In Algiers, Charles Boyer threatened to smack a woman in the face, but Sean Connery, in The Wind and the Lion, actually goes through with it, striking the kidnapped Candice Bergen across the mouth early in the picture.
Explanations for the act include: the film being set in 1904, 34 years before Algiers, that Connery is a Berber chieftan, that Connery is well, Sean Connery, or that this is one of the infamous John Milius’ portrayals of Manly Men Doing Manly Things in a Manly Way.
The Wind and the Lion is an epic study in the art of being a man, with more kick than a toppled bottle of Old Spice. We’re still in North Africa, back in Morocco now, at the turn of the 20th century, when the United States was a rising imperial power with a growing appetite for global intervention and its ambitions were colliding those of Old World stalwarts such as France and Germany.
In the middle of it all rides Connery as the most Scottish Muslim you’re ever likely to encounter. Exulting in his post-Bondian liberation, the bearded cinematic legend is in full warrior-poet mode, with a script that has him declare “I am a scholar” even as he brandishes his scimitar on horseback. He plays chess. He severs heads. You know, like your Dad.
Bergen is the American woman kidnapped by Connery’s band of “brigands”—a word that’s repeated a lot–to use as leverage against the U.S. government and the corrupt Moroccan royal regime. Brigand is code for pirate and Connery is basically Errol Flynn in a keffiyeh.
Milius mines much from Old Hollywood in the film, which is sort of why I enjoyed it, despite its persistent clunkiness. Not only are Flynn’s pictures with Michael Curtiz an influence, but so is Cukor’s Gunga Din. And a dead giveaway is the presence of John Huston in a supporting role.
You can tell Milius (who contributed well-known lines to both Apocalypse Now and Jaws) also would like Connery and Bergen to be like Bogart and Hepburn in Huston’s The African Queen or Wayne and Angie Dickinson in Hawks’ Rio Bravo, but the dialogue lacks zip and Bergen is, well, dreadful.
But we’re getting ahead of ourselves. To crank the machismo up to 11, Milius also features President Theodore Roosevelt (Brian Keith) as a secondary protagonist. When Roosevelt isn’t killing grizzlies or engaging in sparring matches, he fulminates in a manner that sounds like a cross between Jefferson and Hemingway. Eventually, somehow he and Connery form a bond of mutual respect, communicated via messenger, even though they can’t possibly have any idea of what the other is like. There is no danger of Low T in this film.
It’s all ridiculous. So ridiculous that eventually you throw your hands up in the air and relax and enjoy it. During a large-scale shoot-up-em up in the end, it’s unclear which country’s forces are fighting which and why anyone wants Connery dead (or alive) in the first place, but logic has floated away on the desert breeze long before that time. What ultimately redeems the film is Milius’ obvious affection for Roosevelt and Connery’s warm-hearted, flamboyant performance. He’s not playing Raisuli, the sly Arab chieftan. He’s playing Alexander the Great. Or Genghis Khan. Or maybe himself.