The final film from director John Sturges, 1976's The Eagle Has Landed is an enjoyable mix of action and adventure set against a World War II backdrop and making great use of a large ensemble cast of talented actors. Based on the novel of the same name by author Jack Higgins, the story begins when Adolf Hitler wants some of his top men to look into the possibility of kidnapping Sir Winston Churchill. Colonel Max Radl (Robert Duvall) looks into it and comes up with a plan in which a group of German soldiers could feasibly snatch the British Prime Minister when he arrives at his coastal country home.
Radl's boss, Admiral Wilhelm Canaris (Anthony Quayle), thinks the idea insane and doesn't want Radl to seriously consider this option but against Canaris' wishes he goes to Heinrich Himmler (Donald Pleasence) with the idea and manages to get the go ahead. With the required permissions in place, Radl assigns SS Colonel Kurt Steiner (Michael Caine) to lead the team of court martialed soldiers into enemy territory for the snatch and grab. Previously locked up in a prison camp for aiding some a Polish Jewess, Steiner and his men would love their freedom and so they, along with an IRA fighter named Liam Devlin (Donald Sutherland), accept. And so, dressed up as Polish soldiers, off they go to England where Liam falls in quickly for an English girl named Molly Prior (Jenny Agutter) and an American Army Colonel named Pitts (Larry Hagman) wreaks havoc with their plan. The Germans are determined to succeed, but soon things start to shift against them and it all leads up to an action packed conclusion.
Thoroughly implausible and riddled with ‘accent problems' (Sutherland sometimes sounds Irish, sometimes sounds English and sometimes sounds just like Sutherland and many of the English performers cast as Germans are remarkably English sounding), The Eagle Has Landed does take a little while to get going but builds nicely once it does. Of course, the whole movie does start to fall apart if you stop and think about it for too long, so this is one best enjoyed as entertainment and nothing but. Historical accuracy isn't a concern and neither is realism, for that matter but for those with the patience to let the actors do their acting and who don't require constant slam-bang action set pieces, this one does make for a good time at the movies.
With much of the film set on the English coast we get some excellent scenery for the action and drama to play off against. The locations feel authentic and the production values on display are consistently good. The script allows for some interesting character development, and while it might seem odd to cast pretty much all of the Nazi's as ‘good guys' in the movie, the cast handle it well and the dialogue is actually quite nicely written. And in all fairness to the German people, not everyone involved in their way effort was a horrible person. Obviously humans come in all forms from all walks of life, and the movie does occasionally try to get this point across. We get a few twists in the plot to help keep things interesting and of course it all concludes with an interesting plot device that brings things to an appropriate finish. The violence in the film isn't particularly startling or shocking but Sturges does manage to ramp up the tension quite a few times, highlighted by an excellent scene where our German heroes are holed up inside a church and surrounded by their enemies.
The performers, as miscast as they are, do fine work here with Larry Hagman being a noticeable exception. He seems to want to channel the stereotypical big, brave American and comes across like a would-be John Wayne having maybe just walked off the set of something like The Green Berets He's macho and tough to the point of ridiculousness and his work here stands out like a sore thumb. Duvall and Caine are both great, they deliver some pretty classy work here and while you never really buy them (or anyone else in the cast for that matter) as authentically German, that's kind of unavoidable as they're just too instantly recognizable as themselves. Sutherland and Agutter blend a little better but they're not playing Germans so it's a bit easier to buy them in their roles. Pleasance chews the scenery a bit here and there, but he's Donald Pleasance and so we not only expect a bit of that but love him all the more for providing it.
A Note About The Running Time Of The Movie: The packaging for this release states that the running time of the movie is 131 minutes. This is likely to irk fans as there is a full length 145 minute version of the movie previously released in the UK in 2004 that fills in quite a few blanks. The actual running time of the movie on the Blu-ray disc in this package is 2:15:34, so four minutes longer than the running time stated on the back but not the full strength 145 minute cut of the movie that was released in the UK.
The Eagle Has Landed is framed at 2.35.1 widescreen and presented in AVC encoded 1080p high definition. The image quality here is pretty nice. Colors are well reproduced and look quite natural while black levels stay strong and deep. There's no obvious noise reduction filtering to note, so skin looks like skin and not wax, and while a natural amount of film grain is present there isn't a whole lot in the way of actual print damage outside of a few specks here and there. This results in a clean, film like image that shows pretty solid detail and texture. When Duvall stands in front of the maps in a control room you can note the folds on the papers tacked to the walls behind him and when Donald Sutherland does up the buttons on his overcoat you can notice some dirt on the garment that would probably have been obscured in previous editions. There's a little bit of flicker in a few spots but outside of that, this is a nice, sharp image.
The English language DTS-HD 2.0 Master Audio track is clean and clear. Range is limited by the original source material but there is some depth here and when the machine guns unload in the action scenes in the last half hour or so of the movie you'll definitely sit up and take notice. There are no issues with any hiss or distortion and the dialogue is always easy to understand. The levels are properly balanced so the performers are never buried under the score or sound effects. Lalo Schifrin's compositions sound quite good here and have some nice resonance in some of the more dramatic moments. Optional subtitles are provided in English only.
The selection of extra features included on the disc starts off with The Eagle Has Landed Revisited: Invading Mapledurham. This is a fifteen minute featurette that features interviews with production designer Peter Murton, who talks about finding the locations and designing the sets, as well as with co-editor and publisher of Cinema Retro Magazine, Dave Worrall, who discusses some of the specific requirements for this particular shoot. John Eyston, who owns the Mapleduram House used in the feature, shows up and talks about his experiences while the movie was being made, while actor David Gilliam, who played Sergeant Murphy, also shows up here to talk about the shoot. Some interesting archival photographs from the town's history are used as well as some clips from the film to show how the town has changed in subtle ways since the movie was made but in more ways than that, how it's stayed the same.
Up next is Tom Mankiewicz: Looking Back, which runs just over ten minutes in which the writer who handled screenplay chores on this particular picture talks about how his experience writing several James Bond movies likely drew him to the attention of the studio producing this feature. He talks about working with Sturges, his thoughts on the book, the difficulty of adapting the entire book and more. ATV Today On Location is a nine minute piece that is basically a vintage making of featurettes that features some promotional/informative narration over top of some interesting footage shot on set during the production. There's some on set interview clips here done with Caine and Hagman and some interesting shots of Sturges in the director's chair doing his thing. The five minute Film Night Location Report a similar vintage featurette with some on set interviews with Sturges, Caine and Sutherland as well as some more behind the scenes footage. The three and a half minute long On Location In Norfolk is yet another vintage featurettes with some input from Sturges and some behind the scenes clips. The audio is fairly muffled here but the footage is still worth checking out. Additionally we get On Location Interviews With Michael Caine, Donald Sutherland And John Sturges that run a combined twenty-six minutes. A lot of the interviews here cover some of the same ground covered in the other vintage featurettes but Caine and Sutherland are always charming and worth listening too and Sturges goes into quite a bit of detail here about the history of the actual events that inspired the movie.
Rounding out the extras are a Theatrical Trailer for the feature, menus and chapter selection. As this is a combo pack release, a DVD version of the movie containing the same extra features is also included inside the Blu-ray case.
The Eagle Has Landed is an enjoyable World War II based action movie. It might not be realistic and it might run a little longer than it probably needs to but there are a few stand out action set pieces and plenty of great performances in the cast. Shout!'s Blu-ray presents the theatrical version of the movie, not the extended version, but it looks and sounds good and contains some choice extras as well. Recommended.
Ian lives in NYC with his wife where he writes for DVD Talk, runs Rock! Shock! Pop!. He likes NYC a lot, even if it is expensive and loud.