The Eagle Has Landed (1976)

screenshot from The Eagle Has Landed

Directed by: John Sturges
Screenwriter(s): Tom Mankiewicz
Starring: Michael Caine, Robert Duvall, Donald Sutherland, Jenny Agutter, Treat Williams, Donald Pleasence
Genre: World War II / War / Thriller / Action
Country: UK
Running time: 1hr 58m
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 they 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 remains one of the world’s best-selling 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 (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 there, and the plan is to assassinate him and therefore throw the British into disarray, allowing Germany to regain the upper hand in the war.

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, much as I like him, 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.

For your listening pleasure

SMERSHPod: The Eagle Has Landed

The pod is heading to STUDLEY, for a trip in the country to take in the sights, enjoy the sounds, AND KIDNAP VINSTON CHURCHILL. Yes, it’s The Eagle Has Landed. Joining John Rain to brush up on his OIRISH, and indeed Jenny Agutter, is comedy writer Mark Evans.

This site is not affiliated with SMERSHPod in any way. We just like it.

Other films set in World War II