The Wild Geese and Burnham
by Rakesh Rampertab


Of movie theatres in Georgetown, Metropole on Robb Street always had a special place in my memory when it came to movies. The reason is the framed promotional photographs that were hung as one entered the theatre to be seated after buying the tickets. I remember the photos of Richard Burton, Richard Harris, and I believe, Roger Moore, in their mercenary purplish berets. The images were of fierce professional soldiers—the word mercenary was not in my head those days.

As a serious movie buff, I wanted to see this movie desperately. Of course, it was never shown in Guyana when I was old enough to attend theatres. I wanted to see it for a number of reasons; it was a serious action movie; it was a “war” movie and I loved war movies like most boys did. It carried the big names Burton and Harris and Moore. But more than all, I wanted to see it because it had been rumored, or is it true, that Burnham “banned” this film.

We Guyanese use the word “ban” lightly. We really don’t mean ban; flour was “banned” we say. But this is not so. Flour was never banned in Guyana. There was a restriction on it because Guyana could not afford to import flour. But, I grew up with this big rumor and it only made me want to see The Wild Geese more.

I have watched it a number of times and each time I am never in doubt—this is a very serious movie that, especially for a Third World setting in a country that is under the rule of some dictator or semi-dictator, projects larger threatening implications on the viewer’s mind. Burnham obviously would have disliked it for its naturalistic features; the rawness of the action as well as the rawness of the idea of deposing a government in force, even a de facto government.

In this movies, set in Africa, Swaziland I believe, it was clear that a group of excellent mercenaries could easily be tucked away in our own jungle just as Jim Jones was, to acquire necessary training to stage uproar. Burnham had to at least prevent the idea among the Guyanese people.

Then there was the violence, most of which is shown being perpetrated against African soldiers; bodies of African soldiers sailing through the air from a bomb, of sentries being shot with quill arrows while resting, and the most provocative scene in the entire movie—the use of cyanide by the mercenaries to kill dozens of soldiers while the slept. This scene alone makes the movie a pulverizing act of art on screen because it was very realistic. All of these things could have been done in Guyana if someone wanted to do this. Burnham would have seen this in The Wild Geese.

Then there are the political philosophies involved; here we saw an imperial force [basically a group of white ex soldiers although there is one black (Jessy) among them] invading an African nation and doing two things that all colonial peoples dread: kill the locals with impunity and play savior [the mercenary group goes into Africa to rescue a Black leader (President Limbani) who was illegally deposed]. At one point, the conflict between the white and colored race surfaces between the rescued but weak Limbani and one of the soldiers whose job it was to fetch the ill leader. The soldier played by Kruger is white, but he’s a white South African who just happened to be in London, broke. Looking for a ticket back home, Moore recruits him because of his sharp shooting skills, skills he used against blacks in the apartheid struggle.

Interestingly, he is, morally, the most likeable character besides the idealistic libertine, Jaunders (Harris). The best line in the entire movie, and there are many, comes from him when he confronts Moore, Harris, and Burton on why he is going on the trip as compared to their reason; he wants money to buy himself a farm back home in Africa; they on the other hand were doing it to “impose” their philosophy on other people. It’s a remarkable role that Kruger has. Eventually, after the dialogue with the mature Limbani, his attitude softens and he dies trying to get Limbani to safety. Through his death, and his acceptance of Limbani, he is redeemed.

In the end, the entire operation is one blood fest because, “double crossed” by the banker in London, who brought the contract and then ordered that the men not be picked up as planned once Limbani was rescued, Col. Faulkner (Burton) and his men have to “fight” their way “out of Africa.”

I do not believe in the suppression of art, however they are seen as a threat to the authority of the day. In fact, the more such movies ought to be shown because that is the basic function of all art—to denounce illegal governments and such likes. The Battle of Algiers, a documentary on the Algerian resistance against the French, comes to mind. On the other hand, one sees why such a movie would have caused problems for a Third World leader such as ours, Burnham.

[Editor’s Note: This is not a movie review. The Wild Geese was done in 1978 and starred Richard Burton, Richard Harris, Roger Moore, and Hardy Kruger.]


December 1, 2003
© 2001