Game for Vultures

Game for Vultures is a 1979 British thriller film starring Richard Harris, Joan Collins and Richard Roundtree. It was directed by James Fargo and based on a novel by Michael Hartmann set during the Rhodesian Bush War.

Game for Vultures
American poster
Directed byJames Fargo
Produced byHazel Adair
Written byPhilip Baird
Based ona novel by Michael Hartmann
StarringRichard Harris
Richard Roundtree
Denholm Elliott
Joan Collins
Music byTony Duhig
Jon Field
CinematographyAlex Thomson
Edited byPeter Tanner
Distributed byColumbia Pictures
Ster-Kinekor Film Distribution Co (South Africa)
Release date
  • 13 September 1979 (1979-09-13)
Running time
113 minutes
CountryUnited Kingdom
Budget$5 million[1]


During the late 1970s, as the Rhodesian Bush War reaches its height, arms dealer David Swansey (Richard Harris) is a "sanctions busting" specialist, one of many who keeps the Rhodesian Security Forces supplied through black market purchases despite an extensive international arms embargo. Swansey's latest assignment is to arrange the illicit purchase of military helicopters, which he acquires in the form of surplus Bell UH-1s being auctioned from a United States Air Force base in West Germany. However, word of this transaction is soon leaked to a foreign office of the Zimbabwe African National Union (ZANU), which applies strong political pressure in an attempt to kill the deal in its cradle. Due to this, the helicopters are barred from reaching Rhodesia and instead diverted to neighbouring South West Africa (Namibia).

Meanwhile, Gideon Marunga (Roundtree) is a guerrilla fighter in the Zimbabwe African National Liberation Army (ZANLA), ZANU's armed wing. Marunga learns that the South West African authorities are going to allow Swansey and the Rhodesian Special Air Service to stage a mock raid on the airfield where the helicopters are being stored, with the intention of loading them onto Douglas C-47 Dakotas bound for Rhodesia. On the day of the raid, Marunga arrives at the airfield and stalls the Rhodesian troops, while his accomplices succeed in destroying half of the helicopters. In the ensuing battle he comes face to face with Swansey, and the two men share a weary moment of reflection on their stalemate before abruptly parting ways.

The international fallout from the helicopter affair exposes Swansey's illegal activities and he finds himself unable to continue conducting business outside Rhodesia. He decides to permanently settle there and pursue a normal life, but is immediately conscripted into the security forces. The film closes as Marunga and Swansey confront each other on the battlefield againthis time through the sights of their rifles.



Game for Vultures was the first British film about the Rhodesian Bush War.[1]

The film was mostly shot in South Africa, near Pretoria and Johannesburg.[2][3] It was decided not to film in Rhodesia itself because of security concerns and the potential violation of sanctions.[4]

"I'm not a politician", said the producer Hazel Adair. The director James Fargo concurred: "I'm not a political person at all. I never thought about Africa until I started to make a film... The audience will come away with the idea that neither side is right."[5]

"It's a movie in which there are no real bad guys or good guys," said Fargo. "Nobody really wins in the end and everybody loses, like in the real Rhodesia."[1]

During filming in South Africa, Roundtree tried to purchase some alcoholic drinks but was refused service because of his skin colour.[5]


The music was composed by Tony Duhig and Jon Field, who together comprised the British group Jade Warrior.


The film was meant to have its world premiere in Johannesburg on 22 June 1979. However the film was banned by South African government censors, who deemed it a threat to state security.[2]

Though generally well-written and produced, Game for Vultures was not a massive commercial or critical success. Some critics condemned the apparent bias of the plot, which ran counter to the traditionally accepted view of Rhodesia's predominantly white government as being a racially oppressive one, while its black nationalist opponents were widely regarded as freedom fighters representing a just cause.

In addition, this film was overtaken by actual events, as the war came to an end before the film reached wide distribution.[6] It saw some success in video sales, on VHS and in a DVD Region 2 release.


  1. Filming is education for cast of 'Vultures' Nicholson, William F. Chicago Tribune (1963-Current file) [Chicago, Ill] 28 Oct 1978: n16.
  2. BRIEFLY South Africa bans film The Globe and Mail [Toronto, Ont] 1 June 1979: P.13.
  3. THE 'AFRICAN': The Drums Are Beating in them World's Movie Studios for Black and White 'Westerns' Drums Are Beating By Bart Mills. The Washington Post (1974-Current file) [Washington, D.C] 3 June 1979: L1.
  4. Filmmakers trek to Africa in search of screen adventures Mills, Bart. Chicago Tribune (1963-Current file) [Chicago, Ill] 17 June 1979: g14.
  5. Bishop ushers in new rule The Irish Times (1921-Current File) [Dublin, Ireland] 1 June 1979: 9.
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