Tuesday, 14 July 2015

The Eagle Has Landed (1976)



The script of this film has a couple of issues even before the reveal that the whole thing has been a shaggy dog story (warning: link goes to tvtropes).  Almost all of these issues appear to have been introduced by changes made in the transition from page (it is based on a book by Jack Higgins) to screen, so I guess the blame for them lies with screenwriter Tom Mankiewicz.

That the movie works despite these flaws is a tribute to the excellent cast.  Particularly the exceptional turn from Donald Pleasance in the (relatively minor) role of Heinrich Himmler, head of the SS.

In 1943 Berlin, a meeting is held between Adolf Hitler, Himmler, and Wilhelm Canaris (head of Abwehr; the military intelligence service).  The Germans have just executed an extremely high profile and successful commando raid and Hitler decides that another such mission should be launched.  Its goal: to kidnap Winston Churchill and bring him to Berlin for face to face negotiations to end the war.  He orders the Abwehr to prepare plans for such an operation.

Canaris believes the whole thing is a ludicrous pipe-dream, but also that his rival Himmler will bring it to Hitler's attention if he does not follow through.  So he orders his adjutant Colonel Radl to prepare an assessment, making it clear as he does so that the whole thing is a waste of time.

Radl, however, discovers information that makes him think otherwise.  Winston Churchill will shortly be spending a few days near an isolated part of the British coastline.  A skilled commando team might actually be able to capture him.

And what happens when they try, of course, is the subject of the rest of the film.  Now even if you know nothing about history you can probably guess that Churchill wasn't ever kidnapped and taken to Germany (though in a post-Inglourious Basterds world, I guess you might wonder if the film will care about such details), and the raid therefore is not likely to succeed.  This is therefore a film about the journey, not the destination, and in that regard it largely succeeds.

If you're up for a traditional adventure story with a strong cast and well-staged action sequences, this film is worth your time, despite the script's occasional missteps.

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