Friday, May 22, 2015

The Windbag and the Lion

As I have mentioned before, I like movies that are based on actual historic events.

It goes with the territory, I suppose. I have always been something of an amateur historian. I even minored in history in college. Historical movies (sometimes they are called "biopics" even if they aren't biographical in nature, although I usually reserve the term biopic for movies that really are biographies, not just movies about events that played prominent roles in the subject's life).

But, in a way, I feel torn about "The Wind and the Lion," which premiered 40 years ago today. It isn't really a biopic. It is loosely based — very loosely based — on a rather obscure event called the Pedicaris incident.

Now, I like to think I'm a reasonable guy — and, even though I'm that history geek you were warned about, I'm not as rigid as you may think. I can be flexible about movie adaptations as long as they are basically faithful to the truth. I'm willing to allow for some poetic license in the crafting of dialogue, for example, or some other details. I don't get bent out of shape, say, if the cars in a movie did not exist until a year or two after the event in the movie took place. My brother is the one who inherited the mechanical aptitude in the family, and he might get worked up over something like that, but, to me, it is a general detail that I can overlook.

What I find significantly more difficult to overlook is a movie that rewrites history. It doesn't have to be as blatant as, say, a movie about Pearl Harbor in which the blindsided Americans waged a counterattack that drove the Japanese from the Hawaiian islands before they inflicted as much damage as history tells us they did. It can be more subtle than that.

It wasn't hard for "The Wind and the Lion" to be subtle, being as very few people knew about the Peridcaris incident, which took place in 1904, at the time it happened — or for decades thereafter — much less in 1975 or after.

So the folks who made the movie apparently felt free to fudge on some details — like, for example, the fact that a man, not a woman, was abducted by turn–of–the–century Arabs who provide an interesting contrast with groups like Isis today.

The leader of the gang, played by Sean Connery, proudly asserts that he doesn't kill women and children; the leader of radical Muslims today could make no such claim — although that leader no doubt would agree with Connery's character when he asserts that he is merely Allah's instrument and that whatever happens is Allah's will.

That's a pretty common assertion from anyone who absolutely believes God is on his side — and that it is a blank check for him to do as he pleases.

The woman was played by Candice Bergen, who was 29 and rather pretty when the movie premiered. The man who really was kidnapped in the incident on which the movie was based was a rather plain businessman in his 60s. In the movies, sex appeal trumps the truth — but that really isn't a surprise, is it? Sex is profitable; the truth rarely is.

Speaking of truth, I have my doubts that the portrayal of President Theodore Roosevelt, who was seeking a full term after becoming president following the assassination of President McKinley three years earlier, was entirely accurate. Teddy, who faced the challenge as president of doing something to save the hostages, was played in a cartoonish way — always a belligerent windbag who frequently appeared to be more concerned with his image than anything else — by Brian Keith.

Now, I have no doubt that Roosevelt possessed such qualities — I have read many books about his life and presidency — and I agree that he was a strong–willed man, a rugged individualist who craved adventure — but I don't think he was always the blowhard that he appeared to be in "The Wind and the Lion."

Of course, I could be wrong.

At the Oscars, "The Wind and the Lion" received two nominations — for Best Original Score and Best Sound Mixing — and lost both to John Williams' score for "Jaws."