This is the Rif. I am Mulay Ahmed Muhamed Raisuli the Magnificent, sherif of the Riffian Berbers. I am the true defender of the faithful and the blood of the prophet runs in me and I am but a servant of his will.
1975 was a fantastic year for movies. I have already written about the great Spielberg film of Jaws, Monty Python and the Holy Grail and Bite the Bullet. Two of my favorite films of all time came out in 1975, both starred Sean Connery and both have a connection to the great John Huston. Huston directs Connery and Michael Caine in “The Man Who Would be King” which would not be released until December. In “The Wind and the Lion” however, John Huston is on screen as an actor, playing Secretary of State John Hay to Brian Keith’s Theodore Roosevelt. This is our movie of the day posting for today, but it may be the Movie of the Week posting and maybe of the Summer. I have seen Jaws a hundred times and it is as I’ve said before, Spielberg’s masterpiece. “The Wind and the Lion” may not be in the same league, but it is the most romantic, thrilling and emotionally evocative movie I have watched for this blog this summer. I have already said that I am a sucker for a swashbuckler movie. Errol Flynn in Robin Hood is my favorite film, but “The Wind and the Lion” came out in theaters when I was alive and going to movies. I did not experience it for the first time on Television, it did not exist before I was even born, instead, it burst forth the summer I graduated high school, it starred the man that made James Bond my favorite character and it features the music of my favorite film composer. This confluence of events is just too overwhelming for me to be dispassionate about. I have said before and my family will confirm, I am a romantic at heart. My throat closes tight at a romantic gesture, my eyes weal up in tears at heroic moments and I have to catch my breath at the beauty of certain images. All of these things happen in this movie.
When I wrote about seeing Jaws back on the fourth of July, I mentioned that Dan Hasegawa and I saw it without our friend Art Franz, because he was taking a girl out to another movie. This was the movie he took Laura Charca to see, before he went into the Army later that Summer. I saw this movie by myself, at the Alhambra Theater, probably in August of that summer. It took a while for it to make it’s way out to our neighborhood. Art was trying to impress Laura, so I know he took her down to Hollywood to see this. My second year on the debate team at U.S.C., a guy from Fresno State transferred in, his name was Dave Cosloy. He actually was debate partners with Dan at the University of Utah tournament in January 1977. Rick Rollino and I were debating together at that point, and we all were staying at the home of one of the Utah debaters. I remember how cool it was when sitting in this house, surrounded by snow, getting ready to go to the tournament, Cosloy shouted out “I am Mulay Ahmed Muhamed Raisuli the Magnificent, sherif of the Riffian Berbers. I am the true defender of the faithful and the blood of the prophet runs in me and I am but a servant of his will.” Another movie romantic was in our midst. Someone else shared my love of this movie, and he knew the quote and used it. I had never done that before, but I have many times since felt compelled to proclaim myself Raisuli.
There are historical and political overtones everywhere in this movie. So in addition to swordplay and horses and explosions, we get Theodore Roosevelt and the Big Stick Policy. The movie is based on an actual event involving a businessman being held for ransom by Berber pirates. The character is changed to a woman, which of course make the kidnapping and rescue romantic automatically. The goal is not mere ransom, but rather there are political objectives. And the two characters of the President of the U.S. and the Muslim sherif are contrasted as a way of seeing the change in world affairs and how each sees the adventure and romance being taken out of the conflicts and politics of the future. I apologize for another Jaws reference here but it is necessary. If Robert Shaw was robbed by not even being nominated for his role in Jaws, then Brian Keith was also mugged by the same bandits. He embodied the character of the American President so well, that even today, when I read biographies about Roosevelt, I can still hear Keith’s voice. He has some incredible lines in the movie, that probably were never said by Teddy but should have been.Theodore Roosevelt:” The American grizzly is a symbol of the American character: strength, intelligence, ferocity. Maybe a little blind and reckless at times… but courageous beyond all doubt. And one other trait that goes with all previous.Loneliness. 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. 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! And, we’re a bit blind and reckless at times too.
The other stars of the film are also excellent. Sean Connery might seem an odd choice for the part of a desert dwelling Arab/Berber but the beard and the gleam in his eye work perfectly. The slap he gives Candice Bergen when they first meet is harsh, but we come to see that it has less to do with his personal ego and everything to do with the cultural standards of status in his world. At least he does not behead her as he does others that disrespect him. Candice Bergen is just proper and aloof enough to fit into the character of a woman of the time, but also sensitive enough to be romantically moved by a man that faces death to possess her, even if it is in a chaste way. Geoffrey Lewis, working without Clint this summer, was good casting as the American Ambassador, John Huston, with that magisterial voice comes across as the political voice of reason that understands what Roosevelt needs and also what he represents. Roosevelt is the American character at the turn of the twentieth century. Brash, confident, unwilling to acknowledge weakness but also recognizing the burdens we were assuming in the world, and sad that the world we would dominate will never be the one that we would most like it to be.
Jerry Goldsmith, was nominated 18 times for the Academy Award for his music. He won only once, for “The Omen” in 1976. The score for “The Wind and the Lion” may very well be his best. The timpani and horns are stirring and romantic. There are elements of two other scores of his in the film. In the battle scenes you can here the forerunner of his Klingon theme from the Star Trek film in 1979. And as Mrs. Pedecaris and her children are trying to escape, there are echos of the Planet of the Apes Theme he did a few years earlier. This is one of the pieces of music I have on my i-pod right now. The suite from the collection of music in this film is featured on the two disc Jerry Goldsmith collection that is available. Well worth listening to all by itself. There is a small taste included here.
I can’t think of many ways to spend a better two hours than watching this movie. If you have the heart of a romantic and always wanted to be a hero in an adventure, you can identify with most of this movie. Even better than that, we have a real American Hero, portrayed warts and all in an indelible performance. So what are you waiting for?
To Theodore Roosevelt – 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. – Mulay Hamid El Raisuli, Lord of the Riff, Sultan to the Berbers, Last of the Barbary Pirates.
As close to a perfect movie as was ever made. Perfect cast. Perfect score.
I can't believe how simpatico we are with some of the films you've highlighted. This severely under-valued epic. Another '75 gem, for sure. Saw it first-run. Keep'em, Richard.
Thanks for coming by and commenting on several of the posts. We do seem to have the same perspective on a lot of great film treasures from that time. Hope we get a chance to have a face to face conversation someday.