THE WILD GEESE - Andrews Monor, Avalan 2, Fairfax Cricle, Hybla Valley, Landover 2, Mercado Cinema, Springfield Mall 4, Wheaton Place 1.
The aging British mercenaries who go after one more good African massacre in "The Wild Geese" admit to confusion. It's so hard to tell the good guys from the bad guys these days. Richard Harris laments to Richard Burton,and Roger Moore.
No doubt, Mercenary troops are not paid to be political analysts, and those wh are paid for the task are confused enough. The bewilderment of the soldier-for-hire who expects everyone elese to act on predictable loyalties might heve been an interesting film.
But Reginald Rose's screenplay makes the mistake of attempting to superimpose dramatic morality, by making the mercenaries 'good guys, while troops who are fighting on their country's orders are bad guys. Since it is admittedly hard to do this politically, he uses accidents of character and lifestyle instead of issues. Burton's mercenary is cynical but good, because he loves his friends and his whisky; Stewart Granger, as his employer, is obviously bad-bad-bad because he dresses for dinner. Richard Harris' character is good because he loves his child; Roger Moore's is also good because he kills a child - a rich adolescent who deals in drugs.
The British troops who follow them have the difficult task of seeming to be good guys on their enthusiasm for battle alone, since the contempt they express for their respectable jobs and the callousness with which they desert objecting families are not attractitive qualities.
However, once they arrive in Africa, it begins to look suspisiously as if a very old cinematic distinction has been resurrected: The good guys wear white skins and the bad guys wear black ones. And in true cowboy-and-Indian style, the handfol of over-aged whites - Burton, especially, looks as if he were made out of a cheap material that has worn out - has no trouble killing off whole armies of blacks.
Nor is this offset by having a sainted African leader play the role usually assigned to the beautiful Indian princess. Winston Nishona is an Africa president, kidnaped by an African general and now re-kidnaped by the mercenaries who are able, with his cooperation, to negotiate his terrain. They try very hard to show they are not racists by calling him "Mr." - except for a South African mercenary, who is frank to him until stunned and convinced by the wisdom that black and white must work together for a new peace.
Once it's clear that we're back to the old formula, it seems a shame to leave Stewart Grager in London at his elegant dinner parties during the best part of the movie. Granger used to have that hat with the leopard-skin band in "King Solomin's Mines," one of the great old white-man's Africa movies, and would havve been a good guide for the others.