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The Eagle Has Landed

The Eagle Has Landed movie still

Director: John Sturges
Screenwriter: Tom Mankiewicz
Starring: Michael Caine, Robert Duvall, Donald Sutherland, Jenny Agutter, Treat Williams
Release details: Columbia Pictures, UK 1976, 118mins
Full details: IMDb
Genre: WWII thriller
Rating: 7 out of 10

It's hard to believe now that there was once a time when war movies did not have to be huge, ponderous epics dealing with weighty issues, but there was a time when war movies were basically just thrillers. A time when the Americans weren't trampling over historical accuracy and portraying themselves as the only good guys. It was called the 1970s.

Jack Higgins is one of the world's leading authors because his books are so fast-paced and relentlessly plot-driven that it's hard not to get caught up in them. They are perfect holiday fodder. And so is The Eagle Has Landed, based on one of his best-sellers.

Colonel Radl (the always excellent Duvall, offering a thoughtful performance) masterminds a plot to change the outcome of the war, which Germany is clearly losing, much to Himmler's (Donald Pleasence, dependably creepy) disgust. Radl enlists the help of renegade Colonel Steiner, a regular German Army soldier who is languishing in a military jail for trying to save a Jewish woman from being murdered by the SS (you just knew Michael Caine would be a "good" Nazi).

Steiner and his men - a faceless version of the Dirty Dozen, if you will - are to be aided by Irish nationalist Liam Devlin (Sutherland) and pose as Polish airmen in order to infiltrate a small Norfolk town. Winston Churchill is recovering from an illness and the plan is to assasinate him and therefore throw the British into disarray, allowing Germany to regain the upper hand in the war.

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Caine is so honourable and Sutherland so charming (even despite an Irish accent more Brad Pitt than Meryl Streep) that you almost want the Nazis to succeed. There's certainly no "hero" to root for, unless you count Treat Williams. And no-one counts Treat Williams.

It's a film with no pretentions and director Sturges keeps things moving at a robust pace to prevent you from thinking too hard. There's a light vein of comedy running through the proceedings as well, which just adds to the enjoyment. Look out for the great Larry Hagman as a frustrated US officer for evidence of this.

Links

Factsheet on The Eagle Has Landed, part of the Donald Pleasence: The Man With The Hypnotic Eye site

Gert Breumer maintains a very comprehensive Jack Higgins site.

You can read the comprehensive Jenny Agutter factsheet at the Theatre, Musicals and Actors Web.

If you want to learn a little more about the Second World War, try the BBC History site. You can find out fascinating facts like: World War II actually started on 3 September 1939 and not in December 1941; the British (and not Matthew McConnaughy nor Jon Bon Jovi) captured the Enigma machine and then cracked the code; and many more exciting things besides!


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