Monday 26 August 2019

Movie Review: The Eagle Has Landed (1976)

A World War Two fictional adventure, The Eagle Has Landed imagines a far-fetched German covert mission to kidnap Britain's Prime Minister Winston Churchill.

As the war draws to a close and Germany's defeat appears inevitable, Colonel Max Radl (Robert Duvall) is asked to study the feasibility of a mission concocted by Adolf Hitler to kidnap Churchill, with the intention of suing for more favorable peace terms. Radl learns Churchill will be passing through a lightly defended Norfolk village a few miles from Britain's east coast, and Heinrich Himmler (Donald Pleasence) secures Hitler's blanket authority to proceed with the plan.

Radl recruits Colonel Kurt Steiner (Michael Caine), a maverick commander of elite paratroopers, to lead the mission. With IRA sympathizer Professor Liam Devlin (Donald Sutherland) inserted as a covert agent, Steiner and his men infiltrate the target English village disguised as Polish commandos. But the nearby presence of American troops led by Colonel Pitts (Larry Hagman) and Captain Clark (Treat Williams) will complicate the mission, as will Devlin unexpectedly falling in love with local girl Molly (Jenny Agutter).

An Anglo-American production relatively uniquely adopting a German perspective, The Eagle Has Landed is an adaptation of a Jack Higgins novel directed by John Sturges (his final film) and written by Tom Mankiewicz. Despite the production talent and a stellar cast, The Eagle Has Landed sputters and disappoints.

The better World War Two fictional mission movies like The Guns Of Navarone and Where Eagles Dare succeed because of the investment in the likelihood of success or failure in achieving an objective which could have been real. Winston Churchill is simply too prominent as a fictional target to enable the suspension of disbelief, especially when The Eagle Has Landed spends no time with the British side until late in the movie.

What remains is a messy narrative about German paratroopers descending on a quaint village, distracted by a lukewarm romance for Devlin, an unconvincing turn by Michael Caine as an independent-minded commando leader, and an ill-conceived and unnecessary comedy interlude courtesy of Larry Hagman's bumbling Colonel Pitts.

Robert Duvall disappears from long stretches of the film, and the plot's weakness is best exemplified by the notion that Churchill would continue to travel towards a town where a major firefight has erupted with enemy forces. Of course there is a twist in the end, but due to the preceding plot weaknesses it arrives with minimal impact.

Sturges handles the action scenes reasonably well, and some impressive countryside visuals entertain the eyes while Caine, Sutherland and Duvall struggle to elevate the material. Although the eagle did land, it also laid an egg.

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