Wednesday, June 13, 2012

CRACKER? The Eagle Has Landed


                “The Eagle Has Landed” is an action/adventure war movie released in 1976  It is firmly in the suicide mission subgenre.  It was directed by John Sturges ("The Great Escape") and was his last film.  It is based on the novel by Jack Higgins.   It opens with a reference to Otto Skorzeny’s daring rescue of Mussolini from captivity.  This inspires Hitler to try to capture “his greatest enemy” – Churchill.
                The head of military intelligence, Admiral Canaris (Anthony Quayle), is assigned the task of implementing Hitler’s dream.  He meets with an officer named Radl (Robert Duvall), but denigrates the whole fantasy and wants to just go through the motions.  However, Himmler (Donald Pleasence) gets involved and green-lights the project.  Radl warms to the possibilities when information arrives that Churchill will be visiting an isolated British village.  Radl chooses a decorated war hero named Steiner (Michael Caine) to lead the mission.
Steiner does not like Nazis
       We meet Steiner (the same Steiner who appears in "Cross of Iron") as he bucks authority by trying to save a Jewish woman from the S.S.  Steiner is insubordinate, anti-Nazi, anti-brass, cynical, and worshiped by his men.  He ends up getting court-martialed and he and his men are sent to a penal colony.  Similar to the plot of “The Dirty Dozen”, they are promised forgiveness if they undertake the suicide mission.  Radl also recruits an IRA operative named Devlin (Donald Sutherland) to participate.  He considers himself an Irish patriot, not a traitor.
                Devlin goes on ahead and makes contact with a sleeper agent, a woman named Gray.  He also meets and charms a lass named Molly (Jenny Agutter) who inexplicably falls so hard and so quickly that she kills her beau when he is going to rat out Devlin.  Granted, he was a lummox, but her treason for love is a bit too pat.
                Steiner and his men parachute into England dressed as Polish soldiers.  The sleepy villagers are welcoming and then grateful when one of the Germans saves the life of a local girl.  Unfortunately, the gratefulness is short-lived as the incident results in discovery of their true identities.  The populace is quickly rounded up and held hostage in the local church.  One of the townspeople manages to escape and goes up the road to inform an American Rangers unit led by a buffoonish Colonel Pitt (Larry Hagman)  His daddy must be a general.  He looks at the situation as a chance for glory and disregards the sane Capt. Clark’s (Treat Williams) advice to go slow.
a bazooka in a cemetery - shame
                Pitt does his Custer imitation resulting in a nicely staged fire-fight that features graphic wounds and lots of fireworks including some nifty bazooka work.  It’s a disaster and Pitt can’t even defeat Mrs. Gray.  His encounter with the spy has a twisted ending that almost compensates for the tomfoolery.
                Capt. Clark arrives with reinforcements and a brain, so now the German’s are trapped with the hostages in the church.  Steiner, being a human being, not a Nazi, releases the hostages.  Molly shows him a secret passage out of the church so he can go kill Churchill (the things a British girl will do for an Irish spy she just met).  Steiner’s crew offer to stay behind to delay the Rangers and provide us with more violence.  Devlin also escapes.
the last thing Churchill saw?
                Steiner, now disguised as an American, manages to get to Churchill.  Does he win the war for Germany?  Hey, if the Inglorious Basterds can kill Hitler, why not?
                “The Eagle Has Landed” is not on a level with “Guns of Navarone” or “Where Eagles Dare”.  It is even more implausible than most of the suicide mission subgenre.  The romance that is thrown in is ridiculous as well.  The acting is a strength.  Caine ably fills James Coburn’s shoes as Steiner.  He has a lot of charisma and it is easy to see why his superiors are enraged by him and his subordinates are willing to die for him.  Paired with “Cross of Iron”, Steiner is one of the great anti-heroes of war movies.  Quayle is good as Canaris and accurately portrays his disgust with Nazi schemes.  Although the movie is pure imagination, Canaris was a leading figure in the resistance against Hitler and even collaborated with the Allies.  His involvement in the plot to assassinate Hitler cost him his life.  Devlin is a nice addition and offers a different perspective.  Sutherland plays him as a charming rogue.  The one false note is Hagman as Pitt.  The sudden injection of comic relief is a bit jarring in an otherwise serious movie.
                The movie was filmed in an English village, so the setting is picturesque.  The action set pieces are well done, but too brief.  The weapons appear authentic except the bazooka is a later model..  The score is typical for this type of movie.  It is satisfactory, but does not stand out like in “Where Eagles Dare”.  The intrigue is also inferior to WED.  It lacks real suspense.  You know Steiner will not hurt the hostages, for instance.  One questionable element is the introduction of American Rangers into a story that should have been limited to Germans and British.  This seems to be a marketing decision to help with the box office.  It is reminiscent of Sturges’ “The Great Escape” where three Americans characters were inaccurately added.  Can’t the British defend their own Prime Minister?  I suspect American’s would have been upset if a plot against FDR was foiled by British forces.
               In conclusion, "The Eagle Has Landed" is entertaining, but certainly not one of the 100 Best War Movies.  Kurt Steiner will have to be content with his "Cross of Iron" making the list.  But then again, he probably would not give a damn about such a list.
Rating -  6/10
Here is my updated ranking of the great suicide mission movies:
       1.  Where Eagles Dare
                2.  Kelly’s Heroes
                3.  Inglorious Basterds
                4.  The Dirty Dozen
                5.  Guns of Navarone
                6.  The Eagle Has Landed



11 comments:

  1. I dunno. Some Americans would be annoyed if the SAS saved FDR from the Nazis in a movie. But then, we seem to tolerate James Bond saving NASA (in Dr. No), Fort Knox (in Goldfinger), Miami (in Thunderball), a USAF base (Octopussy), and Silicon Valley (A View to a Kill). But maybe that's because the Bond movies were basically comic strips, too far from reality to be taken seriously.

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  2. I love your analogy. Nice.

    I have to say that The Eagle Has Landed surely did not cause the anger that U-571 did.

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    1. "Objective Burma" (1945) provoked such outrage that it was banned in Great Britain until 1952. The re-release had a prolog that made a point of mentioning the British units. "The Red Beret" (US: "Paratrooper") (1953) annoyed some Brits by casting Alan Ladd in the lead. Reportedly, it was intended to star a British actor, but was re-written for Ladd after Richard Todd turned it down.

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    2. Some good examples, thanx. Makes you appreciate movies like "The Longest Day" and "A Bridge Too Far".

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  3. My memory of this one is beyong blurred. I would have to watch it again. But what seems to support your ranking is the fact that altough I wathed some of the others not that much later, I can still remember them.
    Then again does the fact that we remember one movie much better than another one tell us that it's superior. I remember Pearl Harbor very well.

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  4. A movie can be memorably bad. However, when I look at that list, there is no doubt that "The Eagle Has Landed" is the most forgettable.

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  5. Willi Heinrich created sargeant Rolf Steiner for "The Willing Flesh" (great title btw) made as "Cross of Iron", whereas Jack Higgins wrote "The Eagle Has Landed" featuring lieutenant colonel Kurt Steiner.

    Though they bear the same family name and are possibly based on the same historical figure they are not the same man.

    Brothers perhaps?

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  6. I had assumed they were the same character, but obviously with the different first names that is not possible. Plus it would have been highly unlikely that Steiner of "The Cross of Iron" would have been promoted to Lt. Colonel. Perhaps Higgins meant the name a s a tribute.

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  7. Rolf Steiner in "Cross of Iron" is an NCO in the German Army. Kurt Steiner in "The Eagle Has Landed" is a Colonel (Oberst) in the German Luftwaffe. German paratropers (fallschirmjager) were in the Luftwaffe.

    When the Michael Caine as Steiner and Treat Williams as the American Ranger officer characters discuss the release of the hostages, Caine is dressed like a Luftwaffe fighter pilot.

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    1. I see where you are coming from, but I don't put as much emphasis on mistakes like this as some do. I am more concerned when history is raped. The mistakes in uniforms are usually not insults to a core audience's intelligence. Whereas mistakes in historical facts are usually deliberate and insult a much larger audience of historically literate people.

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