Writer-director John Milius’s swashbuckling adventure tale The Wind and the Lion (1975) blends historical facts into a fictional confrontation between the rebellious Berber bandit Mulay Ahmed el-Raisuli and US President Theodore Roosevelt, after Raisuli kidnaps the feisty American widow Eden Pedecaris and her two children. 

Raisuli’s reasons are purely political to embarrass the Sultan of Morocco and the Pasha of Tangier, whom Raisuli considers as corrupt and too beholden to the European contingents based in Tangier. But Raisuli’s actions end up having consequences he did not expect…

Milius based his screenplay on a real-life incident in 1904 when a balding, overweight American businessman, Ion Perdicaris, and his son were kidnapped in Morocco. The incident was used by Teddy Roosevelt – determined to establish his Presidency having come to office after the death of William McKinley – to display US military power, particularly to European countries wanting to expand their foothold in North Africa. Perdicaris and his son were in fact released after just two days in captivity. However Hollywood, who has been bending and embellishing history ever since movies began, has never let the facts get in the way of a good story.

Subsequently, Milius delivered a stirring, if totally inaccurate, look at jingoistic heroes and myths at the dawn of US military interventionism. Furthermore, as one of the 1970s “movie brats”, Milius was obsessed – as indeed they all were – with John Ford’s The Searchers, and its influence on him is clearly evident in his storyline. He was also inspired by David Lean’s Lawrence of Arabia, even using some of the same Spanish locations for his film.

Sean Connery and Candice Bergen in The Wind and the Lion

Sean Connery’s charismatic performance as the virtuous and roguish Raisuli is spellbinding, as indeed is Brian Keith’s Teddy Roosevelt. Although they don’t appear onscreen together, their characters are portrayed as larger-than-life heroes, both of whom perhaps do not belong to the modern industrialised world they now live in. But their majestic tour de force performances are enhanced by Milius’s screenplay and his extraordinary ability and skill as a wordsmith. Two prime examples are toward the end of the movie when Roosevelt reads a letter from Raisuli, which gives the film its title: “I, like the lion, must remain in my place. While you, like the wind, will never know yours”. And again, Raisuli’s poetic final words to Eden Pedecaris (radiantly played by the beautiful Candice Bergen): “I will see you again, Mrs Pedecaris, when we are both like golden clouds on the wind”.

Brian Keith as Theodore Roosevelt (note the similarity to the real Roosevelt on the right)

Apparently, the film’s dialogue expert tried to coach Connery to speak with an Arabic accent but gave up, stating it was impossible to disguise his broad brogue accent. Milius solved it by inserting a line of dialogue when Raisuli informs Mrs Pedecaris that he was taught to speak English by a Scotsman. (Connery fondly remembered Milius’s writing skills and some fifteen years later requested his services as a script doctor to revise his dialogue for The Hunt for Red October.)

Practically all of Milius’s films feature an extensive number of action sequences and in this production he doesn’t disappoint. The opening Berber attack and kidnap of the Pedecaris family; their attempt to escape with the help of an infidel, who instead sells them to a band of lustful tribesman (where they are fortunately rescued by the lone Raisuli); the US Marines assault on the Pasha’s palace in Tangier and the final battle between the Berbers and German troops are all stylishly staged and thrillingly executed.

The Wind and the Lion is a sweeping, old-time romantic adventure of the highest order combined with spectacular vistas, stunning camerawork and a rousing Jerry Goldsmith score.

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