What your view of sports and life would be if you had too many concussions
This movie is not on my list of essential films.
NOTE: This installment of Sports Analogies Hidden In Classic Movies is being done as part of something called the The Bond, Not Bond Blog-a-thon being hosted by Realweegiemidget Reviews and Pale Writer. The concept here is picking one of the six main actors who played James Bond and to review something in which they are not portraying the legendary British secret agent 007.
All tolled, this is the “Sweet 16th” time I’ve participated in an event hosted by one of these ladies…however, to my knowledge this is the first time they are teaming up. But more importantly, this marks Pale Writer’s return to the blog-o-sphere!!!
You can see all the contributors to this blog-a-thon here:
WARNING: Regular readers of this blog know I’m well on record of having little patience for those who can’t grasp the concept movies made in a different time may address certain subjects in a manner which is not congruent with current social mores.
As such, The Wild Geese touches on racism and homosexuality in a manner which some today might find “cringe-worthy.” So, if you’re one of those people who is in a never-ending cycle of futility because of an inability to acknowledge the abject reality inherent in differing times being inextricably linked to fluctuations in “acceptability,” or you can’t understand individuals who are paid to risk their lives while taking those of others may not be the most sensitive souls on Earth…as the heading says…you’ve been warned.
More importantly, you will notice as I meander through this film, I avoid the mention of those topics, not for purposes of avoiding offending anybody’s delicate sensibilities, but to leave those moments open to the interpretation of the first-time viewer as to their importance to the story as a whole. They can easily be seen as gratuitous, comic relief, integral to setting the backdrop of the film, or a bit of all three…as well as anywhere in-between. You make that call, inasmuch it’s not my role to make those judgements; doing so only impinges the ability of viewers to enjoy this (or any other) film for what it is.
Having said that, let’s get to today’s movie: The Wild Geese.
The late, great Roger Ebert didn’t particularly care for this film:
To the basic movie genres like the Western, the musical and the gangster movie, maybe we should add a new one: Movies in which aging quasi-alcoholic onetime British classical actors wear khaki and fire machine guns. Once you’ve cast the movie you’ve almost made it, and the story is so predictable it’s a wonder audiences go to see it yet once again.~ Roger Ebert
Suffice it to say we aren’t in agreement. My thoughts? Well…if you’ll “Pardon my French;” but fuck yeah!!! What better recipe is there for an action flick than drunk mercenaries with machine guns…especially when one was Marc Antony, one was King Arthur, and the other was James Fuckin’ Bond?! Oh…did I mention they are being paid by Allen “King Solomon’s Mines” Quartermain? With that alone, you don’t even need a great script…which is convenient, since this film doesn’t really have one. Just drain a fifth of scotch off-camera and rattle the entirety of sub-Saharan Africa with automatic-weapons fire…and you have The Wild Geese.
As for the “quasi-alcoholic” thing, I’m betting the bar tab on the set of The Wild Geese among the triumvirate of Burton, Harris, and Moore would rival those of Sam Peckinpah and William Holden from The Wild Bunch, or Holden and John Wayne from The Horse Soldiers, or any film in which Wayne played a hard-drinking U.S Marine (possibly like your former U.S. Marine/current blogger).
But, I digress <cracks a beer>…as for the aforementioned plot, everything kicks off when the middle-aged British mercenary and former Royal Army officer Colonel Allen Faulkner (played by Richard Burton) arrives in London for a meeting with billionaire merchant banker Sir Edward Matherson (played by Stewart Granger).
It seems that rolling in his money à la Scrooge McDuck isn’t enough for Matherson; he enjoys meddling in the politics of sub-Saharan Africa. As such, he proposes a mission to Faulkner.
Matheson wants Faulkner to enter the fictitious African nation of Zembala on a rescue mission. The target of this effort is the deposed president Julius Limbani (played by Winston Ntshona), who has been imprisoned following a military coup d’etàt which overthrew his government. The idea is Faulkner will recruit a team of mercenaries to storm the remote prison where Limbani is being held as Matherson fears
Limbani is going to be killed. Faulkner accepts the assignment (pending some terms) and begins assembling a group of officers with whom he has embarked on previous missions in Africa.
First up is former Royal Air Force pilot Lieutenant Shaun Fynn (played by Roger Moore). While Faulkner is attempting to contact him, Fynn believes he is working as a currency smuggler. But when he discovers he’s actually been transporting illegal drugs, Fynn kills his employer and subsequently has a mob bounty placed on his head. Fortunately, Matherson has enough “pull” with organized crime’s leaders he can get the contract to kill Fynn cancelled.
Another crucial part of Faulkner’s team is experienced tactician Captain Rafer Janders (played by Richard Harris). At first Janders wants nothing to do with Faulkner’s proposal; he doesn’t need the money as he’s become a somewhat-successful art dealer and with the holidays right around the corner, he’s planning a Christmas vacation with his son. Nevertheless, Faulkner persuades Janders to join his mission.
Now, Faulkner needs is a drill instructor to train his team of 50 men. When he asks retired Regimental Sergeant Major Sandy Young (played by Jack Watson) to serve in that capacity, he is all for it…but the can not be said of his wife. But Young accepts anyway.
Last, but not least is South African soldier-of-fortune Lieutenant Pieter Coetzee (played by Hardy Krüger) who finds life in London financially difficult and sees Faulkner’s mission as a chance to make enough money to return to his homeland and buy a farm.
Once Matherson and Faulkner have the tacit “blessings” of the British government, Faulkner takes his officers and soldiers-of-fortune to a remote location in Africa where a camp has been established for Young to put them through the most rigorous military training. As the preparations for the mission are wrapping up, Janders asks Faulkner to ensure the welfare of his son in the event of his death. Faulkner accepts.
Now, the team launches the mission; they air-drop on Christmas Day into Zembala near the prison where Limbani is being held. The troops who overthrew the government and who are defending the prison are known as “Zimbas.”
Coetzee uses a powerful crossbow with cyanide-tipped projectiles to kill the initial Zimba sentries; the remainder of the Zimbas guarding the prison are killed either with cyanide gas or during a futile attempt to mount some resistance. Faulkner’s team suffers no casualties, and make their escape by commandeering several vehicles from the prison to make their way to a predetermined airfield where they are to be picked up.
But two twists happen which change the entire plot trajectory. Despite the successful rescue of Limbani, they discover he is in ill health, a fact complicated by his being wounded during the battle with the Zimbas.
Even worse is unbeknownst to Faulkner and his team, Matherson has double-crossed them. The banker’s interest in the African nation has less to do with Limbani and more to do with exceptionally valuable (and foreshadowed) copper mining rights.
Once he and the British government have secured those rights with the new Zembalese government, the airplane which was sent to pick up Faulkner, his team, and Limbani is ordered to “Pass Them By.”
Abandoned and left to their own devices, Faulkner and his team have no choice but to fight their way to safety across miles of hostile territory with the Zimbas hot on their heels. Complicating matters even further is the discovery the Zimbas are being trained and advised by Cuban, Soviet, and East German officers…who have given the Zimbas orders to exterminate Faulkner’s team and Limbani.
As Faulkner et al. make their way toward the relative safety of Limbani’s tribal home land, their improvised convoy encounters a rickety wooden bridge over a river. Only the head-end of the convoy gets across the bridge before they come under attack from a Zimba aircraft which strafes Faulkner’s men before dropping napalm on them. The result is the Jeep containing Limbani, Coetzee, and medic Arthur Whity (played by Kenneth Griffith) is stranded on the approach to the bridge and several of Faulkner’s men are wounded.
With their vehicles destroyed and dwindling resources, Faulkner makes the agonizing decision to kill his wounded men, because they can’t transport them and leaving them to be captured by the Zimba soldiers invariably means they will be tortured and mutilated before being murdered.
Now on foot, the remnants of Faulkner’s team and Limbani are subject to several savage Zimba attacks. While carrying Limbani, Coetzee is killed while saving him from an ambush. Witty sacrifices himself fending off several machete-armed Zimbas, which allows the others to escape the attack.
Once Faulkner’s remaining men and Limbani reach his village, Irish missionary Father Geoghegen (played by Frank Finley) tells them of a barely-airworthy Second World War-era transport aircraft at a nearby airstrip which could provide for their escape.
Father Geoghegen leads Faulkner et al. to the old C-47 at the airstrip where the former RAF pilot Fynn readies it for flight. As one would expect, the Zimbas are in full pursuit, and as they approach the airstrip a ferocious battle breaks out. Many more of Faulkner’s men are killed, including Young, who is gunned down while running alongside Faulkner for the airplane. Several men successfully get into the airplane as it is taxiing for take-off, and they also manage to get the stretcher carrying Limbani aboard. Zimba gunfire pierces the cockpit and wounds Fynn, but he is able to keep the take-off roll going.
Janders is badly wounded on his run for the airplane; after a struggle, he realizes he can’t keep up. With the Zimbas right behind him, Janders begs Faulkner to kill him, thus sparing him from a fate in captivity at the hands of the Zimbas…like the wounded men back at the bridge. At first, Faulkner is reticent to shoot his friend, but as Janders calls out his son’s name reminding Faulkner of his earlier promise to ensure the boy’s well-being, Faulkner fells him with a burst from his automatic weapon.
The decrepit plane limps into the air with the near-death Limbani and only 13 survivors from the original 50. They have barely enough fuel to reach the safety of Rhodesia; they jettison everything they can to stretch the range of their ancient bird. However, at first the Rhodesians deny them permission to land; they are even threatened with being shot down if they cross into Rhodesian airspace.
But once Faulkner provides proof they have Limbani aboard, they are given clearance to land. They get on the ground; the plane is literally out of fuel, and it’s pilot isn’t much better shape; after making the landing, Fynn passes out from blood loss. Unfortunately in the meantime, Limbani has died of his wounds, which causes Faulkner to deem the mission a failure.
The combination of the loss of many men he considered friends and the failure to save Limbani drive Faulkner to keep another promise to Janders…meeting Matherson again to exact revenge for his double-cross. It takes three months, but as promised, Faulkner returns to London. There, he makes a clandestine entry into Matherson’s home, where he confronts Sir Edward at gunpoint. He collects $5000,000 in cash from Matherson’s safe, who then tries to bargain with Faulkner for his life. Faulkner declines his offer and shoots Matherson dead., after which Faulkner and Fynn make their getaway.
Faulkner later keeps his original promise to Janders about seeing to the well-being of his son. The film ends with Faulkner visiting the boy’s boarding school, where he offers to tell Janders’ son about his father.
The Hidden Sports Analogy:
To begin the journey to today’s hidden sports analogy, we start in the tumultuous geo-politcal world of post-colonial British Commonwealth Africa as shown in The Wild Geese and land in the middle of one of the most-storied franchises in the history of Major League Baseball. The rope connecting the two is woven from something found in both:
This journey starts in 2004 when the Fox Entertainment Group who had owned the Los Angeles Dodgers since 1998 put the team up for sale. Being that the Dodgers were “prime property,” there were several solid prospects looking to pay what was thought to be up to half a billion dollars. However, for criteria no one will ever really know, then Major League Baseball commissioner Bud Selig put his weighty thumb on the scales in favor of the team being purchased by Boston real estate magnate Frank McCourt.
This was a curious decision for a host of reasons, the most interesting being McCourt didn’t have the money. McCourt paid $430 million to purchase the Dodgers; only $9 million of which was in actual cash, the rest was an amalgamation of quasi-legitimate financing, mortgaged properties, and a partnership with his wife Jamie (this will become important later). Not only that, while Selig ushered a deal that was little more than assorted shiny things and bags of “magic beans;” several offers which were 100% honest-to-goodness cold, hard cash were eschewed in favor of McCourt’s financial “smoke and mirrors.”
The biggest harbinger of things to come in all of this: McCourt actually had to get a loan for $145 million from Fox Entertainment Group. Imagine selling your house, but you have to float one-third of the price to the purchaser. Let that sink in for a moment as you continue reading.
It didn’t take long for the driving force behind this shady deal to become evident. Fox Entertainment Group helped finance the sale of the Dodgers to Frank McCourt, and commissioner Selig threw his weight behind the deal because McCourt was supposed to be the guy to solidify a deal between the Dodgers and Fox for the broadcast rights to Dodgers games as the foundation for a regional cable sports network estimated to be worth up to $3 billion.
For five years, everything seemed to be fine; the Dodgers made the playoffs four times, including back-to-back trips to the National League Championship Series (NLCS) in 2008 and 2009. The only hint of trouble was that Frank McCourt kept stringing along Fox on the television deal, but they kept occasionally floating him operating capital when needed.
But it was the very day before the final NLCS under the McCourt regime…October 14, 2009…when everything changed. This was the day Frank and Jamie McCourt announced they were separating, leaving the status of their nearly 30-year marriage up in the air.
At first, it was an exercise in speculation as to how this would affect the ownership situation of the baseball team. The day following the announcement, a spokesperson for Jamie McCourt made an attempt to allay those ownership concerns by saying “the focus of the Dodgers is on the playoffs and the World Series.”
One week later…the day after the Dodgers lost the NLCS four games to one to the Philadelphia Phillies… owner Frank McCourt fired his soon to be ex-wife Jamie from her position as Dodgers Chief Executive Officer (CEO). One thing Jamie McCourt loved to do was to tout herself as baseball’s “First Female CEO.” Once that was taken away, the stage was sent for a long, ugly court battle.
Jamie McCourt kicked things off by officially filing for divorce. Frank McCourt responded by publicly accusing her of infidelity and having the locks changed at Dodger team headquarters. Frank made his own attempt to stem the rising tide of speculation by claiming the looming divorce would have “no bearing on the team whatsoever.” The judge presiding over the divorce changed that when he made December 7th, 2010 a date which will live forever in baseball infamy by invalidating the post-nuptial Marital Property Agreement (MPA) which Frank McCourt claimed made him the sole owner of the Dodgers.
Now that the battle lines were drawn, MLB commissioner Bud Selig was getting a solid understanding of how Sir Edward Matherson felt watching his massively-valuable copper-mining rights be threatened by domestic turmoil in Zembala. Selig had to sit back and watch while the dissolution of the house of McCourt not only put the ownership of one of baseball’s flagship franchises in doubt; all the while he had Fox reminding him of the $3 billion cable-TV deal that now wasn’t going to happen anytime soon…if at all. We might never know exactly when Selig began contemplating his own “Wild Geese”-style plan, but my guess is it was right about now.
Meanwhile, as one would expect from a nasty divorce, lawyers on either side began digging the trenches for a protracted and bloody battle. The spoils of this war would be ownership of the Los Angeles Dodgers. As such, Frank McCourt’s lawyers held there were several legal avenues to establish his sole ownership of the team. Naturally, the contention of Jamie McCourt’s counsel ran completely counter; she would emerge as the co-owner of the Dodgers due to California’s community property laws.
Flash the clock forward to April of 2011 when the pace of events picked up significantly.
April 5th: Frank McCourt finally presents Selig’s office with a contract on the promised cable-TV deal. The deal is rumored to be worth $3 billion over 20 years. However, the timing of the deal was seen as suspicious by many, and it didn’t take long for those concerns to come to light.
April 24th: Numerous reports surface stating the Internal Revenue Service is about to drop a net on both Frank and Jamie McCourt as there is an investigation pending as a response to allegations they both had been siphoning money out of the team into personal accounts since Day One and committing a myriad of tax offenses in the process.
April 25th: Bud Selig has heard enough. After years of hearing story after story from Frank McCourt, and given what is now emerging, he invokes his power as commissioner and launches his “Wild Geese” mission. The vanguard of this was his appointment of former Ambassador to Japan and former President of the Texas Rangers Tom Schieffer as an overseer of the finances of the Los Angeles Dodgers. Being an “overseer” is just a step shy of complete fiscal control. No expenditure over $5,000 could be made without Schieffer’s approval.
Now the media war started. Frank McCourt fired the first shot by being quoted in several media outlets essentially denying everything.
Major League Baseball sets strict financial guidelines which all 30 teams must follow. The Dodgers are in compliance with these guidelines. On this basis, it is hard to understand the commissioner’s decision today.~Frank McCourt
Dodgers Vice Chairman Steve Soboroff (who conveniently enough was hired by McCourt on April 19th) upped the ante by calling Selig’s actions “irresponsible.”
In response, a visibly pissed-off Bud Selig called a presser of his own where he stated the appointment of Schieffer was due to Major League Baseball’s concerns over the team’s financial condition and a “loss of confidence in the ability of owner Frank McCourt to run the team.”
Commissioner Selig expanded on that in the following quote:
Pursuant to my authority as Commissioner, I informed Los Angeles Dodgers owner Frank McCourt today that I will appoint a representative to oversee all aspects of the business and the day-to-day operations of the Club. I have taken this action because of my deep concerns regarding the finances and operations of the Dodgers and to protect the best interests of the Club, its great fans and all of Major League Baseball. My office will continue its thorough investigation into the operations and finances of the Dodgers and related entities during the period of Mr. McCourt’s ownership.
The Dodgers have been one of the most prestigious franchises in all of sports, and we owe it to their legion of loyal fans to ensure that this club is being operated properly now and will be guided appropriately in the future.~Bud Selig
Hidden in the polite language of that prepared statement was the fact Selig certainly didn’t appreciate being blamed for McCourt’s problems and that now “shit just got real.” Commissioner Selig then reinforced Tom “Colonel Faulkner” Schieffer with an entire staff dedicated to going over every single aspect of the operation of the Los Angeles Dodgers under the McCourts with the finest of fine-toothed combs. As one would expect, the quagmire only deepened for the McCourts.
Once Selig’s “Wild Geese” dug up the real dirt on the seedy nature of the Fox TV deal and it’s connected “personal” loan to Frank McCourt, the Commissioner nixed it. With his source of a gravely-needed cash infusion now gone, McCourt was desperate to make the Dodgers’ payroll. Worse yet, Selig’s nixing of the TV deal also voided a settlement between the McCourts in which they had agreed to divide their assets apart from their battle over ownership of the team.
By the beginning of June, the situation with Frank McCourt and the Dodgers was beyond dire. The only way he met payroll obligations for the team and $8 million in deferred payments to former Dodger Manny Ramirez was almost literally “passing the hat” among several friends. But by the end of the month, the money drain finally ran dry; on June 27th, the Los Angeles Dodgers filed for bankruptcy.
Another matter affected by the bankruptcy was it’s filing negated a scheduled court date on August 4th to decide the community property claim held by Jamie McCourt. In other words, while the bankruptcy protected the Dodgers from several financial liabilities, it complicated the ownership picture not only by leaving Jamie McCourt’s claim unsettled, it also allowed Commissioner Selig to accomplish his ultimate goal (after another lengthy court battle)…a “Limbani”-esque deposing of Frank McCourt by forcing the Dodgers to be sold.
Since I’m making “call-backs” to the movie in this piece, this seems like the perfect time to remind everybody that Commissioner Selig did a great impression of “Sir Edward Matherson” because just like the revolution in Zembala, the fiasco that was the “McCourt” Dodgers came about because of his meddling in the 2004 sale of the team. That also means that Selig and Matherson both had to send in their “Wild Geese” to fix problems they helped create.
The first thing that had to be settled was Jamie McCourt’s claim to ownership of the Dodgers from the divorce vis à vis the community property laws in California. Subsequent to the bankruptcy filing, the court scheduled a trial expected to take up to 45 days to untie the Gordian knot which was the property involved in the McCourt divorce. This was supposed to take place in the summer of 2012, but in order to get this out of the way of a Dodgers’ sale, in October 2011 an out-of-court settlement was reached. According to the terms of the deal, Jamie agreed to relinquish her claims to ownership of the Dodgers in exchange for Frank paying her $130 million upon completion of any sale of the team.
With that barrier removed, Selig announced that Major League Baseball had completed a loan to the Dodgers to provide operating capital until a sale could be completed. Of course, Frank McCourt refused to go down without a fight, so after even more court battles, on March 27, 2012 an agreement was reached between McCourt and Major League Baseball to sell the Los Angeles Dodgers.
Again, the Dodgers are prime baseball property; if they were on a baseball Monopoly board, they’d be on the side which wipes you out if it has a hotel when you land on it. After several offers, on May 1, 2012 a sale was completed to the Guggenheim Baseball Management Group, a consortium which at the time consisted of Basketball Hall-of-Famer and Los Angeles sports icon Earvin “Magic” Johnson, former baseball executive Stan Kasten, and several other guys with gargantuan wallets.
The Dodgers sold for a then-record price for a professional sports team….$2 billion. Like the accessories for a kids’ toy at Christmas, McCourt owned land surrounding Dodger Stadium which he sold separately to Guggenheim for an additional $150 million. Also, Guggenheim paid $14 million to rent the parking lots surrounding Dodger Stadium from a partnership which included Frank McCourt.
The Moral of the Story:
There’s an old saying that crime doesn’t pay. The same can’t be said for being an asshole…especially if you’re Frank McCourt.
P.S. As a blogger who for his entire life has hated the Los Angeles Dodgers more than toothaches and tax audits combined, there was a lot written about the Frank McCourt saga as it happened.
P.P.S. This isn’t the first time I’ve tackled a Roger Moore action flick directed by Andrew V. MacLaglen.
P.P.P.S. Yes, there’s an explanation of the official Dubsism position on the whole “Die Hard is/ is not a Christmas Movie” debate.
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