Monday, February 2, 2015

The Wind and the Lion

I finally got around to watching the movie The Wind and the Lion when it showed up on TCM yesterday morning. It's available on DVD if you want to watch and don't want to wait for the next TCM showing.

The movie is very loosely based on a 1904 incident involving the kidnapping of Ion Perdicaris and his adult stepson from their palatial estate in Tangier, Morocco. In the movie, however, to provide more dramatic tension, the kidnapping victim has been changed into an American widow, Eden Perdicaris (Candice Bergen). At the beginning of the movie, she's shown at a luncheon on the estate with her two young children, when Mulai Ahmed er Raisuli (Sean Connery) and his men invade the place, killing the wine server and taking the three Americans hostage. Raisuli is a Berber, living in the Atlas Mountains away from the coastal cities, and is generally considered the last of the Barbary Pirates.

News of the kidnapping gets back to America, of course, and President Theodore Roosevelt (Brian Keith) is none too happy about it. Ever the arrogant bully, Roosevelt declares that he wants Perdicaris alive, or Raisuli dead. That, of course, isn't going to be all that easy. Raisuli is somewhere out in the desert, while the government of Morocco is a fairly weak one. Everybody goes through the Bashaw of Tangier, who is more or less the gatekeeper for the Sultan of Morocco, who keeps to his palace in Fez. Meanwhile, the various great powers of Europe have all set up concessions in Tangier and are playing off one another and the Bashaw, implicitly threatening the independence of Morocco. Adding the Americans to the mix isn't going to make life any easier for the Moroccans, or the Europeans.

The action switches back and forth between the Moroccan desert and the United States. Raisuli has a lot on his hands what with the feisty woman he's kidnapped. Eden, understandably, isn't going to take being a kidnap victim lying down. She challenges Raisuli and his values whenever she can, laying the groundwork for the inevitable escape attempt that seems to be a part of the plot of most kidnapping movies. Along the way, though, she begins to have grudging respect for Raisuli, even if the kidnapping might destroy the one thing he values most, which is the independence of his people. Roosevelt, meanwhile, continues to be a jerk to everybody around him, brutishly going through life and plotting to use blunt force in the form of a contingent of Marines to rescue the Perdicaris family and screw over all the Europeans. Why this wouldn't lead to war is briefly referenced when some of the American diplomatic corps already in Tangier talks about the possibility of a world at war, but seems to be of little interest to Roosevelt, who only cares about displays of his masculinity.

Eventually, an agreement is made to accede to Raisuli's demands which, other than money, concern the independence of the Berbers and are therefore of little concern to the Americans since that would be an internal matter in Morocco. But the attempt to return the Perdicaris family to US Marines goes wrong as the handover gets waylaid by a batallion of German soldiers, something that never happened in real life. Meanwhile, Raisuli and Eden gain further grudging respect for one another.

The Wind and the Lion has a story that goes all over the place, it seems, making it seem much longer than the two hours it is. Sean Connery is quite good as Raisuli, ultimately making sympathetic a man who claims to be a man of God who wants liberty for his people (at least in this world), while in reality he's probably just a selfish, power-hungry man. Bergen is also good, although in many ways she's playing the cut-out character of the unnaturally strong and independent-minded woman in an era when it was a man's world. Brian Keith's Roosevelt is supposed to be a positive character, but I find that the more I read about Theodore Roosevelt, the more negative view I have of him. In that regard, Keith's characterization succeeded, but for me it wasn't in the way the director intended. Roosevelt here is even more self-abosorbed than Raisuli, and intent on showing off that he's more powerful and manly than everybody else, and woe betide anybody who disagrees with him.

The portrayal of Roosevelt is for me a big problem I have with the movie. His scenes really drag the movie down, and I found myself wishing

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