Mercenary James Shannon, on a reconnaissance job to the African nation of Zangaro, is tortured and deported. He returns to lead a coup.



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Cast overview, first billed only:
Hugh Millais ...
Jean-François Stévenin ...
Michel (as Jean François Stevenin)
Robert Urquhart ...
Capt. Lockhart
Winston Ntshona ...
Dr. Okoye
The Captain (as Pedro Armendariz Jr.)
Harlan Cary Poe ...
Isabel Grandin ...
Ernest Graves ...
Kelvin Thomas ...
The Black Boy


Jamie Shannon is a soldier of fortune -- a mercenary who will stage a coup or a revolution for the right price. He is hired by British mining interests to scout out Zangaro, a small African nation with rich mineral deposits but a brutal and xenophobic dictatorship. Arrested soon after his arrival, Shannon is imprisoned as a spy, badly beaten, and tortured. While in prison he meets one of the country's leading intellectuals, Dr. Okoye, also imprisoned by the regime. Eventually released, he returns to London and is subsequently offered to opportunity to secretly invade Zangaro's capital and lead a military coup. Shannon accepts, but quietly has his own agenda to pursue. Written by garykmcd

Plot Summary | Add Synopsis


Cry 'Havoc!' And Let Slip The Dogs Of War


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Parents Guide:





Release Date:

13 February 1981 (USA)  »

Also Known As:

Cães de Guerra  »

Filming Locations:


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Technical Specs


(TCM print) | (cut) (1988) (video release) | (cut) (1981) (cinema release)

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Aspect Ratio:

1.85 : 1
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Did You Know?


While researching the novel in the early 1970s, author Frederick Forsyth pretended he was actually financing a coup d'etat in Equatorial Guinea. The pretense allowed Forsyth access to a number of underworld figures, including mercenaries and arms dealers. Forsyth has since commented that the arms dealers were the most frightening people he has ever met. See more »


The scene at the railway station is set at London's Liverpool Street, made obvious by the Great Eastern Hotel prominently in the background. However, the station announcement says the train is for Rugby, Leicester, Loughborough, Nottingham and Sheffield. Trains do not go from Liverpool Street station to these destinations and did not at the time the film was set. A likelier station for such departure would have been St Pancras. See more »


Col. Bobi: [of his troops] They'll die for Zangaro!
Shannon: Be more help to me if they fight.
Col. Bobi: If there is one who doesn't, I'll take his head and mount it on the palace gates.
Shannon: You and your brother both have the same easy way of doing business.
Col. Bobi: Olu Kimba did not do business. So now Secu Bobi will be president. He wants to be God... I want to be RICH!
See more »


Referenced in The Cinema Snob: Heaven's Gate: Part 2 (2015) See more »


When It's Springtime in the Rockies
Music by Robert Sauer
Lyrics by Maryhale Woolsey
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User Reviews

Gritty and violent motion picture in the debut theatrical feature for director John Irvin.
26 August 2013 | by (Santander Spain) – See all my reviews

The "dogs of war" (this phrase takes its literary origins from William Shakespeare) is an exciting as well as interesting action/war film . It concerns a military coup in an African country and stars Christopher Walken and Tom Berenger , though he has said in interviews that around half of his role was omitted from the final release print . It deals with mercenary James Shannon (Christopher Walken) , on a reconnaissance job to the African nation of Zangaro, is tortured and deported . He returns to lead a coup and tangles with an Idi Amin-alike dictator. As various soldiers of fortune (Tom Berenger , Paul Freeman , among others) , used to be the best of friends give a toast : ¨Long live death, long live war, long live the cursed mercenary" (this is an adaptation of the original Foreign legion toast) and all of them battle side by side in hellhole Africa .

This war film packs adventures , large-scale blow-up , thrilling plot , and lots of action for the most part , but also contains too much dialogue . It's a good mix of action-packed , adventure , thriller and warfare genre . Overly somber rendition based on Frederick Forsyth's novel , in fact , while researching the novel in the early 1970s, author pretended he was actually financing a coup d'etat in Equatorial Guinea , the pretense allowed Forsyth access to a number of underworld figures, including mercenaries and arms dealers ; Forsyth has since commented that the arms dealers were the most frightening people he has ever met . Frederick is a famous author best-sellers whose novels have been successfully adapted to cinema and TV such as ¨The day of Jackal¨, ¨Odessa¨ and ¨The fourth protocol¨ . Fine support cast who realize professionally competent interpretations , some of them with no more than a line or two to say such as Colin Blakely , Paul Freeman , and brief interventions from JoBeth Williams , Robert Urquhart , Ed O'Neill , Jim Broadbent , Jean Pierre Kalfon , Victoria Tennant , Pedro Armendariz Jr and first cinema film of David Schofield.

Good cinematography by Jack Cardiff , who also shot a movie about mercenaries in Africa titled ¨The mercenaries¨, it was filmed on location , as African and Central America sequences were filmed in Belize City, Belize in Central America . The motion picture was well directed by John Irvin , though it was originally going to be directed by Norman Jewison. John had previously filmed amidst real life battles when he worked in a television news crew in Vietnam during the 1960s. Irvin once said: "Unlike most young film directors, I've been in battle. Throughout the sixties I went to various war zones and I met numerous mercenaries in Algeria and South East Asia, so I had my own personal strings to draw on. I would say our depiction of mercenaries is pretty accurate. We talked to a lot of mercenaries and were able to get a lot of information from them about how they would have handled the operation". As the movie's major battle sequence was directed by director John Irvin and not the Second Unit Director . Rating : Nice picture , better than average . Worthwhile watching .

7 of 7 people found this review helpful.  Was this review helpful to you?

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