For the next few weeks, our "Don't Make a Scene" feature will be doing a series we call "The Gospel According to...", in which a main character reveals their philosophy, and a little about themselves in the process. Hope you enjoy it.
The Gospel According to Theodore Roosevelt
The Set-Up: The Wind and the Lion is John Milius' fanciful retelling of an episode lost to history (until he brought it up)—the kidnapping of an American diplomat in Morocco by Berber pirates. Of course, the actual incident was resolved without all the machinations, mayhem, and explosions of the film...and there is the small matter that the ambassador was a man...not a woman.
But what fun would that be?
No, this is history writ large, and blown up to distorted proportions. It needed to be to accommodate the characters Milius chose to inhabit this story: the man who instituted the crisis, the Raisuli (played magnificently, if improbably, by Sean Connery—with Scottish burr intact), and the then-President of the United States, Theodore Roosevelt (maybe the best role Brian Keith ever played).
Milius must have fancied this an "alternative" history while he was writing it. For instance, in the description, he refers to reporters being from the "Kane" papers (as in Charles Foster Kane, the fictional newspaper magnate from Citizen Kane), not the Hearst papers. Also, and I found this particularly charming, he wrote the screenplay in the past tense.
But, The Wind and the Lion was an opportunity for Milius to write for one of his favorite figures in history, President Theodore Roosevelt, with all the brio, the bluster, and the b.s. that "Teddy" could spew, holding court. There is very little action for Roosevelt in this film—most of that is happening in Morocco—as he merely does Presidential things and use his "bully" pulpit. As his daughter Alice (played in the film by Deborah Baxter) remarked about him: "He wants to be the bride at every wedding, the corpse at every funeral, and the baby at every christening." The man did like being the center of attention. And he is portrayed that way in this film, except for one rare private moment at the end.
This post will be up for the Fourth of July, and usually, I put up the montage sequence from Mr. Smith Goes to Washington around this time. This year, though, rather than celebrating, we'll ruminate with Mr. Roosevelt about the American Character through the pen of John Milius.
Happy Birthday, America.
The Story: President Theodore Roosevelt (Brian Keith) is enjoying his days as President. He is building the Panama Canal, and running for another term. But there is always something—in this case, the kidnapping of the widow of an American diplomat, Eden Pedacaris (Candice Bergen) by Mulay Ahmed Muhamed Raisuli the Magnificent, sherif of the Riffian Berbers (Sean Connery) half a world away in Morocco.
Additions to the script are in green. Deletions are in red.
CAMP ON THE YELLOWSTONE
ROOSEVELT: Brought us some venison and a cougar.
ROOSEVELT: Heard about the bear...
ROOSEVELT: ...have you?
SCOUT: Big one, I heard...
COOK: Coffee, Mr. President?
Roosevelt stood next to an enormous grizzly bear skin and head. Around him were various reporters for magazines such as "Colliers" and "The Nation" as well as those representing the Kane newspapers. He held the grizzly's head up.
REPORTER I: Is that the bear?
ROOSEVELT: This is the bear that attacked the horse camp at dawn.
ROOSEVELT: He knew that men would be asleep or at their worst at dawn.
ROOSEVELT: It, of course, as you've heard, injured one of the Indians severely...
ROOSEVELT: ...as well as killing several horses.
REPORTER I: Did you, yourself, participate in stopping the bear, Mr. President?
ROOSEVELT: I regret to say, yes.
REPORTER: Why do you regret, Mr. President?
ROOSEVELT: Because he's a fine creature.
ROOSEVELT: We're used to animals taking flight at the sight of a man with a gun, but a grizzly bear fears nothing. Not man, not guns, not death.
REPORTER: Do you intend to have that bear as a rug in the White House, Mr. President?
ROOSEVELT: Rug? No!
ROOSEVELT: No, I intend to have him stuffed and placed on exhibit in the Smithsonian Institute. He is a magnificent specimen. The grizzly bear, you know, is the true symbol of American character.
ROOSEVELT: Strength, intelligence, ferocity, courage --
ROOSEVELT: A little blind and reckless, perhaps, but courageous beyond doubt.
ROOSEVELT: Oh, and one other trait that goes with all the previous.
REPORTER: And that, Mr. President?
ROOSEVELT: The grizzly bear must live out his life alone -- indomitable, unconquered, but always alone. He has no real allies, only enemies...
ROOSEVELT: ...and none of them as great as he.
REPORTER: You feel this is...
REPORTER: ...an American trait?
ROOSEVELT: Certainly, the world will never love us. They respect us...
ROOSEVELT: ...they might even grow to fear us...
ROOSEVELT: ...but they'll never love us. We have too much audacity...
ROOSEVELT: ...and we are a little blind and reckless at times.
REPORTER: Are you referring to the Panama Canal and the situation in Morocco?
ROOSEVELT: If you say so...
He looked back at the bear.
ROOSEVELT: Yes, the grizzly bear embodies the spirit of America. It should be our symbol, not that ridiculous eagle which is no more than a dandified vulture.