In an effort to expand our reach and continue to generate community spirit and show that us shooters are (relatively) normal people I thought it would be fun to list my top 5 manly man films.
Now the criteria behind this are simple, they have to be relatively unknown to more modern/mainstream audiences, be fairly realistic (not exclusive) be of “a man/men of a mission” theme and of course feature lots of action and firearms! (You’ll also probably notice that many of these films feature the FAL….. not that it’s my favourite rifle or anything) one other thing is that all these films really have terrific soundtracks.
Although it’s a top 5 it is in no particular order, so I hope you enjoy my list, please discuss what you think and share with friends and help grow our little community. I’ve put links to amazon where you purchase the films or books and add them to your collection if you haven’t already!
The Wild Geese
This is probably one of my most watched films, featuring an ensemble all-star cast of well-known actors alongside many more familiar faces in British cinema. From the moment the excellent and emotional theme song ends(the entire soundtrack is brilliantly stirring stuff) we are thrust immediately into the action. Although the film runs at over 2 hours it is well-paced and keeps up a steady flow of action, all scenes feel relevant and nothing seems like padding.
The basic plot is a group of mercenaries are tasked by a rich businessman to rescue a disposed African leader from prison so that he can be used to blackmail the current leader who was responsible for his imprisonment. Whilst initially going to plan things change along the way leading to many memorable scenes. It is hard to talk about the film without giving so much away however it really does cover a quite a range of emotions from excitement, anger, drama and wondering what will happen next. The film contains many likeable characters and you really are rooting for these men on a mission. There are 50 mercenaries and you get to know quite a lot of their faces, you watch them complete their training and go into action so even when a character dies you do feel a sense of sadness that the unit has lost someone. There is a real chemistry between the actors and for me personally sometimes I get so engrossed in the characters and action that you forget it’s only a film. There final battle at the end is a real heart/gut-wrencher and you really get a feel for the danger and desperation of the heros.
The film although made in 1978 I feel still is representative of many of the issues that face Africa in the 21st century with a lot of the problems presented in the film still going unsolved or in some cases getting worse.
The Film is based on the Novel “The Thin White Line” by Rhodesian Daniel Cairney a former Member of the British South Africa Police. I understand the book went unpublished until the film was made. Having enjoyed the film so much I purchased a copy of the book and I have to say that whilst I enjoyed the book the film is far more enjoyable. The characters of the book seemed to be often unsavoury and unlikable and I found myself not really caring about them as much as I did the characters presented in film. Which is a more accurate representation of mercenaries I am not able to say. Perhaps reading the book first then the film might be a better way to do it.
There was a sequel of sorts written by the author called The Square Circle which was turned into The Wild Geese 2, whilst a fairly enjoyable 80’s action film it is unfortunately not in the same calibre as the first and fails to capture any of its spirit. Worth watching if you enjoy the genre and are interested in seeing 1980’s Cold War era Berlin.
There is also a film called Codename: WildGeese starring Lewis Collins (one of whose films features on this list) but is totally unrelated to this series. A fairly interesting low budget 80’s action flick from Italy. Again worth watching if you have an interest in the genre. Collins did 3 such films and one of the highlights is the excellent special effects and model work.
Dark of the Sun
Dark of the Sun is something of a rarity, I first encountered this film on TCM as a young teenager back in the early 00’s and it blew my mind. For a film made in the late 1960’s it was staggering in what it depicted. The feature is loosely based on the Katanga/Simba uprising within the Former Belgian Congo in the 1960’s it stars Rod Taylor(The Birds) and Jim Brown(the Dirty Dozen) as a Mercenary Captain Curry and Congolese Sergeant Ruffo tasked with taking a train of Congolese special forces up country to rescue the beleaguered inhabitants of a small mining town. The twist of course is that the real agenda is to also bring back a large cache of diamonds that is stored in an underground vault within the mining village. On the way they must run United Nations Blockades, whilst dealing with the ever present risk of attack by revolutionaries and a former Nazi Officer within the unit.
Some of the action scenes are very impressive, the film does suffer from dated rear projection and what appears to be poor quality editing/post production.
There are however some scenes that stick in the mind, there is a collection of scenes where civilians are being brutally tortured by the rebels, what is shown and what is implied is quite horrific and I believe the director is quoted as saying as what is depicted on film is nowhere near as horrifying as what he actually discovered during his research. Actually watching the film on DVD on a bigger screen I noticed a few horrific details and suggestions of torture that I previously missed.
I did find the final fight at the end a little cheesy and the final scene a little unsatisfactory and contrived as if it was trying to send a message where if it was a little more relaxed and not as forced it would have been more effective.
The film is adapted from the Novel Dark of the Sun by Wilbur Smith, generally it follows the same plot with some minor variances. The biggest changes are the Nazi villain Henlein in the film being changed from an unsavoury Englishman called Hendry. Other character’s explicate traits in the novel are only hinted at in the film. The ending of the novel is somewhat different as it involved long distance tracking and I think the film tried to condense that on screen for obvious reasons as it would likely have added too much to the running time. If you like the film the novel is also worth getting as a companion piece. There are again some scenes in the novel that really bring home the horrors and brutality of conflict.
Overall it is very enjoyable and worth tracking down for the action scenes and Taylor is good as rougher kind of hero. If you have an interest in Africa and Mercenaries in the 1960’s then it is one of the rare films that tick these boxes.
Who Dares Wins
What can I say about Who Dares Wins? filmed in the aftermath of the Iranian embassy siege which thrust the SAS into public view, it is possibly the first film to really feature the modern UK Special Air Service It’s an absolute classic. Featuring several familiar faces from the big screen but starring Lewis Collins in the lead role of an SAS Officer sent undercover to infiltrate an extreme left wing terrorist group. The film starts with an introduction to Collins’ character at Hereford followed and a rough(perhaps dramatised) glimpse into SAS training before it becomes more of a spy thriller as he tries to find out who or what the terrorist organisation are planning to attack. The film builds up to an exciting finale which seems to be very much inspired by footage from the aforementioned Iranian Embassy siege. The final 20 minutes of the film really are incredible with lots of ingenuity with the camera work and brilliant scenes.
The Soundtrack by Roy Budd (Who also did the Wild Geese, as did the producer of this film, see if you can spot his daughter in both) is excellent, funky, exciting and helps build on the tension where appropriate. If anything was to accompany the SAS on the job it seems like such a cool soundtrack to do it to,.
It is interesting to see the political divide of the UK and London in the early 1980’s in many way’s it still exists to this day. I believe the film was harshly received by critics because of its portrayal of left of centre people being terrorists but this is quite realistic and even to the present day this theme is relevant (anti-fa, recent shootings in New Zealand and the US being carried out by left wing extremists).
Collins himself was a former Paratrooper in the Territorial Army and I believe even passed selection for the Reserve SAS but was turned down finally because of his well known public profile. I think this likely helped add some realism to the film which really does have many memorial scenes(could anyone make running down a corridor with a Mac 10 flanked with SAS troopers look any cooler than Lew?)
Collins was also a prospective candidate for 007 and was turned down for being too aggressive, it certainly would have been interesting to see his take as I think he may have been many years ahead of time in terms of gritty realism.(Much like Dalton)
Where Eagles Dare
Ok we start to go away from the realism with this film but it is still one of the most watchable films ever made. Starring 2 legends Richard Burton and Clint Eastwood. Where Eagles Dare immediately gets you pumped up with the theme song, perhaps giving you an idea of the action to come before cutting to a quiet scene where the plot is explained to a group of special forces operators. They must parachute behind German lines, infiltrate a fortified castle and rescue an American General so he can’t reveal allied invasion plans.
Along the way as well as lots of action there are many plot twists and turns that require your attention. This film features many tropes of world war 2 films such the sinister black clad Gestapo officer and beautiful women but there isn’t really any time for love interests as the mission is the primary focus which is really refreshing as it would add nothing to the film.
The film initially involves subterfuge and covert operations as the group work their way into the castle but the final act is basically one huge shoot out in which Clint Eastwood in an iconic image dual wields MP40s and probably wipes out half the German Army. Eastwood is brilliant in this film, he plays the role perfectly as a cold-hearted killer who is very good at his job, he does lots some of his style to the character so he is far from boring. One of the coolest roles in cinema(is Eastwood ever anything else?). Burton players the role of the leader of the group just as well, he is only one of two characters who know fully what is going on and he only reveals what he has to right up to the climax so the first time viewer probably won’t know everything until the final few minutes of film.
laden with memorable scenes involving castle shoot outs, cable cars and buses the film is filled with excitement and no doubt inspired many similar scenes in film and video games.
This is the first film on our list where I haven’t read the accompanying novel if there one. I believe the novel was actually written after the screenplay is largely faithful to the book. My understanding is that Richard Burton’s son complained that his dad never appeared in any good old fashioned action films any more and thus it lead to this, as Alistair MacLean’s books had already been mostly made into films it was thus the screenplay was developed first.
This is where realism goes out the window but it does not make this film any less enjoyable. In many ways for me this is the perfect action film and was one of my favourite films as a kid, I remember having a well used VHS copy of it that I taped from STV, until I eventually bought a DVD when I was much older I was greeted with lots of scenes that were cut from TV in the early 90’s!
It stars Arnold Schwarzenegger as retired special forces Colonel John Matrix whose daughter is kidnapped by an old enemy in order to force him to perform an assassination. He has exactly 11 Hours to find his daughter before his enemies will realise he isn’t following their demands and kill her.
The film is utterly ridiculous on many levels and totally at odds with many of the modern action films which are supposed to be more realistic but Schwarzenegger is just such a legend it actually doesn’t feel as over the top as it should be. It is jammed full of brilliantly outrageous fight scenes choreographed like a ballet, excellent one liners with everything building up to be more outrageous and over the top until the final scenes where all hell breaks lose! This film was made for Arnie and I don’t think anyone else could have pulled it off no matter if he is breaking chains with his bear hands or mowing down dozens of troops without getting a scratch you just suspend disbelief quite easily.
The soundtrack is very 80’s and was written by James Horner, but it suits the film well and is iconic in itself. (is it just me that has got ready for a night out or going shooting listening to the track where Matrix gets suited up for battle? yes I am that sad)
Even Vernon Well’s who plays a former member of Matrix commando group turned bad is brilliantly over the top. Although he is in nowhere near the shape of Arnie (I used to think it was Freddie Mercury when I was wee, I think it was one time my Granny was babysitting me she told me it wasn’t!) he is absolutely mental and plays the character so well.
This is really a great film to sit with a few mates and have a few beers with and enjoy the dialogue and the action scenes. It has a solid plot but it isn’t so complicated that it requires minute attention.
The ending with Schwarzenegger walking off into the sunset accompanied by pounding 80’s rock is the cherry on this cheesecake!