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In 1904, a rebellious Moroccan chieftain Mulay el Raisuli (Sean Connery) seizes an American widow, Eden Pedecaris (Candice Bergen) and her children in Tangier and carries them off to his desert retreat where they are held as political hostages. The kidnapping causes great commotion in the White House where Theodore Roosevelt (Brian Keith) is keen to flex his muscle both at home and abroad by sending in the troops. Roosevelt and his Secretary Of State (John Huston) make plans for a decisive action that will increase the President’s chances for re-election. Meanwhile, Mrs Pedecaris and her kids decide that Raisuli is not such a bad chap after all. 

Review by Keith Lofthouse:
I have never seen much point in Hollywood’s distortions of historical fact when pure fiction is a perfectly reasonable substitute. The truth is that the real life Raisuli kidnapped a balding and rather bloated American businessman to embarrass the Sultan of Morocco whose relations with the U.S. were already strained. The man was released unharmed after a few days but the Republicans did try to make some political mileage out of the incident. No marines were despatched, however, and there was barely a loss of face, let alone a loss of life. In the romanticized version, Miss Bergen is like Dorothy Lamour in a Crosby / Hope Road movie. Enduring hardship and deprivation she still presents her perfectly coiffed personage as sheer ornament to an historic event which flagged the dawning of U.S. interventionism when the White House insisted that the businessman be freed, or Raisuli would pay with his life. 

Indeed, the first 10 minutes is like a chapter in a mid-50s sword and sand epic as a group of yahooing horsemen, in billowing robes and garments, sabres shimmering in the sunlight, thunder down a stretch of Mediterranean beach and clatter through the tight backstreets and bazaars of Tangier to startle a group of Westerners taking tea. Mrs Pedecaris and her brood are lifted bodily onto horseback and whisked away to the wilderness and to an unknown fate. The reasons for Raisuli’s actions are somewhat confused in Milius’ scheme of things. The rebellious Berber wants Roosevelt to bring pressure to bear on local rulers in a dispute over land. He has a need for ammunition and a desire for ransom but his letters to Roosevelt are hardly conciliatory. “You are like the wind who doesn’t know its place,” he writes provocatively and Roosevelt, posturing in an election year, responds demanding respect for Americans and their property while publicly trumpeting: “Pedecaris alive or Raisuli dead.” 

Morocco was the focus of world attention at the time. The Germans had landed, the Russians were there, as were the French, all protecting their interests, or trying to further them. There was hardly a need for an American presence, but that was the start of the long and rocky road to Iraq, 2003. Meanwhile, back at the casbah, Raisuli rules with a barbarian’s blade. He beheads a man for stealing water, which hardly endears him to his haughty captive, but over a game of chess, Eden comes to understand and respect him and even the children adopt the local fashion by dressing up in turbans and robes and thinking of their Arab host as a bit of a hero. 

Clearly, Milius is more concerned with myth than motive and with lifting spectacle above the specifics. The visual harmony is enhanced by Jerry Goldsmith’s stirring score - which he later lifted to use as the Klingon Theme in episodes of Star Trek. But there’s a naivety about the thing that is almost endearing. Connery hardly correcting his broad Scottish burr, is monumentally miscast as the last of the Barbary pirates but Keith is a knockout as a blustery Roosevelt, imbued with the heartiest dialogue and a love for all this Boys’ Own stuff…guns, archery, fisticuffs and a grudging admiration for his foreign foe. 

Published February 26, 2004

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(US, 1975)

CAST: Sean Connery, Candice Bergen, Brian Keith

DIRECTOR: John Milius

SCRIPT: John Milius

RUNNING TIME: 114 minutes

PRESENTATION: Widescreen (2.35:1/16:9 Enhanced)

SPECIAL FEATURES: Original movie trailers

DVD DISTRIBUTOR: Columbia-Tristar

DVD RELEASE: February 25, 2004

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