Friday, May 16, 2014

Tonight's Movie: The Wind and the Lion (1975) - A Warner Archive Blu-ray Review

The Warner Archive has a real winner with its new Blu-ray release of THE WIND AND THE LION (1975), starring Sean Connery and Candice Bergen.

THE WIND AND THE LION is one of my husband's all-time favorite movies, but I have to admit that the first time I saw it a couple dozen years ago, my reaction was somewhat muted. I realize now that watching it as a VHS rental on a 13-inch TV set probably had something to do with only mildly enjoying it!

Of course, many films play fine in any format, but as my husband commented tonight, THE WIND AND THE LION is a big movie which demands a big screen. Thanks to the Archive's Blu-ray and the big-screen high-definition TV we acquired last fall, tonight I had as close to a cinematic experience as one can have at home, and THE WIND AND THE LION was truly impressive.

The movie is set in Morocco in the early years of the 20th century. A pirate named Raisuli (Sean Connery) kidnaps an American widow, Eden Pedecaris (Candice Bergen), and her two children (Simon Harrison and Polly Gottesman) in order to annoy the Moroccan rulers who Raisuli believes are selling out to European imperialists.

President Teddy Roosevelt (Brian Keith) pledges to safely reclaim the hostages, and American Marines land in Morocco and take over the country in order to force the issue.

Raisuli and Mrs. Pedecaris repeatedly clash, with Mrs. Pedecaris nobly standing up to Raisuli despite the very real chance her head might be lopped off at any moment. (There are a couple of brief but unsettling scenes where others suffer that fate.) Gradually they develop a grudging appreciation for one another as they develop an odd friendship over the chess board.

Eden and her children attempt an escape but fall into very bad hands, but in the most stirring scene in the film, Raisuli rides to their rescue and single-handedly takes out a dozen or so men -- after which he calmly tells her that she's a lot of trouble! It's quite a spectacular sequence, turning viewer sympathy to the extent that when Raisuli's men ride to his rescue at movie's end, they have turned from villains to heroes.

I was struck on this viewing that the relationship of the two lead characters is rather like that of the King and Mrs. Anna in THE KING AND I (1956), another film about the bridging of cultures and the development of friendship between a powerful ruler and a spunky widow in a foreign land.

I doubt anyone will be surprised that Connery is simply wonderful in the lead role; indeed, it's hard to imagine anyone else in the '70s who could have pulled the role off. His charisma and touch of humor are among the film's key assets. Bergen does a fine job going toe to toe with him and refusing to be a passive victim, taking matters into her own hands on multiple occasions.

The first time I saw the film I was most impressed by Brian Keith as Teddy Roosevelt, and watching the film again, it's hard for me to believe he didn't rate an Academy Award nomination as Best Supporting Actor. It certainly must be among the finest work of his career, particularly the scene where he compares the United States to the majestic grizzly bear. His comments may have even more resonance in today's geopolitical world than when the movie was released, and in delivering them Keith achieves the feat of almost making the audience forget he's not Teddy Roosevelt.

John Huston adds a dash of screen presence here and there as Roosevelt's advisor and Cabinet member John Hay. I'd forgotten that Steve Kanaly, who would go on to play Ray on DALLAS, had a large role as Captain Jerome.

The movie comes uncomfortably close to making fun of Captain Jerome's gung-ho Marines as they run in formation through Morocco, followed by a scene where the viewer exclaims "Are they crazy?!" Fortunately the film pulls back from this attitude and in the end the men prove themselves heroes, making sure that President Roosevelt's promise to Raisuli is kept despite the interference of the Germans.

The Blu-ray shows off the widescreen photography of Billy Williams to fine effect, and Jerry Goldsmith's great theme music never sounded better. The movie was written and directed by John Milius. It runs 119 minutes.

A note of interest, Simon Harrison, who plays Bergen's brave young son William, was the son of Noel Harrison, who passed away last fall, and the grandson of Rex Harrison.

Parental Advisory: THE WIND AND THE LION is rated PG. There are a couple of brief unpleasant moments, but they are clearly telegraphed for those who don't want to look, and what's depicted is mild compared to the violence of many of today's films. The engaging characters, splashes of history, and all-around fine filmmaking make it worthwhile viewing for younger viewers.

The Blu-ray includes the commentary track from the film's standard DVD release a decade ago. The movie's trailer is available at the Warner Archive website.

Although I didn't see THE WIND AND THE LION when it was first released in theaters, I was old enough then to remember seeing advertising for it. It's rather mind-blowing to realize the movie is nearly 40 years old! The film and the Archive's Blu-ray are both recommended.

"Is there not one thing in your life that is worth losing everything for?"

Thanks to the Warner Archive for providing a review copy of this Blu-ray. Warner Archive releases are MOD (manufactured on demand) and may be ordered at the Warner Archive website.


Blogger DKoren said...

This is one of my top five favorite movies of all time, and one I really want to see on the big screen someday because it really is a big, expansive movie. The rescue scene is one of my all-time favorite scenes out of any movie. This review almost makes me wish I had a blu ray player, but I'm not ready to start switching DVDs for a new format. :-D

But, I might have to watch this today now!

8:07 AM  
Blogger Laura said...

Hi Deb,

I'm not surprised to hear you love this film and am glad you stopped by to say so! It really does seem like your kind of movie. I'm so glad I revisited it after a number of years as I thoroughly enjoyed it. That rescue sequence really is spectacular!

Best wishes,

10:46 AM  

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