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The Dogs of War

Theatrical release poster
Directed by John Irvin
Produced by Larry DeWaay
Norman Jewison
Patrick J. Palmer
Written by Frederick Forsyth (Novel)
Gary DeVore
George Malko
Michael Cimino
Starring Christopher Walken
Tom Berenger
Colin Blakely
Hugh Millais
Paul Freeman
Jean-Francois Stevenin
JoBeth Williams
Robert Urquhart
Winston Ntshona
George Harris
Music by Geoffrey Burgon
Cinematography Jack Cardiff
Editing by Antony Gibbs
Distributed by United Artists
Release date(s) 13 February, 1980
Running time 102 min.
Country United States
United Kingdom
Language English

The Dogs of War is a 1980 war film based upon the novel The Dogs of War by Frederick Forsyth, directed by John Irvin. It stars Christopher Walken and Tom Berenger as part of a small, international unit of mercenary soldiers privately hired to depose President Kimba of a fictional "Republic of Zangaro", in Africa, so that a British tycoon can gain mining access to a huge platinum deposit. This movie was filmed on location in Belize.

The Dogs of War title is a phrase from William Shakespeare's play Julius Caesar (1599), which uses the line Cry, 'Havoc!', and let slip the dogs of war (line 270, scene 1, Act III).



As the film opens, mercenaries Jamie Shannon, Drew, Derek, Michel, Terry and Richard making a hasty exit from a war-torn Central American country by hijacking a civilian plane a DC-3. Richard dies on the plane, when a Central American officer asks for his body to be removed to make room for others Shannon demands his friend "goes home". After Shannon returns home, he gets an offer from a Briton named Endean, who is interested in the mineral wealth of a small African nation named Zangaro. Endean pays Shannon $15,000 to go on a reconnaissance mission in Zangaro, which is run by a paranoid and brutal dictator named General Kimba.

Shannon arrives in Zangaro's capital of Clarencetown, meets an English documentary filmmaker named North who tells him Zangaro's history, and scouts out the defences of the military garrison. However, his activities arouse the suspicions of Zangaro's police, and he is arrested, severely beaten and thrown in jail. His multiple wounds are treated by Dr. Okoye, a physician who was formerly a moderate political leader (and the only local politician of whom North approved) but who was imprisoned by General Kimba four years ago. North agitates for his release, and Shannon is deported after two days of torture. His physician tells him that all the damage he has sustained has taken years off his lifespan.

After Shannon tells Endean that there is no chance of an internal coup, Endean offers Shannon $100,000 to overthrow Kimba by invading Zangaro with a mercenary army. Endean intends to install a puppet government led by Colonel Bobi, Kimba's brutal and greedy former ally. This would allow Endean to exploit the country's newly-discovered platinum resources, as Colonel Bobi has already signed away the mineral rights. Shannon refuses the offer and decides to leave his mercenary life behind. He meets his estranged wife, and proposes that they start a new life in Colorado or Montana. She turns him down, noting that she does not think that he has changed. Shannon then accept Endean's offer to organize an attack on Zangaro, with the condition that he have complete control.

After Endean gives Shannon $1 million for expenses, Shannon contacts his mercenary cohorts from Central America (3 of whom join him; 1 does not). They meet up at Liverpool Street Station to plan the coup, when all the options have been decided Michel proposes a toast followed by Shannon's reciting his motto "Everyone Comes Home". The group illegally procures Uzi submachine guns, ammunition, rocket launchers, mines, and other weapons from arms dealers.

He hires a small freighter and crew to transport the team to the coast of Zangaro, and purchases a variety of other equipment that will be used in the attack, such as Zodiac-style motorboats. By chance, he encounters North, who was expelled from Zangaro shortly after Shannon. North believes Shannon is a CIA agent heading back to Zangaro and tries to tail him. Shannon asks Drew to scare North away without hurting him, but instead North is killed by someone who had been hired by Endean to follow Shannon and his crew. A furious Shannon kills him in turn and leaves his body at Endean's house during a dinner party held for Colonel Bobi.

At sea, the team is joined by a group of black mercenary soldiers trained by a former mercenary colleague Jinja, who will act as infantry. Once ashore in Zangaro, the mercenaries attack the military garrison where Kimba lives with their entire array of weapons. Drew enters a shack in the barrack's court yard and is killed by a seemingly-helpless young woman, who shoots him in the back. After the mercenaries storm the burning, bullet-pockmarked ruins of the garrison, Shannon makes his way inside Kimba's mansion, where he kills many of the occupants, including Kimba after he offers Shannon money for his life.

Endean then arrives in a helicopter with Colonel Bobi, they enter the presidential residence to find Shannon and Dr. Okoye. Shannon introduces Dr. Okoye as Zangaro's new president and kills the arrogant Bobi. When Endean protests that Zangaro has been bought and paid for, Shannon tells him that he will have to pay for the country all over again. Shannon, Derek and Michel load the body of Drew on a Landrover then leave. The story ends as the mercenaries drive through the deserted streets of Clarencetown.



In 1981, the actor Christopher Walken won a Golden Space Needle Award for Best Actor at the Seattle International Film Festival.


There are many differences between the novel (described as a manual for revolution in small African countries) and the cinematic version; the former's focus is the planning and logistics of the coup d'état, while the latter's focus is the initial reconnaissance and the attack upon the presidential garrison in Zangaro's capital city, Clarence. There are also numerous plot differences, with the film leaving out the rival French mercenary who tries to stop Shannon, the parts showing the company who hire Shannon and Shannon's relationship with the CEO's daughter. The film also changes the ending. The authors of the film script obviously had some reservations about the factual qualities of the novel. For example, in the movie, Endean questions the cover of Shannon, who is about to go to Zangaro as an [ornithologist], and proposes he goes as a tourist instead. In the novel, Shannon indeed travels as a tourist, whereas in the movie, Shannon bluntly rejects Endean's proposal as foolish ("Who is going to Zangaro as a tourist ?").


The African country scenes were filmed in Belize City, Belize (Central America), and the surrounding area. The manually-turned swinging bridge described in the end plot, is one of the largest of its kind in the world. The film features several weapons that were prominent in popular culture during the 1980s. The Uzi submachine guns used in the movie (changed from the German Second World War vintage MP 40s of the novel) were actually a mix of real Uzis and set-dressed Ingram MAC-10s. Shannon's grenade launcher, dubbed the "XM-18" in the film, is a Manville gun a design later used by the MM-1 grenade launcher. It is depicted in the movie poster. One of the mercenaries - Derek, a former member of the SAS - was obviously influenced by the character 'Tosh' Donaldson in the film The Wild Geese.

This was only the second international feature for director John Irvin, who previously worked as documentary maker during The Vietnam War. He would go on to direct stars such as Arnold Schwarzenegger (Raw Deal), Don Cheadle (Hamburger Hill) and Michael Caine (Shiner).

Cinematographer Jack Cardiff had previously directed an account of mercenaries in Africa entitled Dark of the Sun. Composer Geoffrey Burgon concludes the film with A. E. Housman's Epitaph for an Army of Mercenaries sung over the end titles by Gillian McPherson.

The Helicopter was Flown By Brent Holman.

External links



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