Written by: George Pacheco on December 28th, 2012
Theatrical Release Date: USA, September, 1986
Director: Antonio Margheriti
Writers: Michael Lester, Tito Carpi
Cast: Lewis Collins, Klaus Kinski, Ernest Borgnine, Lee Van Cleef, Mimsy Farmer
DVD released: November 19th, 2012
Approximate running time: 101 Minutes
Aspect Ratio: 2.35:1 Letterboxed Widescreen
Rating: 15 (UK)
Sound: Dolby Digital Mono English
DVD Release: Arrowdrome (Arrow Video)
Region Coding: Region 2 PAL (UK)
Retail Price: £12.99
The mid-80s ushered in a new renaissance for Italian-bred action epics, reveling in the sort of macho, bullet-powered posturing made popular in America by such films as Missing in Action, The Delta Force and the Rambo series.
Antonio Margheriti was a talented director of such films, having already established himself as a versatile genre auteur, capable of handling material varying from spaghetti westerns (Blood Money, Take a Hard Ride), to horror (Cannibal Apocalypse) and giallo (Seven Dead in the Cat’s Eye).
Codename: Wild Geese was the first of Margheriti’s trilogy of 80s war films, all starring British actor Lewis Collins and celebrating the sort of action ‘n explosions cinema which focuses more on rugged, masculine style than complex plot and story lines. Indeed, there’s little for viewers to stress about when viewing Margheriti’s pictures, with most of the director’s eighties output requiring little more than a big tub of popcorn and the ability to suspend disbelief when it comes to implausible character behavior and some truly glorious miniature work.
Codename: Wild Geese is the best and most enjoyable of Margheriti’s trilogy, making the most of its big name cast and (im)plausible special effects, made possible by the ever-slick production style of exploitation impresario Erwin C. Dietrich. The plot of a ragtag group of mercenaries hired by some shady higher-ups to raid a Burmese warlord’s private compound may be unoriginal, yet the pacing is brisk enough—with plenty of the expected tragedies and double crosses along the way—for this to matter little in the end. Elsewhere, the pulsing, proggy synth score of famed German rock act Eloy only bolsters the made-for-80s atmosphere of Margheriti’s action epic, delivering cues with such confidence that one wonders why the progressive rock titans didn’t indulge in more soundtrack work during their career.
Although it’s clear that Borgnine, Kinski and Van Cleef are clearly aiming for the paycheck here, their performances are up to their usual high standards, while the ever-beautiful Mimsy Farmer supports things quite nicely in her role as a drug addicted POW. If anything, it’s Collins himself who struggles as a charismatic leading man, offering a performance which is serviceable, yet leagues away from the talent surrounding him elsewhere in the cast.
Featuring wisecracks and dynamite a plenty—as well as a miniature car chase which needs to be seen to be believed—Codename: Wild Geese is a devil-may-care excursion into the jungle which resides high on the recommended list for fans of 80s Italian trash.
Arrowdrome’s DVD of Codename: Wild Geese is presented in a widescreen presentation which preserves the film’s original aspect ratio, while standing heads and shoulders above the budget American video release currently available on DVD. The print itself—which seems to be German, given the title sequence—contains a bit of grain, but overall looks just fine for this VHS rental classic. The dubbed sound is a little soft, but on par with the American budget release, while the extras are limited only to a collector’s booklet (not included for this review) as well as trailers for this film, and the other two in the trilogy. Overall, Codename: Wild Geese gets a serviceable presentation from Arrowdrome, with room for improvement.