So, I was going to publish this at a later date but regarding the news of Jack Higgins death I have decided to push it forward as a mark of respect to the author of the book this film is based on.
The best-selling author of The Eagle Has Landed, Jack Higgins died aged 92. Higgins, whose real name was Henry Patterson, died at home in Jersey surrounded by his family. This review is dedicated to his memory.
This is a new feature we’ll be doing called Found DVDs : With the ever-increasing digital availability of movies and tv shows, physical media has begun collecting dust in homes around the world. Being personally guilty of neglecting the legacy formats we’ve decided to delve into the DVD wallets of yesteryear to discover some gems of old. Join us as we engage with one such unearthed treasure : 1976’s The Eagle Has Landed.
A number of years ago, newspapers (I begrudgingly call them that) got involved in a trend of giving away physical DVDs and CDs. The CDs were usually compilation albums (with names like “Lazy Sunday” or “Perfect Drive“) and almost always contained tracks by The Lighthouse Family and Gabrielle. The DVD films included would be a mixed bag and one time I even got some episodes of The Office (UK) – which was a win in my book.
Based on the novel by Jack Higgins and directed by John Sturges, The Eagle Has Landed revolves around a fictional plot by the German Army to abduct Winston Churchill during the end of World War 2.
The film opens up with an almost Alan Partridge-esque voiceover with some scene-setting exposition that is notably chipper – There’s a ruddy war on!
The cast is full of heavy hitters from back in the day – Caine, Sutherland, Duvall, Agutter…
Robert Duvall makes a strong impression from the opening scenes. His delivery sometimes muddied by the thickness of the accent, but his portrayal of Radl is weighted and rigid, and makes for a backstop to the rest of the cast portrayals. A solid stone wall of a performance which has become a trademark of his career. (See also our review of Days Of Thunder)
Michael Caine is fierce in this film. His delivery is cutting and at points brutal delivering lines like “Difficult decisions are the privilege of rank” and “I can always tell a thorough going bastard when I see one“
His character (Kurt Steiner) whose middle name is danger, leads a rag tag group of salty reprobates, has nothing to lose and flips his haters the bird – all the hallmarks of a special forces badass, helmed by a titan of acting.
Donald Sutherland‘s Liam Devlin serves as not only a convincing William Atherton cosplay but manages to look stereotypically Irish. His performance is strong and the character serves as light relief from the weight of the plot, slightly parodied but it also heelps to show the other side of the story as the audience are drawn into his exploits. His accent swings wildly between Dublin Ireland and New Brunswick Canada.
Jenny Agutter puts in a solid performance as Molly Prior, a somewhat naive, slightly sheltered small town girl who gets caught up in the plot and tangled with the Sutherland‘s Devlin, which gives the plot a noted element of humanity.
And is that JR Ewing??? Larry Hagman also puts in a performance of note with his portrayal of the brash Colonel Pitts.
Some of the voice acting overall is a bit up and down, something that was innevitable when using a cast from mixed origins. With regards to the accents there is little consistency from actor to actor, with some of the cast laying it on thick, utilising their best ‘Allo, Allo‘ German to English accents, and others as cockney as you like.
Maybe at the time The Eagle Has Landed was a glossy affair, but revisiting it today the film looks gritty and not flashy in any way – the way present day movies spend so much money to make things look like they didn’t spend money.
The persecution of the Jewish people is addressed early on in the plot and with pure class. I can’t help feeling that the same topic would be handled so differently in today’s Hollywood – or at least a more ham-fisted and message-orientated cringe inducing fashion.
It’s interesting to have a story like this told from an exclusively and entrenched German standpoint without having Germany portrayed as monsters.
The soundtrack (by the brilliant Lalo Schifrin) is heavy with horns and orchestral stings, rife with suspense and playful melodies, solemn asides from the wind section and flanked by military marching themes when needed.
This was a great film, a DVD that i’ve been staring at for years and never got round to watching. Definitely one of those films that the older generations may refer to as “classic”. It comes from an age where stories are told and audiences are not talked-down-to.
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