"Do I have to ask how it went?"
"I thought not."
-Lt. Shawn Fynn & Col. Allen Faulkner
Most films which involve a group of (usually) men embarking on a do-or-die mission just cut right to the chase in terms of action. When I first saw this film, I was surprised not only at how much time is devoted to planning the mission, but at how much this film keeps the viewer's interest despite the fact that there are no explosions.
The film involves a British mercenary, one Col. Allen Faulkner (Richard Burton), who is recruited by renowed banker Sir Edward Matheson (Stewart Granger) to infiltrate central Africa to rescue African president Julius Limbani (Winston Ntshona) from the dictator who recently overthrew him.
Faulkner agrees on the condition that he can recruit his two top aides for the mission: Capt. Rafer Janders (Richard Harris), a tactician who is now a single father, and Lt. Shawn Fynn (Roger Moore), a pilot and confirmed bachelor.
After some persuasion, Janders agrees, but problems arise with Fynn after he murders the nephew of the local mafia boss for having him transport heroin which resulted in the death of a young girl. This particularly brutal moment leads to a contract on Fynn which Matheson is later able to lift so Faulkner can recruit him.
The film is basically halfway over when the trio recruit other men including South African nationalist Pieter Coetzee (Hardy Kruger), who is familiar with the uncharted, hostile territory the men will be traveling through. Not long after the men find Limbani, they realize they've been set up when Matheson's behind-the-scenes talks with the government leads to the men's getaway plane abandoning them.
The team eventually manage to find other transportation away from the hostiles, but not before several of them, including Janders, Zimbani, and Coetzee, are killed.
This leads to the satisfying epilogue in which Faulkner confronts & then kills Matheson.
As I noted before, the film is basically half over before the mission actually begins. Hence, it would be tough for this film to be made (at least in the same way) today. Indeed, what makes this film good isn't the action but the nice cast. Moore, at the time, was riding high in his acting career as he had just starred in The Spy Who Loved Me (1977), the third and, for many (including me), the best, of Sir Roger's Bond outings. This film also gave Burton's career a nice shot in the arm as his previous film was the dreadful Exorcist II: The Heretic (1977).
Another plus is the nice message of racial brotherhood the film presents. The Coetzee/Zimbani scenes nicely evolve from racial hatred to respect as the film progresses.
This film was successful in several countries. It wasn't in the US, though, because the movie's distributor, Allied Artists, had finanically collapsed by the time of the film's release. Hence, it received limited American distribution.