Blog 02/09/21 – MHT Movie Review of “The Eagle Has Landed”

02/09/21 – MHT Movie Review of “The Eagle Has Landed”:

The movie opens with German Intelligence (Abwehr) Chief Admiral Canaris (Anthony Quayle) briefing Oberst (Colonel) Max Radl the Abwehr’s Section III – Counter-Intelligence Chiefon his meeting with Hitler. Radl is played magnificently by Robert Duvall in a role as part of his excellent triumvirate of memorable military Colonels that is in the same class as LtCol Bill Kilgore in “Apocalypse Now” & LtCol Bull Meechum in “The Great Santini.”

Col Radl (Duvall): Your meeting went well? The Führer had something specific in mind?                         
Admiral Canaris (Quayle): A simple exercise in logistics, nothing very complicated: he merely wants Winston Churchill brought from London to Berlin. And we are ordered to make a feasibility study. Today's Wednesday. By Friday he will forget it, but Himmler will not. Speaking of actors cast in the perfect roles, the part of duplicitous Reichsführer-SS Heinrich Himmler is chillingly depicted by Donald Pleasance who actually looked like Himmler’s doppelganger, nearly the same face and eyes. It is the malevolent laugh that seals the deal and he goes on to movie immortality as Dr Loomis, Michael Myers psychologist in the Halloween series.

From that premise Director John Sturges began shooting his last film after such action classics as McQ, Joe Kidd, Ice Station Zebra, The Satan Bug, The Great Escape & The Magnificent Seven has crafted a compelling adventure with as Duvall lectures on enough of Jung’s synchronicity (which holds that events are "meaningful coincidences") to make the Jack Higgins plot seem possible. Sturges was tired and didn’t do the crucial final editing so about 12 minutes landed on the cutting room floor. Author Harry Patterson under the pseudonyms James Graham, Martin Fallon, Hugh Marlowe and most successfully Jack Higgins has written 77 novel thrillers that typically feature hardened, cynical heroes, ruthless villains, and dangerous locales.

Higgins plot was inspired by the Fallschirmjäger raid to rescue Benito Mussolini following his arrest in September 1943 and imprisoned at the Gran Sasso Ski Resort. Major Harald-Otto Mors was a German Fallschirmjäger Battalion Commander who planned the assault on the Hotel Campo Imperatore. Hauptsturmführer Otto Skorzeny, an SS Special Forces Commander & 16 SS commandos were assigned to the operation. After a pro-SS propaganda coup at the behest of Reichsführer-SS Himmler, Skorzeny and his Waffen-SS troops were granted the majority of the credit for the operation.
Major Harald-Otto Mors may have been the inspiration for the movie’s anti-hero German Oberst Kurt Steiner (Michael Caine) Commander of Fallschirmmjäger Detachment 12 who has made operational jumps into Belgium and Crete, fought heroically on the Eastern Front and last jumped into Kiev to aid a German retreat and is returning to Germany with his surviving 29 paratroopers. Caine looks the part in his Luftwaffe leather flight jacket and as comfortable as he did in the classics “Battle of Britain”, “Alfie”, “Zulu” & “A Bridge Too Far.”

We are introduced to Steiner in Poland as his westbound train stops and next to a train being loaded with Warsaw Jews on the way to an extermination camp to the east. He comes to the aid of a fleeing young women and into a controversy with an SS-Obergruppenführer (LtGen) and his SS minions. The scene where a Fallschirmmjäger unit gave some rations to some Jewish children at a railway station and force a SS guards to back off is supposedly true according to IMDb but I couldn’t confirm it.

Steiner & his paras are court-martialed and banished to Alderney, the northernmost of the inhabited English Channel Islands that the Germans used after the British evacuation for slave labor and concentration camps to build fortifications as part of the Hitler’s Atlantic Wall. They are tasked to attack Allied shipping with guided torpedoes although the German Neger weren’t deployed until 1944. Caine had already lost 13 of his men before Duvall arrives on Alderney with the proposed mission. Duvall notes the torpedo boat being used for the human guided torpedoes isn’t a normal German E-Boat but a captured British Motor Torpedo Boat (MBT), the fastest wartime British naval vessel in service during WWII. The one used in the film was the actual MBT 102 and the production company refurbished it in 1976. She was at Dunkirk for the evacuation, where she served as RADM Wake-Walker's evacuation flagship after his original destroyer HMS Keith was sunk. She was famous for carrying Winston Churchill and Dwight Eisenhower when they reviewed the Allied fleet before the Invasion of Normandy. In an iconic MBT 102 was able to appear as herself in the 2017 war film “Dunkirk” thanks to the work by “The Eagle Has Landed” film company so she could be used as the ship to retrograde from Britain with Churchill and the Fallschirmjäger raiders.

The brightest performance in a host of them is the character of Liam Devlin (a standout Donald Sutherland in the groove of his best work in “MASH”, “The Dirty Dozen”, “Kelly’s Heroes”, “Klute” and “Eye of the Needle”) Irish expatriate professor teaching in Berlin and Irish Republican Army soldier ready to take on the British Empire and who Duvall recruits to parachute in early and be the advance man for the Eagle mission. It allows for the film’s love story between the Irish poet and soldier and the young village women Molly (beautifully played by 24-year old Jenny Agutter) who falls for the worldly Irish poet who arrives in the village as the new “Marsh Warden.” Higgins loved the Devlin character so much he would continue using him in a series of books and you will have to read them to find out how the love story ends.

The filming is done in different locales in England but the fictious village of Studley Constable, Norfolk is actually the village of Mapledurham, Berkshire. The Church of St margaret where much of the action occurs is there. Just across the road from it is the watermill where the young village girl’s life is rescued by a German para but is also the one on the cover of Black Sabbath's first album.

MHT gives it 4 Stars and is a movie that is almost as good as the book. Two actors playing Nazis in this film also turn up as villians in the Indiana Jones movie series with promotions: Wolf Kahler (as SS Lieutenant Fleischer) played Afrika KorpsOberst (Col) Dietrich in "Indiana Jones and the Raiders of the Lost Ark" (1981), while Michael Byrne (as Col Radl's assistant 1st Lieutenant Karl) played SS-Standartenführer (Col) Vogel in "Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade" (1989).