The Wind And The Lion

The Wind And The Lion (1975)
Warner Home Video
Cast: Sean Connery, Candice Bergen
Extras: Commentary Track, Featurette, Theatrical Trailer

Released in 1975, John Milius’ "The Wind And The Lion" was then perceived as homage to the sweeping historical epics that old studio Hollywood regularly churned out. In the era that spawned films like "The Godfather, " "Mean Streets," "The Conversation" and "The Exorcist," it’s easy to see why. However, revisiting the movie a generation later with Warner Home Video’s new DVD release, it turns out "Wind" was perfectly in step with its New Hollywood brethren. Moreover, its handling of the story has taken on new meaning in our post-September 11 world.

Written and directed by Milius, "Wind" was based on a real historical incident: the kidnapping of an American citizen in 1904 Morocco. The film jumps right into the action, with the kidnapping of Eden Pedecaris (Candice Bergen) and her two children by El Raisuli (Sean Connery), a rogue Moroccan chieftain, the "last of the Barbary pirates." President Theodore Roosevelt (Brian Keith) consults with his Secretary of State John Hay (John Huston) and determines that the best course of action is to send "the big stick" that Teddy Roosevelt is known for: dispatching Marines into Morocco and securing the safe return of the hostages by force.

That may be the plot in a nutshell, but in Milius’ hands, the rest of the movie proceeds in many unexpected and, ultimately, satisfying directions. Since the real historical precedent for Mrs. Pedecaris was an American businessman, it seems that the movie would focus on how the Raisuli and Eden would fall in love in each other and ride off into the sunset. Certainly, the casting of Connery and Bergen would suggest that trite outcome. No, for Milius, the real story is about the politics of the period and the conflict between Roosevelt and the Raisuli, each man embracing opposing views of courage and tradition but still tethered together by the old Western adage that "a man’s gotta do what a man’s gotta do." For every romantic glance between Connery and Bergen, we get four scenes of Roosevelt waxing poetic about honorable confrontation, Hay trying to placate the President and American emissaries negotiating with corrupt Moroccan officials. Hardly the stuff of gooey love stories framed against historic backdrops. (Vietnam parallels also bound in this scenario.) In confounding the old Hollywood expectations, "Wind" seems just as much a product of the 1970’s movie landscape as the familial mobsters of "The Godfather" and the twelve-year-old monster of "The Exorcist." Reminiscent of Hemingway, Milius treats Roosevelt and el-Raisuli as cultural opposites and ideological equals. In 1975, depicting an Islamic warrior as cultured, heroic and romantic might have been radical but still acceptable. In today’s post-September 11 atmosphere, with the exception of the current "House of Sand and Fog," forget it. I didn’t mean to get so political, but when you see a film as entertaining and intellectually stimulating as "Wind," it’s tough not to get carried away. It’s no surprise that the DVD owes its release to the viewers who voted it into existence with last year’s Turner Classic Movies/AOL promotion.

The 2.35 <$16x9,anamorphic> transfer exhibits a solid, detailed image. The colors look full and rich, quite a contrast from standard 1970s cinematography. Still, the contrasts between the blanched browns of Raisuli’s desert landscapes and the dark browns of Roosevelt’s presidential surroundings come through cleanly. Right from the exotic-looking opening credits, the source print looks for the most part spotless. There are instances of grain in the picture, but that’s only as an observation, not a criticism.

Originally released in 70mm six-track stereo, the soundtrack has been remastered for <$DD,Dolby Digital> 5.1 playback. The audio sounds a little dated, primarily in its dynamic range. Dialogue sometimes gets thin and explosions occasionally congest in the center channel but the real reason for the remix is to fully enjoy one of Jerry Goldsmith’s best dramatic scores. (Listening to it, you can also hear the stirrings of what would become the Klingon theme from "Star Trek: The Motion Picture.") With a wide front soundstage and an appropriate surround presence (not too intrusive), his evocative music is the one of the many reasons the movie and the presentation elevate to epic stature. LFE is nominally present.

While there aren’t a huge number of extras, the supplements present are just as thoughtful as the movie itself. The main goody is a feature-length <$commentary,commentary track> by writer/director Milius. His rough, hard-as-nails voice perfectly compliments his insights about the making of and reception to the film. Interestingly, he states how this film is respected in the Islamic world for its depiction of a native hero who is not the Western stereotype of the bloody-thirsty savage, going so far as saying the film has its fans "from our staunchest allies to Osama Bin Laden." (Being represented by Sean Connery doesn’t hurt, either. Does anyone remember the SCTV satire "How the Middle East Was Won," with Eugene Levy mimicking Connery as Raisuli?)

A making-of featurette is presented in full-frame and mono. Running about nine minutes, the filmed "vintage" segment, used to promote the film’s original theatrical release, features a narration-less journey through the production. Sound bites with Connery, Bergen and Milius juxtapose against behind-the-scenes footage and film clips, with an inordinate amount of time focusing on the physical effects. Here, the editing is a little too self conscious, trying to be an epic onto itself. The original theatrical trailer, presented in <$16x9,anamorphic> <$PS,widescreen> and mono, plays up the adventure and spectacle — with barely a nod to the romance.

A sparkling transfer, a sweeping audio presentation, and special extras to match a very special film. Adding "The Wind And The Lion" to your DVD library should not a question of "if" but "when." The answer? As soon as possible.