This Eagle Takes a Caine-ing
It's 1943 and we have Germans and Brits we can only be talking about another war movie and what is this Michael Caine as a German Paratrooper, now that's just wrong! You can't have Michael Caine, someone who epitomises being a Brit, playing a German. The wrongful casting of Michael Caine along with several others are just some of what is seriously wrong about "The Eagle Has Landed", what else is wrong is that it is ultimately very dull only pepped up when director John Sturges gets to show his flare with a few action sequences.
Following the rescue of his ally Benito Mussolini, Hitler and his officers get an idea to kidnap Winston Churchill and bring him back to Germany. Although some of the German Officers thinks it's a stupid idea, Oberst Radl (Robert Duvall - MASH) is ordered to come up with a feasibility study which leads them to a planned kidnap of Britain's Prime Minister whilst he is visiting Norfolk. With the help of Nazi sympathiser Liam Devlin (Donald Sutherland - Kelly's Heroes), a group of German Paratroopers lead by Colonel Steiner (Michael Caine - The Italian Job) manage to land in Norfolk undetected where they set about kidnapping Churchill by posing as Polish officers on training manoeuvres.
3 years before "The Eagle Has Landed" was released there was "The Day of the Jackal" a movie which was based upon the assassination attempt of French President Charles DeGaulle, "The Eagle Has Landed" runs with a similar idea but in this case it's 1943 and the plan is for some Germans to kidnap Winston Churchill. Now this could have been good, a wrought thriller where Germans sneak into Britain and then try to kidnap the Prime Minister in a flurry of action. Except that "The Eagle Has Landed" isn't a wrought thriller, in fact for the most it's a rather dull movie which seems to trudge through a series of set pieces before anything really happens.
Strangely for a movie which is dull it does have a few twists, some more obvious than others, whilst some are just sublimely ridiculous. The trouble is there is no suspense, no tension; moments of semi revelation just don't rise to any level of excitement, almost running at one constant level. It's a case of you end up sitting there waiting for something truly good to happen and unfortunately it's a long wait.
Fortunately when "The Eagle Has Landed" gets through what seems to be a laborious build up it does find some energy with a series of action sequences. As director John Sturges demonstrated in the likes of "The Great Escape" and "" he knows how to do action and here he manages to inject some much needed excitement. Scenes where the Germans are holed up in a church and American soldiers throw grenades through the windows is brilliantly worked as are many of the moments of pure gun fighting. It has that ambush quality, with soldiers stationed in different positions making it a road of action. It's just a shame that Sturges couldn't find the excitement and tension during the first 90 minutes.
But whilst the storyline doesn't help the misplaced casting is a nail in the coffin. As already mentioned Michael Caine cast as a German is plainly wrong, it doesn't matter that he puts in a fair performance, you don't cast Michael Caine as a German in a war movie. The same issues comes with Donald Pleasance, Robert Duvall and Anthony Quayle all cast as Germans and Jean Marsh as a Nazi sympathiser is just as bad, even if none of them put in a terrible performance. The actual terrible performance comes from Larry Hagman who plays the gung-ho Colonel Pitts, a sort of homage to John Wayne but ending up coming across as a little too camp.
The performances which do shine out come from Donald Sutherland as Liam Devlin and Jenny Agutter as Molly. Sutherland's attempts at being an Irish traitor are for the most comical and incredibly quirky but it works because at least his character brings a bit of humour and excitement to the dull scenes. And Jenny Agutter is quite lovely as the young woman deceived by Devlin as she falls for him.
For what is essentially a generic war movie "The Eagle Has Landed" does try to get over a message, or I presume it tries to, and that is that not all Germans and traitors were bad. We get scenes where we see a nice side of some of the pivotal German characters such as loyalty, love and compassion. But in a rather dull movie this message ends up not only wasted but also quite lame.
What this all boils down to is that "The Eagle Has Landed" is sadly a disappointment. The storyline just isn't exciting and it takes nearly 90 minutes before it starts to become interesting, mainly down to John Sturges showing his flare for great action. But it is the misguided casting which throws up more issues as although no one really puts in a terrible performance you have actors who should be playing heroes actually playing German villains.