Looking Eastwood on the Eiger
On paper "The Eiger Sanction" sounds like a great movie with Clint Eastwood playing a hitman for a shady Government agency drawn out of retirement to kill two men with the drama culminating in a mountain climb. Unfortunately what sounds quite good doesn't quite come off as "The Eiger Sanction" goes from feeling a bit like a James Bond movie to a routine action movie. Maybe the sad fact that on the 2nd day of filming there was a fatal accident put a dampener on things, but something about "The Eiger Sanction" doesn't quite work and watching it now it also feels incredibly dated.
When an agent is killed in Zurich, retired assassin Dr. Jonathan Hemlock (Clint Eastwood - Magnum Force) is persuaded to come out of retirement by Dragon (Thayer David - Journey to the Center of the Earth), the head of a secret Government agency, to kill the two men who killed their agent and stole a microfilm. Having dispatched one of the targets Hemlock learns that the second is taking part in a climb of the North Face of the Eiger and so heads to see his old friend Ben Bowman (George Kennedy - Earthquake) to get in shape for the climb. But with the exact identity of the target unknown and the climbing hazardous it maybe that the Eiger will take the killer rather than Hemlock.
So the first half of "The Eiger Sanction" feels like we have Clint Eastwood auditioning for the role of James Bond. He may play a retired assassin with a penchant for collecting rare art but basically he is a secret agent, a top killer hired to sanction men by a shady government agency. The actual government agency feels like a twist on the Bond concept as the head is a man called Dragon, an albino who operates from a secure dark room and as such comes across ass a quirky evil genius. And the first moment of action feels very James Bond like as we watch Eastwood as Dr. Hemlock first pretend to be someone else and then climb a drainpipe to enter a room and kill a target.
Making it more James Bond like is the fact Hemlock has an eye for a beautiful woman and ends up bedding Jemima who first appears to be an air stewardess but turns out to be an agent for the same organization. And to be honest if "The Eiger Sanction" had carried on feeling like Eastwood auditioning for James Bond it would be okay but then it changes track as Hemlock learns that his next target is part of a mountain climbing expedition so visits his old friend to get in shape to climb the North face of The Eiger. This change of track makes it feel quite ordinary as Hemlock hooks up with old climbing buddy Ben who along with the sexy George, yes more bedroom action, helps Hemlock prepare for the climb. Throw in an old enemy and his muscle bound henchman and whilst there is still a touch of the Bond about it, it is also very ordinary.
But the biggest disappointment is when we actually get to the Eiger because there is a good set up, Hemlock doesn't know which member of the team is his target and we get a surprising twist when Dragon's right hand man Pope shows up. But it feels underplayed, the drama of Hemlock trying to work out who is target is, is quite weak and whilst we get the danger of the climb it doesn't really feel that dangerous. But as I said on the second day of shooting there was sadly a death when David Knowles, a climber, died when he was hit by a boulder, he was standing where Eastwood had been a few moments earlier and you get a sense that this caused a bit more caution and a subdued atmosphere.
Ironically what makes "The Eiger Sanction" so entertaining is that we have Eastwood doing the majority of his own stunts, we see him climbing rock faces and it does look impressive. A scene where he edges up a crevice is magnificent and with the sun lit back drop it takes your breath away. A scene on top of the "Totem Pole" in Monument Valley really highlights the power and beauty of the surroundings and it is the same when we get to the Eiger, the views are brilliant.
In fact along with looking good when it comes to climbing Eastwood delivers every moment of action and does create a character which is kind of entertaining. I say kind of because the character of Dr. Hemlock is very dated, a typical 70s man in the style of Bond who charms women into bed. It's a dated character but then so are all the characters none more so than Jack Cassidy as Miles Mellough the campest character going who even names his dog faggot. Whilst I am sure the intention was for all this to be amusing when released back in the 70s now makes "The Eiger Sanction" feel cheesy.
What this all boils down to is that "The Eiger Sanction" isn't a terrible movie but an underwhelming one which when watched now feels incredibly dated. It does start of feeling like Eastwood was auditioning for the role of James Bond, but sadly it does turn into a rather ordinary and less than spectacular action, thriller which is a bit of a let down when it comes to the ending.