As Judge Jim Thomas' flight arrived, the airline announced "The Dodo Has Landed."
Nazis Indiana Jones wouldn't hate.
Office politics is a cutthroat game, particularly when the people involved are capable of actually cutting your throats. In the case of The Eagle Has Landed, the plot is perfectly acceptable in broad strokes, but a plethora of thinly-drawn characters results in a movie that fails to fully engage its audience.
Facts of the Case
Late 1943. The tide of World War II has turned against Germany. The German High Command has learned that Winston Churchill will be chilling out in a small coastal English village, and a desperate plan is concocted: Kidnap Churchill to give Germany some leverage in negotiating a peace. Hitler's second-in-command, Heinrich Himmler (Donald Pleasance, The Great Escape) assigns the mission to Colonel Radl (Robert Duvall, The Godfather). A small squad of disgraced paratroopers led by Lt. Col. Steiner (Michael Caine, Sleuth) jumps at the chance for redemption. To handle some preliminary groundwork, Radl recruits IRA gunman Liam Devlin, (Donald Sutherland, M*A*S*H). Disguised as Polish soldiers, the Germans quickly infiltrate the small village, but after an unexpected act of mercy, everything goes to hell.
As a teenager, I read Jack Higgins' novel upon which The Eagle Has Landed is based. It's a good read, not just because of the plot, but because the characters are clearly drawn. That's where the movie adaptation truly fails. Everyone is a cipher, a cardboard cutout being put through their paces. We're supposed to accept that Devlin and village girl Molly (Jenny Agutter, Logan's Run) fall in love, even though they have maybe six minutes of total screen time together. Part of the problem is that the backstory, easily related through a third-person narrator, is much more difficult to pull off here. Screenwriter Tom Mankiewicz' previous successes include several James Bond films (beginning with Diamonds Are Forever), none of which could be termed as triumphs of characterization.
John Sturges' (The Great Escape) direction is surprisingly bland; scenes are indifferently composed, and the action lacks visual flair. In his autobiography, Mankiewicz claimed that Sturges didn't really put any effort into the film, and it was only Anne V. Coates' editing that salvaged the project. The Eagle Has Landed was Sturges' last film, which may lend that claim some credence, but Mankiewicz fails to even mention Sturges in the interview on this release.
Once things get going, the movie is entertaining enough, but it takes a while to build up sufficient steam, particularly since the administrative scenes that offer up all the exposition take up a good chunk of the 2+ hour runtime. Once the bullets start flying, it becomes a paint-by-numbers approach, with little or no tension and a patently obvious "surprise" ending.
Technically, Shout! Factory's The Eagle Has Landed (Blu-ray) is borderline exceptional. The 2.35:1/1080p MPEG-4 AVC-encoded video is remarkably sharp and free of major defects. At times, the sharpness becomes a hindrance—Himmler's office, for instance, looks like a set, not a real office. Colors are consistent, if somewhat muted. The DTS-HD 2.0 Master Audio track is clear, with dialog being intelligible despite odd accents and things going boom.
There's also an unexpectedly broad set of extras, including a number of vintage featurettes with some solid cast interviews. Among the newer bits are a 2007 interview with Mankiewicz, and a piece with some surviving crew members visiting the little village of Mapledurham, where the bulk of the movie was filmed. There is some worthwhile material missing in action, unfortunately. A 2004 UK release offered an extended cut of the film, with an additional 15 minutes of footage, the bulk of which served to flesh out the characters. That extended cut would have been a welcome addition, particularly since this is being marketed as a "Collector's Edition." A DVD copy rounds out the package.
The Rebuttal Witnesses
While The Eagle Has Landed suffers lots of problems, the performances really aren't one of them. These are stock characters, but they are well-acted stock characters. Michael Caine does particularly good work, once you're past the early scenes in which he essays a vaguely German accent. Duvall has a thankless job, as is he basically Colonel Exposition, complete with a Nick Fury-esque eyepatch, so we know that he's a real badass. Of particular note is Sutherland, who not only manages a passable Irish brogue, but also brings a desperately needed dose of cheekiness to the proceedings, almost selling off the love-at-first-sight romance between himself and Molly. But the guy who threatens to steal the entire show is Donald Pleasance. His Himmler is bright-eyed, genial, and affable, even as he signs a death warrant. The American soldiers don't come off as well. Treat Williams (Hair) couldn't be more generic white bread if he tried, and Larry Hagman's (Dallas) pompous Col. Pitts is about as stereotypical an incompetent officer as you're likely to find.
The Eagle Has Landed is an enjoyable, if generic film. Entertaining, but not particularly memorable.
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Scales of Justice
Studio: Shout! Factory
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