star as Sandy Young, the Sergeant Major who trains the mercenaries before their mission. However, Boyd died shortly before filming commenced and Jack Watson was chosen as a late replacement. He had previously played a similar role in McLaglen's film The Devil's Brigade (1968).

Lloyd had offered the part of the banker Matherson to his friend Joseph Cotten. However, scheduling difficulties meant that he also had to be replaced, this time by Stewart Granger. This was Granger's first film part since 1967.

Burt Lancaster originally hoped to play the part of 'Rafer Janders' who in Carney's book was an American living in London. However, Lancaster wanted the part substantially altered and enlarged. The producers instead chose Richard Harris.

Hardy Krüger was not the first actor considered for the role of 'Pieter Coetzee'. Producer Lloyd originally thought of Peter van Eyck and even Curd Jürgens, but felt that "Hardy seemed to fit." Krüger was also impressed by the script scenes played with Limbani.

Lloyd hesitated before offering the role of 'Witty' (the homosexual medic) to his longtime friend Kenneth Griffith, due to the controversial nature of the role. When finally approached, Griffith said "Some of my dearest friends in the world are homosexuals!" and accepted the part.

Percy Herbert, who played the role of 'Keith', was a veteran of World War II, in which he had been wounded in the defence of Singaporemarker, then captured by the Imperial Japanese Army and interned in a POW camp.

Alan Ladd's son David Ladd and Stanley Baker's son Glyn Baker had roles in the film.

Ian Yule, who played 'Tosh Donaldson', had been a real mercenary in Africa in the 1960s and '70s. He was cast locally in South Africa. He then brought his former commanding officer, Michael "Mad Mike" Hoare, who had led the actual Wild Geese mercenary troops in the Congo Crisis of the 1960s, to be the technical advisor for the film.

Rosalind Lloyd, who played 'Heather', is Euan Lloyd's daughter. Her mother, actress Jane Hylton, played 'Mrs. Young'.


The film was a considerable commercial success in Britain and other countries worldwide, but was hit by the collapse of its American distributor Allied Artists. As a result, the film was only partially distributed in the United Statesmarker.

The production was also the subject of controversy because of the decision to film in South Africa during the Apartheid regime, and because of the film's portrayal of black characters. There were enormous protests by anti-apartheid campaigners at the film's London premiere.


Additional crew


After 7 years the makers were persuaded to mount a sequel Wild Geese II, based on the novel Square Circle (later republished as Wild Geese II), also by Daniel Carney. This time the main character, Alex Faulkner, is engaged to break Nazi politician Rudolf Hess out of Spandau Prisonmarker. See article Wild Geese II (1985)


  • Euan Lloyd had to sell his car, his wife's fur coat and re-mortgage his house to raise initial financing for the film.

  • A publisher had already turned down Carney's novel, when Euan Lloyd bought the script he promised to get it published, which he did almost as soon as he took the manuscript to Hollywood.

  • The badge seen on the blazer of Emile Janders (played by Paul Spurrier) is that of Teddington Boys school, which provided extras for the rugby scenes. Also the boys passing the ball with Paul were chosen because they were the shortest of the extras and best matched his height.

  • Much of the team behind The Wild Geese had come from the James Bond series, including editor John Glen, designer Syd Cain, title designer Maurice Binder, stunt arranger Bob Simmons and star Roger Moore.

  • Roger Moore celebrated his 50th birthday during filming. A military veteran himself, he helped some of the other actors learn the "military look", i.e. teaching them to march and salute.

  • Despite the film being made during the Apartheid years in South Africa, Lloyd managed to have all crew and cast members living and working together in South Africa with no racial barriers whatsoever. Lloyd had allegedly told the South African government that there would be no apartheid on the film set and they had agreed to this.

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