Severin Films // 1969 // 104 Minutes // Rated PG
Reviewed by Judge Clark Douglas // November 2nd, 2009
A valiant fight against bad Nazis, bad dubbing and bad acting!
The fact that a film like Eagles Over London is being given a Blu-ray release must surely be evidence of the format's evolution. The film is an obscure, little-seen, moderate-scale "Macaroni War Movie" directed by the famed Enzo G. Castellari (who also helmed the original version of The Inglorious Bastards). The plot is rather simple: while the British evacuate Dunkirk during World War II, German spies infiltrate the British Army. It's a race against time as the Brits attempt to find the saboteurs before the Germans can make their deadly move.
If the Blu-ray case is any indication, director Quentin Tarantino may be largely responsible for this film's release. Not only is he quoted on the case as saying that Eagles Over London boasts one of his "favorite storylines of all time!" but he is also featured prominently in the film's supplemental material. As of the writing of this review, I've seen Tarantino's Inglourious Basterds (nothing at all like Castellari's version) twice, and it's clear that Eagles Over London served as a strong stylistic influence for Tarantino's movie. Quentin borrowed quite a lot from this film, particularly in terms of production design and visuals. There are a few locations in Inglourious Basterds that very explicitly recall sets from Eagles Over London, and the unexpected tangents of stylistic indulgence that littered the former film are also present in the latter.
It may be odd, distracting, and occasionally rather cheesy, but those stylistic flourishes are a large part of what makes Eagles Over London work. The characters are thin and the plot isn't particularly surprising, but Castellari keeps the viewer engaged with his completely unpredictable sense of energy. Unusual camera angles and peculiar shots are in abundance, particularly a moment in which a man turns his hand into his own personal telescope. There's another sequence in which a couple makes love as bombs fall throughout the city. The director cuts shamelessly between the explosions and moments of ecstasy; it's sort of the mirror image of a similarly cut scene from Steven Spielberg's Munich. Most amusing of all is the director's use of split-screen: he doesn't always use the technique to offer two or three different images, but often just offers duplicates of a single image. Why bother? Because it adds a little pizzazz, I guess.
The other noteworthy attribute is Castellari's gift for staging energetic action sequences. The film's budget wasn't enormous, but Castellari managed to get quite a lot out of what he had to work with. The biggest and best sequence is undoubtedly the director's portrait of the Battle of Britain. Despite the fact that it "cheats" by allowing some undoubtedly explosive moments of note to occur offscreen, it's still an impressively-staged set piece that manages to thrill despite constant evidence of budget limitations. Elsewhere, there are a half-dozen or so smaller battle sequences that also impress. It's no surprise that some of the battle footage from this movie was recycled in other Italian war films in the years that followed (though Eagles Over London also borrows its share of older stock footage).
What isn't so impressive is the acting. The only "name" actors in the cast are Van Johnson (The Caine Mutiny) and Frederick Stafford (Topaz), but neither gets anything terribly interesting to do. Johnson seems stiff and uncomfortable during his handful of scenes as an Air Marshall, while Stafford is fairly bland in his more traditional leading man role. The (mostly Italian) supporting actors tend to fall into either ridiculous overacting or amateurish awkwardness. Even if their performances were convincing, they would still be undercut by the absolutely atrocious dubbing found throughout the film. I've never been a big fan of dubbing in general, particularly when it's done as poorly as it is in Eagles Over London.
The big question is why someone thought this film was in need of a hi-def transfer. The movie is in pretty rough shape, and benefits only a little from being presented in 1080p. There's a ton of grain, grit, scratches, flecks, hairs, dirt, and all sorts of other visual blemishes. At times, the top or bottom of the screen will become extremely blurry. Lots of shots are very soft, and background detail is not particularly strong. Facial detail is okay, but not exceptional. The audio is even worse, presented in very flat and uninvolving 2.0 stereo. The fun score by Francesco De Masi is tinny and distorted, losing any punch it might have given the film. Dialogue is terribly inconsistent, veering from barely audible to much-too-loud. There's a good deal of hiss left intact, too. The Tarantino-heavy supplements are a slight disappointing, mostly because they suffer from sub-par audio quality. The conversation between Tarantino and Castellari focuses mostly on the Italian film industry, only touching briefly on this film specifically. More specific is a Q&A session hosted by Tarantino, but the video and audio on this piece is very poor and the questions aren't very interesting. Other than that, you just get a handful of deleted scenes.
Diehard Tarantino fans and war movie buffs may want to take a look at Eagles Over London, but the average viewer might find it a bit underwhelming. The Blu-ray release is a big disappointment.
The film's crimes will be ignored thanks to the involving direction, but this
release is guilty.
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Scales of Justice
Studio: Severin Films
* 2.35:1 Non-Anamorphic (1080p)
* Dolby Digital 2.0 Stereo (English)
Running Time: 104 Minutes
Release Year: 1969
MPAA Rating: Rated PG
* Deleted Scenes