A review of the Optimum Home Entertainment DVD, which is about £7 on amazon.
Action film Wild Geese was a big hit in 1978. This rather belated sequel appeared in 1985, and has almost nothing in common with the original.
A team of mercenaries is hired by a TV network to spring Rudolf Hess from Spandau prison so he can be interviewed on American TV. Seriously, that's the plot. (Rudolf Hess was a high ranking member of Hitler's Nazi Party and the last surviving war criminal tried at Nuremberg after the war. Sentences to life imprisonment, he died in Spandau prison, Berlin, in 1987.)
So this is a sequel to Wild Geese. In all honesty, they don't get much value out of the Wild Geese name, and might as well have just called it something else. 'The Hess Gambit', say, or 'Codename: Berlin'. Richard Burton, the star of the original, was signed up to appear, but died just before shooting would have started (Roger Moore, the other main star of the original, refused to be involved). The film ties itself very tenuously to the first one by asking us to believe that one of the mercenaries is Burton's brother.
The first film was set in Africa and involved the mercenaries fighting the forces of a repressive regime. Although cynically motivated, it was possible to see them as the good guys. Here, though, the characters we're supposed to regard as heroes are being paid to rescue an ageing Nazi from prison so a TV station can interview him. (Apparently he knows 'secrets' that will forever poison relations between Russia and the West - so airing them at the height of the Cold War sounds like a spiffing idea.)
This is idiotic, of course - Hess was a prisoner of the United Nations, and as such anyone attempting to interview him on TV would have found themselves in all manner of hot water. It's also crassly offensive. OK, you can argue that Hess had left Germany too early to be directly responsible for the Holocaust, but he did help to draft the Nuremberg Laws which deprived Jews in Germany of most of their human rights. Here he's presented as a frail old man who did not deserve to be in prison. The film chooses to ignore the legitimate concerns about Hess's mental health during his trial and afterwards, which might have at least suggested someone was thinking things through. Instead the film presents him as a loveable old man with a quavery voice who - I'm really not making this up - has important lessons to teach us about how to behave towards one another. Three cheers for Rudolf Hess!
And of course it goes further than just boosting a notorious war criminal from prison. In order to do so, the mercenaries have to cause a great deal of chaos, including killing a few people who are really just doing their jobs. The film kind of gets around this by giving us plenty of baddies to see getting shot up (the Soviets also want a piece of Hess, as it turns out, and send agents to try and stop the heroes from capturing him. Or something. The Cold War plotting is a little incoherent). But there's at least one guy who dies who doesn't deserve to by any stretch of the imagination.
The film is pretty bad on all fronts. At least it seems to have had some genuine Berlin filming, including scenes next to the Wall. The budget was probably middling. There aren't very many action sequences, but the production values are fairly high for something like this.
The cast is a bit of a comedown from the star-studded first film, though, and there are far fewer speaking parts. Scott Glenn plays the main mercenary, a Lebanese-American called Haddad. He barely phones in his performance. They could probably have found a cheaper granite-faced American action star of the day instead - David Carradine or Henry Silva would have given more bang for their buck. Glenn's either trying to convey the way war and conflict deaden a man, leaving him hollow and broken inside; or he has realised he's in a crap film and can't be arsed acting.
Hamming it up like a champion is Edward Fox, in the 'Richard Burton's brother' role. He plays a sniper (just like in Day Of The Jackal! An early example of postmodern referencing in popular cinema, or just laziness? You decide!) Insanely, they give him quite a good gimmick - he has malaria - and then hardly use it. Surely they should have included a scene where he had to snipe someone and suddenly got a case of the shakes. Why on earth make him malarial otherwise? Still, Fox is easily the most entertaining thing about this - the scene where he's spiked with LSD produces some of the funniest gurning I've ever seen.
There are some familiar faces in the cast, including Charlie from Casualty as a member of the IRA (!), and Stratford Johns doing a pretty good Sidney Greenstreet impression. The love interest is Barbara Carrera, who is pretty terrible (and obviously French, while her onscreen brother is played by an American. Weird). Ageing Hammer starlet Ingrid Pitt also turns up for a little while (her character is called simply 'The Hooker' in the end credits). And Patrick Stewart has a tiny part and manages to overact in his one dialogue scene.
The other main cast member - although his appearance really amounts to little more than a cameo - is Laurence Olivier as Hess. By this point in his career, Olivier was appearing in any old chod if the price was right. He gives a ludicrous performance as Hess, with amazingly fake looking eyebrows. The impish little wave he gives right at the end is hilarious. One can't help but feel that the old bastard was sending the whole thing up, secure in the knowledge that no one was going to call him on it - his reputation by this point was so monumental that he could get away with whatever he wanted.
The direction is, I guess, not so bad (it's by the guy who did On Her Majesty's Secret Service). I'm not sure why this has an 18 rating, there's nothing that bad in it. People get shot, someone takes drugs, the odd neck is broken, and there's a very tame sex scene; but there's really nothing I can see that puts this higher than a 15 at most.
The only real connection with the first film is that the music is again done by Roy Budd. Sad to say, it's bland and generic, the worst kind of orchestral drivel. This is a real shame from the guy who composed the tremendous music for Get Carter.
The film unwisely begins with a lengthy montage of clips from the first film, apparently to justify the text tribute to Richard Burton at the start of the film. The problem with this is that it just reminds us how much more impressive the first one was. Wild Geese 1 is no masterpiece by any definition. But it's rarely dull, and at least feels like its heart is in the right place. Wild Geese 2 is overlong and crassly insensitive in its weird insistence that Rudolf Hess was just a nice old man who thoroughly deserved to be rescued from prison.
The picture quality in the DVD is fine. The only extra is a trailer, which has a great voiceover by (I think) Patrick Allen, but which can't disguise the fact that the film is lousy. It's hard to recommend Wild Geese 2, because it's utter guff - but aficionados of bad acting might enjoy Edward Fox and Laurence Olivier's performances.