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Friday, November 22, 2013

The Eagle Has Landed: Collector’s Edition Blu-ray Review

Reviewed by Sean Ferguson
eagle bdMichael Caine, Donald Sutherland and Robert Duvall lead a star-studded cast in this World War II classic based on Jack Higgins’ best-selling novel.  A Nazi Strike Force plots to kidnap Winston Churchill while he is resting in a desolate Norfolk village. Colonel Radl (Robert Duvall), Colonel Steiner (Michael Caine) and Liam Devlin (Donald Sutherland) are enlisted to carry out the operation, which if successful, would irrevocably alter the outcome of the war. Disguised as Polish airmen, these paratroopers descend upon England only to be interrupted by an unforeseeable incident which threatens to derail their treacherous mission.  Packed with action and suspense, this unrelenting thriller was the final picture directed by the great John Sturges (The Great Escape, The Magnificent Seven).

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Film (3 out of 5 stars) 

At the start of the film we see some actual WWII footage of Benito Mussolini being rescued by Otto Skorzeny and his German paratroopers.  The mission is so successful that it leads the Nazi leadership to start thinking about how the paratroopers could be used for other missions. Admiral Canaris (Anthony Quayle) orders one of his men, Oberst Radl (Robert Duvall) to come up with a plan to capture Prime Minister Winston Churchill and bring him to Germany. When Radl goes from thinking hypothetically about a plan to actually starting to believe that the idea could work. That idea is solidified when one of their spies, code named “Starling” provides information that Winston Churchill is scheduled to visit an airfield near the village of Studley Constable in Norfolk, which also happens to be the village that Joanna Grey (Jean Marsh) one of their sleeper agents lives in.
The resulting plan codenamed “Eagle” is approved by Himmler who also provides an “authorizing” letter from Hitler that approves the mission.  For this mission to work, Radl believes it must be conducted like clockwork with every element working in a synchronous fashion.  To lead the squad of paratroopers he reviews tons of personnel files until he finds the highly decorated war hero Oberst Kurt Steiner (Michael Caine).  Steiner has the experience and the awards that seemingly make him the perfect candidate for leading the mission.  However, while being recalled from the field to lead the mission, Steiner’s attempted intervention of the murder of a Polish Jewish woman who had attempted to escape her captors results in his own incarceration and being court-martialled along with his men. Radl gets him and his men out of the penal colony in exchange for Steiner’s agreement to lead the mission.
As part of the plan, an Irish Liberation Army supporter Liam Devlin (Donald Sutherland) will parachute into England before the rest of the time so that he can prepare and assist for the mission from there.  At first the plan seems to be going well as Devlin lands safely and ingratiates himself in with the townspeople of Studley Constable.  In fact, he blends in so well that he ends up in a relationship of sorts with a local girl named Molly Prior (Jenny Agutter) which will make things less black and white for him later.  Steiner and his men parachute into England using a captured C-47 that by all appearances appears to be an Allied plane.
The soldiers are dressed as Polish paratroopers but underneath they are wearing their German uniforms out of pride.  If their plan to capture Churchill is successful, they will rendezvous with an E-Boat to make their escape back to Germany.  The Germans manage to land on the landing zone created by Devlin and quickly convince the townspeople that they are Polish soldiers doing wargames which explains their scouting and fortifying positions. They radio to Radl that “The Eagle Has Landed” to signify that the operation is underway which he reports to Himmler.  While there, Himmler asks for the authorizing letter from Hitler and then destroys it so there won’t be anything to track back to Hitler or Himmler if the mission fails, a fact that Radl understands will mean his death if it doesn’t work.
Everything is in place and going flawlessly until a young girl accidentally falls into a canal and is about go under a watermill until one of Steiner’s men jumps in and saves her at the cost of his own life.  When the townspeople see the body and his newly exposed German uniform, they realize that these weren’t the Polish soldiers that they were looking for.  Steiner has no option but to take over the town and begin taking defensive positions.  All of the locals are herded into the church except for Pamela Vereker (Judy Gleeson), the sister of the village Priest (John Standing), who manages to escape and warn a local unit of United States Army Rangers of what had happened.
In a role that was intentionally added to add some humor to the film, Larry Hagman stars as Colonel Pitt, an incompetent glory hungry officer who takes advantage of the situation in an attempt to improve his own professional chances.  Pitt races to the village without a real plan or any concern for his troops and of course it ends in disaster.  It’s not until a young officer named Captain Clark (Treat Williams) takes charge that things improve for the Rangers. Outnumbered and now outgunned, the Germans retreat into the safety of the church where Steiner’s men offer to stay behind to keep the Rangers busy so Steiner can still try to complete the mission to kidnap Churchill.  It’s a long shot at this point, but Steiner knows that he has to try or this mission was all for nothing.  From this point on, it’s a race to see if Steiner can pull off the mission against  the well protected and alerted Churchill.
The Eagle Has Landed has a lot going for it – a good plot from the novel of Jack Higgins, an incredible cast that includes two Academy Award winners Michael Caine and Robert Duvall, as well as the always interesting Donald Sutherland, and it was directed by an excellent director, John Sturges who had previously made The Magnificent Seven and The Great Escape to just name a few. For the most part, the film does work but not entirely as it requires the viewer to overlook quite a few distractions from the beginning.  First up, you must accept the possibility that the Nazis (the most genocidal force of power in history) had a group of soldiers who willingly risked getting killed by intervening and disobeying a general, the first time they see a Jewish person try to escape.  If that’s all it took for them to go against the Nazi machine, then there was no way that they would have survived the trip back home as it was happening all around them.
Another issue is the fact that these altruistic paratroopers who after saving a Jewish escapee then risks their mission to save a little girl also seems farfetched.  Don’t get me wrong, I’m sure that there were some nice Nazis somewhere, but I really don’t think a battle hardened unit like these guys who are on a secret mission where it’s critical that every aspect of the plan has to happen perfectly, would jeopardize the whole thing for the girl.  Not to mention it’s highly improbable that a watermill would be churning the water like the rapids and would have the power to suck an athletic man underneath it or that it would kill him outright.  Then there’s the fact that none of them sound German.  Caine and Duvall try in their own way to pull it off but neither are that successful although Duvall gets the closest.
There’s also a twist ending that didn’t really work for me and it pretty much invalidates the entire movie.  On the plus side, I thought the actors did a good job in their roles and I’m always ready to see a Michael Caine performance. There’s some decent action in this but it’s not staged as well as Sturges’ other films.  It’s a rare film that tries to make you root for the Nazis and one that makes the American soldiers look incompetent and even lets some of the guilty parties escape.  Overall, I enjoyed this film but I do think it could have been better if it had more money, more attention was spent on the script, and if someone other than Sturges had directed it.  It was his last film and many people behind the scenes of the film thought that he didn’t do it justice and I agree with them.  But, if you’re looking for something different which is always a good thing when it comes to WWII movies since there’s so many of them, then you may really like this change of pace.
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Video (4 out of 5 stars) 

This 1080p (2.34:1) presentation has made the transition to high definition  with a fairly solid transfer that offers the best version of the film yet released, but at the same time it could be a lot better.  While the transfer offers some pretty good detail there’s still some age related defects like flecks that still pop up every now and again.  There’s also some soft looking shots that look like they were filmed in a haze and color in the film is also faint and washed out looking.  None of these issues affect the viewing experience in a major way but they are noticeable enough to register while viewing the movie.  Unless this film is given a top tier restoration like The Wizard of Oz, this will probably be the best it’s going to look and I can live with it as it is still a far cry better than previous releases.
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Audio (3 1/2 out of 5 stars) 

The Eagle Has Landed’s DTS-HD Master Audio 2.0 mix is a solid effort that much like the video quality does a decent job but that’s about it.  For most of the movie, the mix is fairly low key but towards the end of the film it comes to life when the battle begins.  Once the machine guns start firing and the rocket launcher starts blowing up targets, the mix finally comes into its own.  The dialogue is clear and clean sounding and the score by composer Lalo Schifrin also sounds very good and well balanced with the rest of this lossless mix.
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Extras (3 1/2 out of 5 stars) 

I really liked these extras especially because so much of them focuses on where the film was shot and showed the differences between how the location looked then and how it looks now.  There’s also some great interviews here with all of the key participants and all of them are in high definition.
  • The Eagle Has Landed Revisisted: Invading Mapledurham - This a fifteen minute discussion with several people who were instrumental in the filming of the movie in Mapledurham.  We hear from the film’s production designer Peter Murton, co-editor and publisher of Cinema Retro Magazine, Dave Worrall, actor David Gilliam, as well as  John Eyston, who owns the Mapleduram House which was featured in the film.  We hear the men talk about finding the locations and designing the sets that were so real looking that the pub attracted people who thought it was a real establishment, and stories about how a floating pub derailed shooting because everyone was too busy enjoying themselves.
  • Tom Mankiewicz: Looking Back - I wish this interview had lasted more than ten minutes as he’s a writer than has worked on many cool movies like James Bond and Superman and had plenty to say.  In fact, he starts off this talk saying that he probably got the job because of his work on the Bond movies and the producers and the studio thought he would be a good fit for adapting the novel that the movie is based on.  He also talks about the challenges of adapting a book and cutting out parts that were good but not needed.  He also talks about working with Sturges and shares his thoughts about his friend Michael Caine and how he felt the cast did in their roles.
  • ATV Today On Location - Running about nine minutes, this featurette serves as the behind the scenes look back at the making of the film.  We get interviews with Michael Caine and Larry Hagman and some behind the scenes looks at Sturges preparing a scene.
  • Film Night Location Report  – Here’s some more interviews from the location that includes comments from John Sturges, Donald Sutherland, and Michael Caine.
  • On Location in Norfolk - Another short collection of interview clips with Sturges and some behind the scenes footage.
  • On Location Interviews - Here’s the most extensive interview footage included as there’s a total of twenty-six minutes of interviews with John Sturges, Donald Sutherland, and Michael Caine.  I really liked hearing their thoughts on the movie and how plausible they thought the plot was.
  • Theatrical Trailer
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Summary (3 1/2 out of 5 stars) 

This is an interesting twist on the usual WWII movie and I wish it had been done better.  It’s not the fault of the actors who are all great in their roles but this is still a fun way to spend a couple of hours.  This new Blu-ray isn’t the extended cut that came out in the UK awhile back, but Shout Factory did a nice job with the video transfer and the audio quality is pretty good too.  I really liked the extras and thought the interview bits and the looks at the village then and now were interesting and cool.  If you’re a fan of the movie then you should pick up this new Collector’s Edition!
Order your copy today!
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