The Eagle Has Landed (1976)

The Eagle Has Landed is an all-star World War II thriller based on an intriguing, if unlikely, premise. In 1943 Adolf Hitler's greatest ally, Italian dictator Benito Mussolini, was rescued from a mountain top prison by elite German troops. Emboldened by this success, Hitler orders an even more daring wartime mission: to kidnap his greatest adversary, British Prime Minister Winston Churchill.

The plan is entrusted to Colonel Radl (played by Robert Duvall with a nifty eye patch), who has been invalided back to Germany from the Russian front and is now confined to planning operations. Radl is not minded to take the request too seriously and neither is his boss, German intelligence chief Admiral Canaris (Anthony Quayle). It's just another one of Hitler's mad schemes that's likely to be forgotten in a few days. Canaris orders Radl to carry out the required feasibility study, and then quietly file it away in a drawer somewhere.

Michael Caine disguised as a Polish paratroop officer in The Eagle Has Landed
Michael Caine as German Colonel Kurt Steiner, in England and in disguise

But Radl becomes increasingly intrigued by the idea, and the elements begin to fall into place to make the plan start to look almost feasible. A German agent on the East coast of England, codenamed "Starling", reports that Winston Churchill will be in the area in a month's time. He will be staying at a country house in a small village, Studley Constable, after visiting an RAF bomber base in the region. The coastline there is ideal for a small boat to penetrate inland and spirit Churchill away.

Radl manages to find the ideal man to lead the mission, a German paratroop officer, Colonel Kurt Steiner (Michael Caine). Steiner is a highly trained soldier, speaks perfect English, and even sports a convincing south London accent. Together with his men, he has been exiled to the German-occupied Channel Island of Alderney, disgraced for helping a Jewish woman to escape from the Warsaw Ghetto. Operating from Alderney, Steiner and his men are making suicide attacks on Allied shipping in the English Channel, a job they are more than willing to drop in return for a full pardon.

Radl also finds an IRA man, Liam Devlin (Donald Sutherland), who is lecturing at a university in Berlin. Devlin is happy to help the Third Reich, for the right price, and is parachuted into Britain to meet up with agent Starling (Jean Marsh). She is an outwardly respectable member of the village community, and she has found Devlin a job as the local marsh warden. 

Steiner and his men parachute into England from a captured British plane. They are disguised as Free Polish paratroopers, with their German uniforms underneath so that they can escape being shot as spies if necessary. Everything is in place, and Churchill will soon be on his way to the area. What could possibly go wrong?

Original film poster for The Eagle Has Landed, 1976
Original film poster for The Eagle Has Landed

The Second World War film almost died out in the early 1970s, seemingly made irrelevant by the very different war in Vietnam being beamed into peoples' homes every night on television. As a result, the World War II film all but disappeared from cinemas for a few years, before reviving spectacularly at the end of the decade for a run that lasted from approximately 1975, when the Vietnam War ended, until 1982.

Maybe the war in Vietnam had temporarily interrupted a cycle of films that wasn't quite finished yet, or perhaps that murky war had made audiences eager to return to the certainties of an earlier time and a more heroic war. Although, in the case of The Eagle Has Landed, audiences were likely to be disappointed if they were expecting the traditional good guys vs bad guys stuff.

During this period there were all-star war epics, like Midway (1976) and A Bridge Too Far (1977), reasonably serious biopics like MacArthur (1977), combat films like The Big Red One (1980), resistance dramas like Soldier of Orange (1977), and a fair amount of adventure hokum too, as in Force Ten From Navarone (1978), Hanover Street (1979), From Hell to Victory (1979) and Escape to Athena (1979). Although made on a big budget with a starry cast, The Eagle Has Landed is definitely in the hokum category, and is based on a best-selling novel by Jack Higgins, one of the era's most popular purveyors of literary hokum.

Jack Higgins is the pen name of British author Harry Patterson, at that time a college lecturer in Leeds in West Yorkshire, who was supplementing his income by writing novels. Patterson's first book was published in 1959, and he wrote under his own name, as well as under the names Martin Fallon, Hugh Marlowe, James Graham and Jack Higgins.

Robert Duvall, Donald Sutherland and Michael Caine in The Eagle Has Landed
Colonel Radl (Robert Duvall), Devlin (Donald Sutherland) and Steiner (Michael Caine) in Alderney

The Eagle Has Landed was his 36th book in only 16 years, showing that he was cranking them out at a remarkable rate. Published in 1975 as the work of Jack Higgins, The Eagle Has Landed is now undoubtedly his most famous novel. The book was a huge success, eventually selling 50 million copies, aided by a high concept plot and a cool title borrowed from NASA. The film rights were quickly snapped up, and within a few years of the book's publication Harry Patterson had switched to using the Jack Higgins name exclusively.

The notion of German troops landing covertly in Britain during WWII has the air of urban legend about it, and has sometimes turned up as an unlikely campfire tale. There have even been books purporting to tell the "true" story of such missions, like Peter Haining's improbable Where the Eagle Landed (note the title), and Adrian Searle's downright ludicrous Churchill's Last Wartime Secret.

Jack Higgins's novel probably drew on similar stories, particularly with its framing device of a modern author investigating the truth behind the mystery of German soldiers buried in an English churchyard. But another inspiration seems to have been an earlier war film, Went the Day Well? from 1942.

Audaciously for a film made in 1942, when an Allied victory was still far from certain, Went the Day Well? begins in an English churchyard after the war has ended. There we meet a local man, played by Mervyn Johns, who explains that this is the only English soil that German soldiers ever captured during the war; their burial plots. The Germans had infiltrated this sleepy corner of England disguised as British soldiers as part of an advance guard of an invasion force.

As in Went the Day Well?, it's a small English village that German soldiers are attempting to infiltrate in The Eagle Has Landed. They are aided by surprising traitors among the local population, and the village church plays a central role in both films.

Robert Duvall in German uniform standing in front of a map
Robert Duvall as Colonel Max Radl

The film of The Eagle Has Landed was produced by Jack Wiener and David Niven Jr., son of the actor, for Associated General Films, part of Lew Grade's ITC empire. ITC mounted an ambitious production programme in the late 1970s, consisting of big budget films with all-star casts marketed at international audiences. The Eagle Has Landed has some recognisable elements of a 1970s Lew Grade production; a story based on a best-selling novel, using a slightly old-fashioned genre, but given a modern twist, with some 1970s cynicism, a generous budget and a clutch of star names.

Although a British production, the film imported an American writer and director, as well as an international cast, the latter something of a Lew Grade standby. But the English setting of The Eagle Has Landed does make it a little more obviously British than some of its contemporaries from the ITC stable, like Escape to Athena or the 1977 Foreign Legion drama March or Die.

The writer was Tom Mankiewicz, son of Joseph L. Mankiewicz, writer-director of the Oscar winners A Letter to Three Wives (1949) and All About Eve (1950) among many others. Tom Mankiewicz had previously written or co-written three 1970s James Bond films, Diamonds Are Forever (1971), Live and Let Die (1973) and The Man with the Golden Gun (1974).

The director was John Sturges, a respected genre film maker, who had enjoyed a big hit with a previous war film, The Great Escape in 1963, as well as with numerous westerns, including Gunfight at the O.K. Corral (1957) and The Magnificent Seven (1960). The Eagle Has Landed was his last film, but Sturges was not in his prime. According to some of those who worked on the film, including Michael Caine, Sturges was strictly in pay cheque mode, and didn't even hang around to edit it or do post-production work. Instead it was left to Anne V. Coates, the editor of Lawrence of Arabia (1962) to put the film together.

The actors are the kind of eclectic bunch you expect to see in a Lew Grade film, but the casting is not at all bad. The best performance is from Robert Duvall as Colonel Radl, who plans the mission with the aid of his assistant Karl (Michael Byrne, a regular screen Nazi). Duvall gives us a suggestion of a German accent without overdoing it and going all method on us. He's not given that much to work with by the script, but he still manages to create a believable and relatively sympathetic character and succeeds mainly because he insists on taking the part seriously.

Michael Caine and Sven-Bertil Taube in German uniform in The Eagle Has Landed
Colonel Steiner (Michael Caine) and Captain von Neustadt (Sven-Bertil Taube)

More curiously cast is Michael Caine, everyone's favourite screen Cockney, who has strangely been selected to play a German officer. Some sources claim that he was offered the part of Liam Devlin, but didn't fancy playing an IRA man much so turned it down. His performance is fine as far as it goes, but Michael Caine as a German is a bit of a stretch. Caine is obviously miscast, but he's such a pro that he's able to hold the film's centre and provide a conduit for audience sympathy anyway.

Donald Sutherland plays the Irishman Liam Devlin, but the character is treated superficially and the playing and writing are too broad. Devlin lacks any kind of an edge or any suggestion of compromised morality, something badly needed in a character working willingly for the Nazis. Donald Sutherland also decides to play the part as as much of an Irish stereotype as possible, complete with bright red hair, the gift of the gab and a fondness for booze. So bad is the stereotyping that he might as well be wearing a green suit with a leprechaun hat and carrying a pot o' gold under his arm. Screenwriter Tom Mankiewicz is at least as much to blame for Devlin's exaggerated Oirishness as Donald Sutherland though. I swear, almost the first thing he has Devlin say in the film is "Top o' the morning to yer."

Since we're talking about national stereotypes, we also have to mention Larry Hagman as Colonel Clarence E. Pitts, a US Army officer about to be shipped back home before he's even seen any action ("Just wait until Daddy hears about this!"). When he gets word that there are Nazis in the vicinity, he leaps at the chance to show what he can do, even blocking a call to the British War Office so that he can grab all the glory for himself.

Many reviewers love to hate Hagman in this, thinking that he's too silly a character and jars with the rest of the film. I think he's amusing, but he certainly does add to a sense of unevenness and the feeling that not all of the actors are in quite the same film. Still, he's not the only unlikely caricature in The Eagle Has Landed and it's clear from some of the writing and performances (Sutherland as well as Hagman) that we aren't meant to take any of this too seriously. Note also that the character's first name is Clarence, a classic milquetoast name, designed to tip us off that he's going to be totally useless in combat. Pitts is not the only clueless, ugly American stereotype in Tom Mankiewicz's oeuvre, as he also wrote the films of Live and Let Die and The Man with the Golden Gun, both featuring a corpulent, bombastic southern Sheriff, played by Clifton James.

Donald Sutherland and Jenny Agutter on a motorbike
Liam Devlin (Donald Sutherland) with Molly Prior (Jenny Agutter)

Among the rest of the cast, Jenny Agutter gets a thankless role as the young village girl instantly smitten by Devlin's dubious charms, and Anthony Quayle has an almost equally thankless part as the head of German intelligence, Admiral Canaris, who turns up in a couple of scenes to grouch to Robert Duvall about the mission. More effective is a well cast Donald Pleasence, in full sinister mode as SS chief Heinrich Himmler, who is all in favour of the plan as long as it works, but will drop it instantly if it goes wrong.

The plotting of The Eagle Has Landed is pretty unlikely. In fact, it's very unlikely. It's made worse by the fact that Jack Higgins and, it seems, Tom Mankiewicz and John Sturges, are so enamoured with Sutherland's character Liam Devlin, and let him get away with far too much. We're meant to find him a loveable rogue but, seriously, he's a bit of a tit, and almost spoils the film with so much reliance on his incredible good fortune and everyone else's stupidity.

Devlin is an Irishman of military age, who appears out of nowhere in a small village on the East coast of England in the middle of World War II, and it's a village that Winston Churchill is due to visit imminently. Devlin might as well have "I am a German spy" tattooed on his forehead. But the locals welcome him with open arms and are not at all suspicious. Seriously, people were not that dim. There were good reasons why German intelligence was so spectacularly unsuccessful in infiltrating spies into Britain during the war. A man like Devlin, suddenly appearing in a small village on a coast on invasion alert, and in a country where everyone was on the lookout for spies and fifth columnists, would have been regarded not with indulgence but with the utmost suspicion.

The film is also too soft on Devlin at the end, presumably because Higgins wanted him for further novels. In the final scenes, he's allowed to just take a look out over the sea and stroll away into the sunset as if nothing much has happened, when in reality he would be fleeing for his life. I can't help thinking that it would be far more effective (and satisfying) if Devlin had been made to pay some kind of price for allying himself with the Nazis for money.

Jenny Agutter pointing a shotgun
Devlin's secret is safe with Molly Prior (Jenny Agutter)

Devlin's romance with the village girl Molly, played by Jenny Agutter, also strains credibility to breaking point. Devlin turns up with little more than his trademark leer and a grin, and instantly has her eating out of his hand, to the extent that she will even kill for him to protect the secret that he's the world's most obvious spy.

This naff romantic subplot is especially absurd and should probably have been excised altogether. More scenes were filmed between the two characters to flesh this out, but the romance we see in the standard version of the film is so brief and superficial that it makes Molly's later actions seem ridiculous. In fact, Agutter's character could have been cut completely as she adds little to the film except to increase its implausibility.

The irrelevant female character shoehorned into a war film that's really for the boys in the audience is one of those things you get used to seeing in films of the 1950s and '60s, and it still happens sometimes today, although this kind of thing was certainly clichéd by 1976. It often seems to have been assumed that women wouldn't watch a war film unless it contained a female character, or worse, an irrelevant romantic subplot. I doubt if this is true, but it was common practice in this era, and a way for film makers to hedge their bets and make sure they weren't alienating half the audience.

It's a little strange in this case though, because the film already has an interesting female character in Jean Marsh's German spy. But there's not much chance of romance there, and maybe the film makers didn't feel that Jean Marsh was glamorous enough to put on the posters.

Michael Caine, John Standing and Jean Marsh
Steiner (Michael Caine), Father Verecker (John Standing) and Joanna Grey (Jean Marsh)

There's plenty more that's improbable in The Eagle Has Landed. Would Colonel Radl's meticulous planning, for example, really have missed the fact that there is a US Army base just a few miles up the road from where the Germans are set to be operating? Would Devlin or Starling never even have mentioned this? And the Germans' escape from the local church where they are holed up is all ridiculously easy, thanks to a convenient tunnel that only Devlin knows of and that everyone else in the village seems to have forgotten about.

The notion that the church in this remote English village would be Roman Catholic also seems kind of unlikely. As does the idea that a group of insubordinate soldiers who are disloyal and have been court martialed would be sent on such a sensitive mission. You could make the same criticism of The Dirty Dozen, but these soldiers are at least meant to be bringing Churchill back with them, so they obviously haven't been chosen just as a suicide squad. And the film having the Germans wear their own uniforms underneath their disguises is an unlikely plot contrivance that I don't think would stop them from being treated as spies.

Still, The Eagle Has Landed does have quite a bit going for it and it works best if you suspend your disbelief. The cast is interesting, it's well budgeted and generally made to a good standard. Lalo Schifrin provides an atypical martial score, including a dramatic opening theme for the aerial shots of the Bavarian Alps, and there's a spirited march used over the end titles and as incidental music.

The centre piece of the film, the mission itself, is an intriguing one, and the film sets itself some interesting challenges, which it mostly overcomes. The main one, of course, is that it's a film about a plot to kidnap or assassinate Winston Churchill. Unless you are wildly ignorant about World War II, it seems unlikely that you wouldn't know what the outcome of this storyline will be. As with the book and 1973 film of Frederick Forsyth's story The Day of the Jackal, the story requires you to become involved with the machinations of the bad guys and to forget that you know what the outcome of this tale must be.

Michael Caine as a German officer in The Eagle Has Landed
Colonel Steiner and his men showing their true colours

But the script does play a nice little double bluff at the end, acknowledging audience expectations that they know, or assume they know, exactly how this is all going to end. The film's black and white newsreel opening, with wartime images of Hitler and Mussolini after the latter's rescue from imprisonment, does also help to lend the film a spurious sense of authenticity, and to sell its story as something that just might be a bit plausible.

The film works hard to make its bad guys acceptable as audience identifiers and to try and draw some moral equivalence with the good guys. Steiner's troops are just professional soldiers, not fanatical Nazis. They are represented as decent and honourable, so much so that they would even risk court martial and imprisonment to rescue a Jewish woman from the clutches of the S.S. (and I can guarantee that didn't happen very often). Although they must be seriously naive if they really don't know what's going on in Nazi-occupied Europe.

But it's important that they are shown in a sympathetic light, rescuing Jews and standing up to the S.S. And their mission is only discovered by the British because one of them dies trying to save a child from drowning (seriously, how good are these Germans? They must be saints!).

And the Germans' Germanness is softened by the casting of Michael Caine, one of the world's least German film stars. Liam Devlin, meanwhile, is portrayed as a lovable Oirishmen, who's just full of blarney and bullshit, and who could hate him for that? While Duvall's Colonel Radl is obviously just another one of those professional German soldier types and not some Nazi. Definitely not.

Perhaps it would have been better to make Steiner the honourable "good German", but make his men more of a realistically mixed bunch, because these guys are just too good to be true. And there's no reason why there couldn't have been some fanatical Nazis in among them as well.

Michael Caine in German uniform with a dark haired woman
Saving a Jewish woman: Just another day at work for the men of the German army

The village the Germans infiltrate is near a US Rangers' base, which allows the film to add some American characters and have American G.I.'s leap into action and save the day at the end. Except the American soldiers are not all that flatteringly portrayed, they're a bit incompetent in the main. The US Rangers were designed to be a crack unit, but you wouldn't know it from The Eagle Has Landed; they are more like the local National Guard on a weekend war game, while Hagman's Colonel Pitts is obviously the pits.

The gung ho and foolhardy American soldiers make it look as if Sturges and Mankiewicz are motivated by wanting to undermine the cliché of the heroic Yanks arriving in the nick of time to save the day. But it's also partly motivated by the fact that the screenwriter is being careful not to provide characters on the Allied side that the audience can root for too much.

It's tempting to see an element of 1970s revisionism here, with noble Germans, moronic Yanks, and complacent and weirdly irrelevant Brits, but it's also designed to serve the needs of the film and the fact that we are meant to get behind characters who are obviously on the wrong side in the war.

The story and characters do offer opportunities for more nuance and ambiguity in the film that are not taken up. There's the German Colonel who is a decent man and an honourable opponent, but who is fighting for an evil cause. The Irish republican who says he wants a united Ireland, but seems more motivated by money, and is happy to ally himself with the Nazis on the basis that "the enemy of my enemy is my friend". Then there's the quisling who has spent years living among friendly villagers in idyllic peace, only to suddenly betray them over an ancient affront, something she clearly has second thoughts about. And there's the German intelligence officer drawn into planning an impossible mission, despite the risk to himself. But why exactly?

None of these potentially intriguing ideas are developed, they just sort of arrive and then disappear, meaning that there could be quite a bit to chew on here but isn't. Perhaps this is why Michael Caine was disappointed with the film and with Sturges's casual attitude to it, later saying that "The picture wasn't bad, but I still get angry when I think of what it could have been with the right director."

Treat Williams, Michael Caine and John Standing
Captain Clark (Treat Williams), Steiner (Michael Caine) and Father Verecker (John Standing)

Filming of The Eagle Has Landed took place in Mapledurham in Oxfordshire, playing the fictional Norfolk village of Studley Constable. The scenes set in Alderney were shot in the small port of Charlestown in Cornwall, a popular location for film and TV period pieces, and there was a brief stop in Finland to shoot the film's Polish scenes.

For its US release, The Eagle Has Landed was cut by about 12 minutes, and the film now exists in various different versions. The preferred version is the original 135 minute British cut, although there was also a slightly shortened 131 minute version. There is an extended version available on Region 2 DVD, running 145 minutes * (but see the PAL system note below), assembled from extra footage used for the longer American TV version.

This longer version has a lengthier and less dramatic opening sequence, with a brief appearance by Hitler, and featuring Donald Pleasence and Anthony Quayle as Himmler and Canaris discussing the plan after their meeting with the Fuhrer. There are more scenes between Devlin and Molly, which is both a good thing and a bad thing. It's good because it fleshes out their romance a bit more, making Molly's actions slightly less unbelievable. But the scenes are not particularly good and they pad out the running time and drag the pace too much.

There is also a brief scene with Steiner and his men before they fly out to England, and another between Duvall's Colonel Radl and a German army doctor, played by Ferdy Mayne. This scene does add some interest, as it suggests that Radl's desire to take up the unlikely-to-succeed mission is partly driven by the fact that he only has a limited time left to live, due to wounds he received on the Russian front.

But all of the extra scenes come in the establishing part of the film, before the German paratroopers arrive in England, and they tend to unbalance it too much. The original version is a bit leaner and tighter, and better for it, although at 135 minutes it's still a little flabby. The longer version also lacks the opening scenes of newsreel footage of Mussolini's rescue by the Germans, and the accompanying narration by Patrick Allen. These scenes helped to give the film a helpful sheen of plausibility.

The Eagle Has Landed got some decent reviews when it was rolled out across various markets from late 1976 to early 1977, and was one of the more commercially successful of Lew Grade's productions of the late 1970s.

Michael Caine in German uniform pointing a Luger pistol
Get Churchill - Steiner goes in search of his target

Contemporary publicity leaned heavily on the suggestion that the story might be at least partly true, declaring that "At least half of this story can be documented as historical fact. The audience will have to decide how much of the rest is reality or fiction." John Sturges was good naturedly dismissive of this kind of talk usually saying, when asked in interviews, something along the lines of "Well there was a war, there was a Hitler, there was Churchill, maybe that's the 50 per cent ..."

The Eagle Has Landed was one of the last of the cycle of World War II adventure films, which is perhaps why the idea of switching to the German perspective to add something new was appealing. It was one of several war films told from the German point of view at this time, including Cross of Iron (1977) and its loose 1979 sequel Breakthrough (also known as Sergeant Steiner), as well as the German language film and TV mini-series Das Boot (1981). Donald Sutherland was back playing a German spy in Britain in the 1981 thriller Eye of the Needle, based on the novel by Ken Follett. Jack Higgins also returned to this world, writing a sequel to his original novel, The Eagle Has Flown, published in 1991.

I sometimes look at the more recent reviews for the films I write about, as well as the ones contemporary to their original release, to get a sense of how an older film is seen now. And I have to say, opinions on The Eagle Has Landed are all over the place. According to modern reviewers, the film is tense and exciting. Or else it's turgid and boring. The acting is good or it's really bad. The accents are spot-on or they're terrible. Donald Pleasence chews the scenery or he underplays it perfectly. And he's a dead ringer for Himmler, or maybe he looks nothing like him. Donald Sutherland is either great or awful. The build up to the mission is dull but the second half better. Or maybe the first part is good and the second half bad. Take your pick. It's easy to say, and perhaps just as easy to guess, that the truth is in between, but erring more towards the positive. It's not a great film, but it's certainly not a bad one either.

Personally, I'm going to do that snooty film critic thing and say that Went the Day Well?, with its similar subject matter, but made 30 years earlier, with a less starry cast, a lower budget and made in black and white, is a better film than The Eagle Has Landed. But I'm only saying that because it's true.

The Eagle Has Landed, however, is very competently and professionally made, by old hands who know how to make this kind of thing work. It's a plot-heavy film but generally an involving one, despite at times seeming to have almost too much plot for its running time. Despite its many implausibilities, it helps that the makers have managed to find just about the right tone for the film, neither solemnly serious nor too eager to tip us off that it's all a load of nonsense. Almost every aspect of the plot ranges from improbable to near impossible. But John Sturges keeps the film moving along efficiently enough, the charismatic stars help even though they aren't all on form, and it's made with enough conviction to carry it over the line. It may be hokum, but if that's what you're looking for, then it's pretty good hokum.

The Eagle Has Landed 

Year: 1976
Genre: War / Spy Thriller
Country: UK
Director: John Sturges

Cast Michael Caine (Kurt Steiner), Donald Sutherland (Liam Devlin), Robert Duvall (Colonel Radl), Jenny Agutter (Molly Prior), Donald Pleasence (Himmler), Anthony Quayle (Admiral Canaris), Jean Marsh (Joanna Grey), Judy Geeson (Pamela), Treat Williams (Captain Clark), Larry Hagman (Colonel Pitts), Sven-Bertil Taube (Captain von Neustadt), John Standing (Father Verecker), Siegfried Rauch (Sgt. Brandt), Alexei Jawdokimov (Cpl. Kuniski), Richard Wren (Hans Altmann), Michael Byrne (Karl), Joachim Hansen (SS Obergruppenführer), Denis Lill (Churchill's aide), Rick Parse (E-Boat commander), Leonie Thelen (Branna), Keith Buckley (Hauptmann Gericke), Terry Plummer (Arthur Seymour), Tim Barlow (George Wilde), John Barrett (Laker Armsby), Kate Binchy (Mrs Wilde), Maurice Roëves (Major Corcoran), David Gilliam (Sgt. Murphy), Jeff Conaway (Frazier), Patrick Allen (Narrator)

Screenplay Tom Mankiewicz, based on the novel by Jack Higgins  Producers David Niven Jr., Jack Wiener  Cinematography Anthony Richmond  Production designer Peter Murton  Art Director Charles Bishop  Editor Anne V. Coates  Music Lalo Schifrin  Costume designer Yvonne Blake  Presented by Lew Grade

Running time 135 mins / 123 mins (US)  Colour Technicolor  Widescreen Panavision

Production company Associated General Films  Distributors ITC Entertainment, Cinema International Corporation, Columbia Pictures

* The longer version of the film available on DVD is in the PAL format used in the UK. A film shown on the PAL TV system runs imperceptibly faster than it would in the cinema, something that's a trade-off for improved picture quality compared to NTSC and other TV systems. As a result, a film shown on the PAL system loses about 4 minutes in every 100 of running time. So a 100 minute film will run for, you guessed it, 96 minutes. This does have the advantage that a bad film will be a bit shorter. The 145 minute DVD version of The Eagle Has Landed would equate to about 151 minutes on film.


  1. Great review of a favorite WW2 movie. Granted, not in the least believable but so what? Let me spell it out for you. Credibility? Not. Im. Por. Tant. :) The script clearly doesn't care about it, so why should I?

    The premise of course is ludicrous. Abducting Churchill? The Nazis as sympathetic guys? The movie expects me to believe six impossible things before breakfast and I'm perfectly willing to do that. It's just that kind of movie and that it all works has a lot to do with the great cast that - as you point out - take their parts seriously and don't play their characters as caricatures. Except for Larry Hagman of course but Treat Williams's character makes up for it. It's just all done with so much panache and enthusiasm that it works. Let's just say it's set in an alternate universe.

    I agree, the irrelevant female character shoehorned into the proceedings - with or without romance - is just distracting in war movies. The Great Escape didn't need it, so why did others? But it was often done, though nowadays it seems to be mostly about PC box ticking. As you rightly pointed out in your Hurricane review, the female character was simply unbelievable and ridiculous.

    The romance between Molly and Devlin didn't bother me too much though, as Sutherland has enough charm to make it work. But really, he had nothing on Michael Caine. Nothing. Oomph.

    1. I think that's true that it's mostly done for PC reasons now. It's a good point about The Great Escape though, and in fact almost all of those POW films. Is there even a single woman in that film? I've been reading about The Bridge on the River Kwai and there was some pressure to put female characters in that as well. There often seems to be an element of "Let's find a glamorous woman who we can put on the poster, even if she's only in the film for 5 minutes".

      Would any woman really be that smitten by Donald Sutherland? He always seems a bit creepy to me, and the bright red hair doesn't make it any better. I can't help thinking if Mankiewicz had been smarter he could more profitably have combined the Jean Marsh and Jenny Agutter characters. This would have removed one of the film's biggest implausibilities and streamlined the plot a bit.

  2. Donald Sutherland was always a weirdo actor. I guess casting him as a romantic hero could only have made sense in the weirdo 70s.

    One of the worst offenders in the shoehorning a woman into a war movie category must be Never So Few with Frank Sinatra. Gina Lollobrigida looks fabulous in her outfits but she's simply in the wrong film.

    The "women in war" storyline has been done so much better in other movies where it actually worked. To name just a few: So Proudly We Hail!, Cry Havoc, Homecoming, 13 Rue Madeleine, Ice Cold in Alex, A Matter of Life and Death, Carve Her Name with Pride.

    1. Yes and he did indeed mostly play weirdos until the early '70s. If he'd been around a decade earlier he would probably have been confined to playing minor bad guys.

      Ice Cold in Alex is an excellent example of using female characters intelligently. That film could have been perfectly good without them, but the addition of the women makes it a much better film and there's nothing contrived about their inclusion.

      Films about the resistance or the SOE or whatever all offer good parts for women too, as they were important in those kind of spying operations.

  3. Very interesting article. I have yet to see this movie. Every time I put it near the top of the "get to it" list, something intervenes. I suppose now I could simply rewatch Went the Day Well?

    1. Oh, I don't know. It's not as good as Went the Day Well?, but it's entertaining in its way and is worth seeing at least once.

  4. It's a flawed but entertaining film. Yes, I've read Caine's bio and he insisted that Sturges was lazy and only took the job to pay for his favorite hobby: fishing. However, warts and all, I liked the movie. :)

    1. Given Sturges's apparent lack of interest, it seems like the film is much better than it has any right to be.

  5. I'm another one who has yet to see this film, and I'm glad to know a person should suspend disbelieve. With that in mind, I think I'll enjoy it quite a bit.

    Also: Thank you for co-hosting and organizing this blogathon. A lot of terrific films being covered.

  6. Being a Michael Caine fan, I love this film as entertainment and not too concerned about historical accuracy or concerns over how believable the plot is. A bit like attacking Inglorious Basterds for being historically inaccurate and for having a ludicrous storyline. As a history teacher, you sometimes have to leave your sense of history at the door when entering a theatre - after all you might never enjoy a film otherwise! A great review!

    1. I think there has to be a baseline of plausibility though. For all its flaws, Inglorious Basterds isn't pretending to be an accurate depiction of WWII, whereas The Eagle Has Landed is made in a realist style. A film has to be plausible within the dramatic universe it creates. But it's true that we have to give a lot of leeway to films and with a film like this we shouldn't get too hung up on believability.


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