My father took me to The Eagle Has Landed in 1976, and I of course loved it. John Sturges (The Great Escape) can make a solid war picture and this one was smart, cynical, compelling and the last one he directed.
As I watched it again last weekend, I imagined this script landing on some hotshot Hollywood moguls’ desk today.
First pages, not so bad. The war is going poorly for the Nazis and they are looking into a plan to kidnap Churchill.
Okay, so far so good.
The plan is dropped on an armless Nazi with an eye patch. No, not Tom, Cruise as Von Stauffenberg in Valkyrie. That film is 30 years and a Bryan Singer sex scandal away.
This armless, eyeless Nazi is played by Robert Duvall. And whoa! In what he thought was a moment of whim on the part of Hitler, it turns out that the plan is feasible and the game is afoot.
So feasible that Duvall scours the records for the perfect German unit to take on the task of posing as a Polish outfit in a northern English town until Churchill arrives, when he can be snatched. Who does he find?
Michael Caine, and his close-knit commandos, who have been kicking ass and becoming more and more embittered on the Eastern front.
But Duvall needs more; he needs two boots on the ground in the little town before the “Polish” troops arrive. Enter . . . Donald Sutherland, an Irishman who hates the English so much he’s in league with the Nazis.
Okay. It seems like a lot of money to be throwing at the bad guys.
Who is the hero?
Larry Hagman? J.R EWING?
Well, no, but Hagman does play the American commander on the ground in the quaint English town. He’s no hero. He’s more like John Larroquette in Stripes, a martinet wannabe who craves combat badly. Hagman is incompetent, Caine’s men repel his frontal assault with ease, and he dies in such an ignominious manner, it’s almost comic.
Oh good. There’s a young Treat Williams and Jeff Conaway. Good looking American GIs who . . . . hmmmmmm, these guys have no lines! They barely even register!!
Wait, are you telling me . . . . the leads are all Nazis!!???
In 1976, this is how Hollywood got past this inconvenient cast. First, they made Duvall erudite and resigned, as well as armless and eyeless, and they had him present the opportunity to grab Churchill as an opportunity to sue for peace.
As for Caine, as he and his men are shipped back from the Eastern Front, they meet an SS unit rounding up Jews at a railroad junction. Out of sheer frustration, Caine assaults the SS commander, assists in the escape attempt of a Jewish woman, and for his troubles his men are all cashiered and consigned to tasks that will eventually result in all their deaths. Did Caine revolt because he was torn over the Holocaust? Well, no. In his own words, “I have nothing for or against Jews, personally. But I’ve seen too many men die for cause, to watch a young girl be killed for sport!”
Okay. Good enough for the Bicentennial.
And Sutherland? Well, he’s humanized because his beef is about Ireland, not that icky master race stuff, and he’s quick with a drink and the brogue and he’s so charming, Jenny Agutter falls in love with him instantly (really, the weakest part of the picture because he’s too old for her, it’s too immediate, and what she does for her “love” is so extreme it just doesn’t pass the smell test).
Solid flick, clearly of its time. Triggerocity at about an 8 out of 10. On Amazon.