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Eagles Over London
Savant Blu-ray Review

Eagles Over London
1969 / Color / 2:35 anamorphic widescreen / 104 min. / La battaglia d'Inghilterra / Street Date October 13, 2009 / 3495
Starring Frederick Stafford, Van Johnson, Francisco Rabal, Ida Galli (Evelyn Stewart), Luigi Pistilli, Renzo Palmer, Teresa Gimpera .

Film Editor
Original Music
Written by Tito Carpi, Vincenzo Flamini, José Luis Martínez Mollá, Guilles Morris Dumoulin, Enzo G. Castellari
Produced by Edmondo Amati
Directed by Enzo G. Castellari

Reviewed by Glenn Erickson

Quentin Tarantino describes the appeal of Eagles Over London to an eager Los Angeles audience: "It's like Guy Hamilton's Battle of Britain except, instead of dull airplanes and soap opera stuff, there's battle action and infiltrating Nazi saboteurs!" Director Enzo G. Castellari is known for work in every action genre but his most popular film in his native Italy is said to be this relatively big-budget escapist war movie. According to Tarantino, Eagles Over London instigated an Italian subgenre known as "Macaroni Combat". Under its original title La battaglia d'Inghilterra, Castellari's film was released in Italy only a few weeks before its English competitor.

During the evacuation of Dunkirk, Nazi commandos led by Martin (Francisco Rabal) and Major Krueger (Luigi Pistilli) steal the identities of dead British troops and sneak into England undetected -- except by Captain Paul Stevens (Frederick Stafford), who has difficulty convincing the British High Command that saboteurs are in their midst. While competing with Air Marshal George Taylor (Van Johnson) for the charms of beautiful Wren Meg (Evelyn Stewart, aka Ida Galli), Stevens and his loyal Sergeant Mulligan (Renzo Palmer) track down the infiltrators -- whose job is to knock out the Royal Air Force's radar command center.

Movies about secret German commando raids on English soil began being made during the war itself, starting with the Ealing studio's suspense film Went the Day Well? This action-oriented thriller is more in line with fantastic war adventure films like The Dirty Dozen and When Eagles Dare. Historical events are just the springboard for glamorous intrigues and machine gun duels.

A war movie about Dunkirk and the Battle of Britain can't be a low budget affair, and Eagles Over London certainly puts production value on the screen. A noisy tank battle precedes a spectacular Dunkirk sequence that includes impressive aerial shots of hundreds of soldiers being strafed on the beach. It looks as though some of the vintage airplanes from the English Battle of Britain saw a few additional days of rental for scenes of fighters scrambling on the ground. Much of the rest of the spectacular action in Eagles Over London is provided by special effects that range from so-so to very effective. A pan shot over Dunkirk reveals dozens of large ships just offshore, an extremely successful illusion apparently accomplished with glass mattes. Airplane mockups, miniatures and more in-the-camera matte tricks fill the skies with warring aircraft. Every once and a while a plane moves in a way that reveals that it's hanging on wires, but the overall impression is not at all bad. Downward cockpit views of London in flames are actually much more effective than similar shots in the Guy Hamilton epic.

As in a Spaghetti western, part of the appeal is watching Europeans playing English soldiers, most of them with highly variable dubbed voices. The uniforms look okay but too many of the Brit troops have black hair and Mediterranean features! The Italian locations make Dover look more like Palermo, with dry hills poking out where green woods should be. But many viewers will be fooled by clever perspective sets, such as the view from a London window showing a vast bombed neighborhood -- it's all a clever stage illusion.

The Nazi saboteur story is too appealing to fail, even with the weak English dialogue script. American star Van Johnson is supposed to be an English Air Marshall (!) but speaks in his familiar mid-western accent. When the Germans attack in force, he shouts some fairly inane orders into his airplane's microphone: "Remember, we have to protect London!" Known to continental audiences as the popular movie spy Agent OSS 117, Frederick Stafford makes a smooth good guy as Stevens, the officer in charge of running down the saboteurs. But he doesn't realize that his own roommate is the top Nazi operative. Talented Francisco Rabal clearly enjoys his scenes as the saboteur masquerading as a hail-fellow Englishman, making a fool of all who come in contact with him.

The film's latter half has some battles in the sky but concentrates mostly on the intrigues on the ground. The Germans must keep murdering soldiers to get fresh identity papers. Martin is forced to kill his own sweetheart when her cover is blown. The Spaghetti western actor Luigi Pistilli plays the film's really ruthless Nazi with a look of constant desperation. If the final machine gun battles are a bit confusing, it's only because we can't tell friend from foe -- both sides wear British uniforms!

Severin's Blu-ray disk of Eagles Over London looks quite good in high definition. Because few of the effects scenes use optical dupes, even the models and mattes look great. Castellari's editor experiments with a few split-screen montages that utilize tinted B&W war footage, which of course has an entire different look. Color and sharpness are quite good overall and the transfer element is in fine shape. Francesco De Masi's martial score has an expensive sound. The made-in-Italy action spectacular Eagles Over London is certainly something different, and independent outfits like Severin are taking a lead position in the Blu-ray format.

Severin invited Enzo G. Castellari to Los Angeles in 2008 to promote the disc release of the director's original Inglorious Bastards. Outspoken Castellari fan Quentin Tarantino was on hand to promote both movies at local screenings. Tarantino interviews Castellari in an extended featurette extra. The two directors appear on-stage together at a presentation of Eagles Over London taped at the Silent Movie Theater on Fairfax. Tarantino waves his arms wildly as he explains that the movie was never given an official circuit release in America. Castellari waves his arms around as well to make fun of Tarantino, and expresses his surprise and gratitude to be given so much praise and attention.

An original Italian trailer and a deleted scene round out the Blu-ray disc.

On a scale of Excellent, Good, Fair, and Poor, Eagles Over London Blu-ray rates:
Movie: Good
Video: Excellent
Sound: Excellent
Supplements: Quentin Tarantino interviews Enzo G. Castellari; the Silent Movie premiere "Eagles Over Los Angeles", Deleted Scene, trailers
Packaging: Keep case
Reviewed: October 17, 2009

Republished by permission of Turner Classic Movies.

DVD Savant Text © Copyright 2009 Glenn Erickson

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