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Nazis plot to kidnap Churchill in 1976's thriller "The Eagle Has Landed"

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The Eagle Has Landed


It is November 1943, and the Second World War is in its fourth year. Adolf Hitler's Third Reich is fending off Allied advances in the Eastern Front and in Italy. German cities are being bombed "around the clock" by the American and British air forces. Across the English Channel, the Anglo-American forces are marshaling troops and making plans for history's greatest amphibious operation, which is tentatively scheduled for May of 1944.

But even though Germany has suffered great defeats in North Africa and the vast territories of the Soviet Union, Hitler still has hopes of winning the war. Desperately seeking a significant propaganda victory and inspired by the rescue of fellow dictator Benito Mussolini by a team of German special forces, the Fuhrer - egged on by SS chief Heinrich Himmler - orders the head of Military Intelligence (Abwehr) to carry out an even more daring special forces mission: to capture British Prime Minister Winston Churchill and bring him to the Reich.

Col. Max Radl: Your meeting went well? The Fuhrer had something specific in mind?
Admiral Canaris: A simple exercise in logistics, nothing very complicated: he merely wants Winston Churchill brought from London to Berlin. And we are ordered to make a feasibility study. Today's Wednesday. By Friday he will forget it, but Himmler will not.

aWorking from a screenplay by Tom Mankiewicz (who adapted Jack Higgins' best-selling novel), director John Sturges (The Magnificent Seven, The Great Escape) manages to weave a suspenseful "what-if" scenario centered around the premise of sixteen German paratroopers, led by Col. Kurt Steiner (Michael Caine), being airdropped into England on a daring snatch-and-grab mission to capture Britain's pugnacious wartime leader.

For Admiral Canaris (Anthony Quayle) and Col. Radl (Robert Duvall), the mission seems to be a mere fantasy on Hitler's part, but for Reichsfuhrer-SS Heinrich Himmler (Donald Pleasence) it is an imperative that must be carried out at all costs. Himmler, arguably one of the Third Reich's most powerful leaders and an ardent follower of the Fuhrer, cajoles Radl and Canaris into this mission, which is to be done with help from Joanna Grey (Jean Marsh) a sleeper agent for German Intelligence, and the roguish Irish Republican Army operative Liam Devlin (Donald Sutherland).

And so, in the early morning hours of November 6, 1943, as soon as Steiner's small band of paratroopers floats down onto English soil, Heinrich Himmler receives the coded message he has been waiting for with great anticipation: "The Eagle has landed."

What follows is a suspense-filled narrative as Steiner's small band of paratroopers assembles on British soil, dressed in their Luftwaffe uniforms under British Army camouflage smocks and racing against time to snatch Winston Churchill and take him to a waiting E-boat just offshore.

But fate intervenes when a good deed by one of the paratroopers unwittingly exposes the Germans' true identities, and the mission turns into a desperate struggle for survival when a unit of American Rangers led by a bumbling Col. Pitts (Larry Hagman) intervenes.

The Eagle Has Landed follows the same basic formula as Where Eagles Dare, The Dirty Dozen, and The Guns of Navarone, i.e., a small unit of well-trained commandos/specialists is sent behind enemy lines to carry out a dangerous mission. The twist here, of course, is that the protagonists aren't American or British troopers, but Germans, most of them being the non-Nazi, professional soldier types who, sadly, are fighting for a country led by a ruthless and murderous regime.

Steiner and many of his paratroopers, for instance, are being sent on this mission in part because they dared to face off against a more Nazi general involved in "the final solution of the Jewish problem." For Himmler, particularly, placing Steiner in command is a win-win situation. If Steiner is successful and brings Churchill to Germany, he can be "rehabilitated." If he is killed, it's one less potential troublemaker gone.

SS-Obergruppenfuhrer: Sturmbannfuhrer Stauff was doing his duty!
Colonel Kurt Steiner: He reminds me of something that I occasionally pick up on my shoe in the gutter! Very unpleasant, on a hot day. And if you have the dubious honor of commanding the senseless slaughter, then I'd advise you to keep him downwind at all times! That is, of course, if you can tell the difference anymore.

Just as in the source novel, the pacing is a bit slow in the first act of The Eagle Has Landed, but Sturges knows how to grab an audience's attention and the second half of the movie delivers a fantastic mix of suspense and action, climaxing with the showdown between Steiner's squad of paratroopers and Col. Pitts' Rangers at a village church. There is also a somewhat de rigeur romance between Liam Devlin and Molly Prior (Jenny Agguter); it slows the movie down a bit but it does, in a way, make Sutherland's character more human, vulnerable, and, yes, likeable.

Although Caine never loses his British accent in the film, he is credible as the "decent German" officer sent on this bizarre mission to capture Churchill; indeed, Sturges seems to have cast all the roles fairly well except for Larry Hagman's Col. Pitts, who comes across like a too-gung ho Southern yahoo with no real military talent whatsoever.

Considering how often Hollywood messes up book adaptations, credit certainly must be given to screenwriter Mankiewicz, who doesn't really stray from Higgins' novel; the frame story of the writer who "discovers" this untold story of World War II is absent or greatly reduced, but much of the source story is intact. And although it never does reach the legendary status of The Guns of Navarone or The Great Escape, The Eagle Has Landed is still a good action-thriller worth watching.

  • Format: Anamorphic, Color, NTSC, Widescreen, Multiple Formats
  • Language: English
  • Region: Region A/1
  • Aspect Ratio: 1.85:1
  • Number of discs: 2
  • Rated: PG (Parental Guidance Suggested)
  • Studio: Shout! Factory
  • Blu-ray Release Date: October 15, 2013
  • Run Time: 131 minutes

Blu-ray Extra Features:

• The Eagle Has Landed: Revisited

•Tom Mankiewicz Looking Back

• Film Night Location Report

•On Location In Norfolk

• ATV Today On Location

• Photo Galleries


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