Judge Mike Rubino is moving on to the next the obscure Italian film genre, "Ravioli Romantic Comedy."
Our review of Eagles Over London (Blu-Ray), published November 2nd, 2009, is also available.
AKA La Battaglia d'Inghilterra, AKA Battle Command, AKA Battle Squadron, AKA Stukas über London!
No one recycles popular Hollywood genres quite like the Italians. Filmmakers like Sergio Leone, Dario Argento, and Enzo Castellari took traditional American film genres and infused them with energy, style, and lots of violence. While originally panned by American critics, we now refer to these awesome genres with some sort of stereotypical cuisine adjectives like "Spaghetti Western" and "Macaroni Combat."
Never one to let kitschy cinema die, Quentin Tarantino, and his film Inglorious Basterds, is responsible for renewed interest in Italian war movies. So if you're going to dive into the genre, you might as well start with Macaroni Combat's maestro, Enzo Castellari, and his most successful film, Eagles Over London.
Facts of the Case
Eagles Over London focuses on the Battle of Britain in 1940, in which the Royal Air Force went toe-to-toe with the Nazi Luftwaffe. Amidst the blitzkriegs and dog fights, the British military discovers another, almost more immediate threat: a group of Nazi spies has infiltrated the RAF ranks, and seeks to destroy the military's radio communication center. Captain Paul Stevens (Frederick Stafford, Topaz) and a group of British soldiers must find the traitors in their midst before it's too late.
Eagles Over London is a healthy serving of the "Macaroni Combat" genre. The film presents, on an impressively epic scale, a tale of Nazis spies set against the backdrop of the Battle of Britain. Like the endless soup and breadsticks at a certain Italian restaurant chain, this movie is cool because of its excessive quantity, not necessarily its quality.
The film opens with a group of soldiers, led by Frederick Stafford as a very dry Capt. Stevens, taking down a league of tanks in France. This scene sets the tone for a series of increasingly impressive ground combat sequences throughout the film. The set pieces don't look particularly realistic, but they're fun in the same way A-Team or G.I. Joe combat is fun: lots of shooting, people floundering around like fish, an occasional incongruous explosion, etc. Later in the film, Castellari stages massive blitzkriegs, bridge demolitions, and a climactic raid on a British command center with stylish competency. Even the evacuation of London, which features hundreds of extras, looks great.
One of my favorite sub-genres has always been the "man on a mission" movie, and Eagles Over London flips that whole idea on its head. Rather than a rag-tag team of heroes trying to save the day, the film follows a group of Nazi spies as they infiltrate the British ranks. It's a great plotline that's interesting enough to have stood on its own. The British know the Nazis are nearby, but they just can't seem to weed them out. One of the Nazi leaders, Martin (Francisco Rabal), even goes as far as to move in with Capt. Stevens, making for an awesome final standoff.
Like the mighty penguin, the film only runs into problems when it tries to take to the air. The "Nazis on a mission" plotline is set against the Battle of Britain in 1940, a campaign that was largely fought between the Luftwaffe and the RAF. For this, we get to see Van Johnson (The Caine Mutiny) hamming it up as Air Marshall George Taylor while sitting in a cockpit in a soundstage; Castellari employed a mash-up of miniatures, cockpits, matte paintings, and stock footage to create a grand scale air battle. The problem is that it looks artificial, especially when he shows the actors sitting in the cockpits with blue backgrounds and clouds whizzing by. To spice things up a bit, Castellari does make clever use of split screens and color filters; still, despite the creative approach, the scenes don't emit the same excitement as the ground battles.
While the effectiveness of the action sequences may waiver depending on where they take place, one thing that remains consistent is Castellari's directorial style. He has that wonderful gift for framing and camera movement that the best Italian directors seem to share. Even a boring strategy meeting amongst generals becomes interesting when the camera slides around the table, stopping so that the speaker is framed in between slats in a chair. Even when he isn't using a literal split screen, Castellari is dividing the action with props, scenery, and forced perspective. His creativity behind the camera infuses the film with energy not usually found in the standard war flick.
The print looks decent, but there are plenty of flaws to be found. Eagles Over London is a colorful film, especially with all the bright filters used over the stock footage, but some scenes look overexposed and washed out. There's a significant amount of grain, scratches, and debris, but I have to give Severin credit for releasing the film in its original aspect ratio. This is a film that needs to be seen in widescreen, especially for when the screen splits into three panels. The sound is average, but can get pretty muffled at times. A lot of the actors are dubbed in English, since this was originally in Italian, but it's not especially distracting. Unfortunately, there aren't any other language tracks aside from English.
Included on the disc are two featurettes, a deleted scene, and a couple trailers. The first featurette is A Conversation with Enzo Castellari and Quentin Tarantino, a continuation from Severin's Inglorious Bastards release. Set up like the previous featurette, these two continue to chat about Macaroni Combat, American actors going to Italy for work, and the making of Eagles Over London. Also included is footage from Tarantino's screening of the film in Hollywood, complete with a little chat with Castellari. It's a lot of fun hearing these two talk about the film, and their excitement almost makes you forget about any of its flaws. The solitary deleted scene isn't anything special, and the trailers are a nice touch.
Eagles Over London is a very fun foray into a lesser known sub-genre of Italian exploitation films. The story is great, the action is inventive, and Castellari's direction is excellent. While it doesn't have the reputation that Inglorious Bastards has (a film Castellari wouldn't make for another 10 years), it's still worth checking out if you're a fan of World War II movies.
It's as filling as linguini, but with the style of farfalle!
The only thing guilty in this review is my penchant for Italian food
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Scales of Justice
Studio: Severin Films
• Deleted Scene
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