Politics are hooey, John Milius tells us, action separates leopard from fox. (Lions and bears also figure, the eagle is a "dandified vulture.") Morocco in the early 1900s is a land in flux riddled with bits from Western cultures, including a private Yankee patch; Berber horsemen crash through, the Raisuli (Sean Connery in pepper beard and fierce robes) carries the pale maiden (Candice Bergen) and kids away, it's an international matter. Brian Keith's frankly superb Theodore Roosevelt is introduced with hand on globe for the pose of History -- the bully grin he flashes from the back of a train is an extension of the virile joy of brawling in the woods, where what could be called Renoir lighting sets off John Huston in profile (as the Secretary of State) as a facsimile of Michel Simon. America "the blind and the reckless," the President sighs admiringly to reporters who know how to print the legend; the Raisuli is his equal in alpha nobility and contradiction, a warrior who declares himself "a scholar and a leader" before adorning a charred oasis with severed heads: The love story is a long-distance, unconsummated one between these two yaks, admiring each other's rifles and dignity in a world prone to swirling barbarism. American military might is luxuriated in, though only after a low-angled burlesque shot that finds Geoffrey Lewis, Steve Kanaly, and the other uniformed ramrods dizzy with thoughts of imperialism -- an "incoherent text" headier than any screen Kipling adaptation. All the macho bluster and honor can be spun one way or the other, really, Milius meanwhile is making himself at home in the desert, exercising a most erudite Movie Brat mind: Connery barging into Bergen's tent with erect sword is from It Happened One Night, there's plenty of Peckinpah (the Sultan's supercilious pleasure in a Teutonic machine-gun), a close-up of the boy sleeping suggests Vermeer until he's awakened by a soldier who's got the aching theme from The Searchers in his harmonica. With Vladek Sheybal, Nadim Sawalha, Roy Jenson, and Simon Harrison.
--- Fernando F. Croce