I’ve never quite understood the admiration afforded writer-director John Milius. Despite being considered a pretty major player in 1970s film, his credits are relatively sparse on the directing front and—apart from The Wind and the Lion (1975)—fairly unimpressive. In overall terms, Milius strikes me as too much the testosterone-soaked cinematic bully for my taste (he is, after all, the author of the line, “Go ahead, make my day”). This is just as apparent in the hugely entertaining Wind and the Lion as anywhere else. The trick is that the movie is such splendid fun that it’s easy to overlook its rather simplistic (and clearly stacked-deck) endorsement of imperialism. Taken at face value, it’s enjoyable. Looked at more deeply, it’s a little troubling.
It’s also a kind of big-budget, all-star extravaganza the equivalent of which we really don’t have today—and for which mainstream movies are a little worse off. Working from a very loosely fact-based story, Milius changed the tale of a man being kidnapped in Morocco by a Berber chieftain into one involving a woman with children. The changes turn the story into a sort of hybrid of The Sheik (sans “romantic” rape) and Anna and the King of Siam, and make Teddy Roosevelt’s “big stick” rhetoric play more urgently. Sweeping, engaging, literate and beautifully acted by Sean Connery, Candice Bergen, Brian Keith and John Huston, it’s great stuff—if you don’t take it seriously.