Reappreciation Society: The Wind And The Lion

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Writer / director John Milius counts The Wind And The Lion as one of his own favourite works; it’s a highly engaging, witty and old school adventurous examination of many of the Hollywood maverick’s marshal fascinations. It has been referred to as a cross between Lawrence of Arabia and The Wild Bunch – a comparison Milius no doubt ensures remains in the public conciousness.

Milius was inspired by an article by Barbara W Tuchman in American Heritage magazine, about the real life Pedicaris kidnapping by the Raisuli, a Berber brigand, in 1904 Morocco. Milius changed the sex of the kidnapped American to a woman, Eden Pedicaris (Candice Bergen), to hark back to the waspish exchanges of Katherine Hepburn and Humphrey Bogart in the scenes between her and Sean Connery’s prickly, aphorism spouting, proud chieftain. Meanwhile, her two young children view their enforced desert sojourn as a grand adventure.

In 1904, Morocco is the focus of power games between  Britain, France, Germany and Spain. Raisuli commands a desert force of Berbers opposed to the country’s inept Sultan and the corrupt Bashaw of Tangier. He kidnaps Pedecaris to provoke an international incident and hopefully unseat Morocco’s rulers. American president Teddy Roosevelt (Brian Keith) seizes the incident as a re-election ticket (“Pedecaris alive or Raisuli dead!“) and intends to flex American muscle in the region, ultimately sanctioning Marines storming the Bashaw’s palace and forcing him to negotiate with Raisuli.

Teddy Roosevelt fascinated Milius. Here was a wonderful opportunity for him to examine the man and the myth, in the guise of an epic adventure, and satirical swipe at the clash between brash American foreign policy and  old world Imperialism. “Into this (conflict) strides this new nation, you know. That just sort of forced itself on the world’s scene through the Spanish-American War, with this cowboy president – this New York, new dandy cowboy president, who was kind of a traditional … in my family, he was sort of the great American hero. The first American Hero that I ever heard about. One of the first was not Jim Ridge or Daniel Boone – it was Teddy Roosevelt.”

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The film works well in its comparison of Roosevelt and Raisuli as larger than life, virile, honourable men, uncompromising and out of step with the venal avarice and corruption that besets them. Each grows to admire the other. The title of the film comes from Raisuli’s letter to Roosevelt, which he reads at the feet of the great bear he has shot and had mounted in the Smithsonian:

“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.”

Connery and Keith both do excellent work here, Connery echoing the Boy’s Own adventurism of his earlier film, The Man Who Would Be King. As relations thaw between he and Bergen’s Pedicaris, he softens slightly, elaborating on how he is one of the Sultan’s uncles, and was previously captured by the Bashaw and kept in a dungeon for several years.The twinkle in his eye makes me glad original choice for the role, Omar Shariff, turned it down.

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Milius can be a great writer, and the wonderful scene where Keith’s Roosevelt sits with reporters in Yellowstone Park, ruminating on the great bear he regretfully had to shoot, acts as a mirror to Lawrence’s justification of his methods to Jackson Bentley in Lawrence Of Arabia. He compares the great bear’s character to that of America, emerging as a world power in an arena of decaying, corrupt old empires:

The American grizzly is a symbol of the American character: strength, intelligence, ferocity. Maybe a little blind and reckless at times…The American grizzly lives out his life alone. Indomitable, unconquered – but always alone. He has no real allies, only enemies, but none of them as great as he.”

[Reporter] “And you feel this might be an American trait?”

Certainly. The world will never love us. They respect us – they might even grow to fear us. But they will never love us, for we have too much audacity!”

Milius manages to appear to support American military intervention while at the same time mocking those pushing for it (“A world war? Now THAT would be something to go out on…”) and also casting Connery’s Raisuli in a sympathetic light, with genuine grievances. No mean skill. It’s hard to take the Marine assault through Tangier to the Palace seriously – The American Consul , on watching the marching column, states,“I don’t think the French and Germans are gonna like this. Too early in the morning for rattling sabres.” It’s played for laughs, yet celebratory. Milius claims the Marine Corps play it to their recruits during training.

The film has an epic feel on a medium budget, shooting in Seville, Almeira and Madrid, doubling for Morocco. The recreation of Aqaba that David Lean’s Lawrence left behind was used for the climactic battle, where Eden Pedicaris forces a Marine contingent to rescue the betrayed and captured Raisuli after she has been exchanged, from Moroccan and German troops. Stunt legend Terry Leonard  (Raiders of The Lost Ark) headed a team of three American and twenty Spanish stunt men, with Berber warriors charging the German guns on horseback. The Bashaw’s palace was also used in Lawrence, as the British military HQ.

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The film also has a superb percussive score by Jerry Goldsmith, nominated for both a Grammy and an Academy Award (he lost out to John Williams for Jaws). It really is a majestic, sweeping romantic score, befitting the adventurous feel of the world sketched on screen, transporting the audience to another world, beyond our everyday concerns. It’s true what they, the just don’t make ’em like this any more.


Originally posted 2013-09-01 16:21:39. Republished by Blog Post Promoter

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