THE EAGLE HAS LANDED does so in high definition in Shout! Factory's Blu-ray/DVD combo special edition.
The rescue of ally of arrested Benito Mussolini by paratroopers gives Hitler the idea to send in German paratroopers to abduct Winston Churchill and bring him from London to Germany. Intelligence officer Admiral Canaris (Anthony Quayle, LAWRENCE OF ARABIA) is ordered to conduct a feasibility study. Canaris believes that Hitler will soon forget the idea as a whim (he describes him as being like "the ringmaster of some freak circus"), but that commander Himmler (Donald Pleasance, HALLOWEEN) will not, so he orders Colonel Radl (Robert Duvall, THE GODFATHER) to conduct the study with an aim towards quashing the plan. Although it seems like an entirely absurd idea, it starts to seem entirely possible with new intelligence that Churchill will be staying at a country house not far from the village of Studley Constable where Boer collaborator Joanna Grey (Jean Marsh, TV's UPSTAIRS DOWNSTAIRS) is embedded and Radl learns of the existence of skilled paratrooper Steiner (Michael Caine, THE HAND) court-martialed for insubordination along with his men. Himmler presents Radl with a letter signed by Hitler himself giving him permission to exceed his authority and go behind Canaris' back to proceed with the operation.
Radl also recruits Liam Devlin (Donald Sutherland, DON'T LOOK NOW), an IRA fighter lecturing in Germany without any loyalties towards Hitler but a bitter hatred towards England. Steiner accepts the operation when Radl offers to reinstate Steiner and his men. Devlin precedes the paratroopers to England and takes up the position of marsh warden on an estate neighboring the on Churchill will be staying at, but his relationship with Royal Voluntary Service officer Molly Prior (Jenny Agutter, WALKABOUT) might be just as much a threat to exposure as the unexpected presence of Army Rangers (lead by ONCE UPON A TIME IN AMERICA's Treat Williams and DALLAS' Larry Hagman) are to Steiner's team (who are disguised as members of the Polish Independent Parachute Brigade lead by Steiner masquerading as British Colonel Miller).
Based on the novel by Jack Higgins and adapted by Tom Mankiewicz (whose credits include three Bond films and that awful DRAGNET remake), the plot of THE EAGLE HAS LANDED is almost as absurd as the Nazi plot in the story. It is beautifully shot – by Anthony Richmond (DON’T LOOK NOW) with second unit by John Wilcox (Freddie Francis' DP of choice when he was directing) and beautiful aerial work by specialist Peter Allwork (OUT OF AFRICA, A VIEW TO A KILL – and features a mostly wonderful cast (apart from Sutherland's Irish rogue and a bland Williams who admittedly has very little to do as not so much the hero but the most sensible of the good guys). The biggest flaw, however, is that we spend two hours waiting for (and hoping for) the protagonists to fail. Had it been based on a factual occurrence, then it would have been intriguing to come to understand how the plot fell apart. There's very little suspense to be had from the potential ambush of Churchill, not because we know he survives but because the climax doesn't even cut it close with the attempt to warn him. Molly falling in love with Devlin also feels extremely rushed, so her behavior comes off as either flighty or demented (but it's Jenny Agutter and it's always enjoyable to watch her embodying extreme emotions). The pyrotechnics of the climax are exciting, however, but the "honorable" deaths of Steiner's men don't have the same impact as the "Boy's Own" adventure of THE WILD GEESE. Some of the impressive cast fare better with little screentime than others (THE LEGACY's John Standing as the village priest in the former and Marsh's Boer collaborator in the other), but a reigned-in Pleasance is perfect casting as the weasely Himmler both in looks and in demeanor while Duvall and Quayle give dignified performances. This was the last film of director John Sturges whose thirty-plus year career – first as an editor, then as producer and director – included the Clint Eastwood starrer JOE KIDD, Alistair MacClean's ICE STATION ZEBRA, and Charles Bronson's CHINO.
There have been a few different cuts of THE EAGLE HAS LANDED, the theatrical version (135 minutes) represented here – and on Artisan Entertainment's non-anamorphic DVD – as well as a TV cut (123 minutes) and an extended version (145 minutes). The extended cut appeared on DVD in the UK as part of a two-disc set with the theatrical version, but elements were apparently not suitable for HD mastering as even the UK (from the same company as the two-disc), Australian, and German Blu-rays feature only the theatrical cut. While the UK Blu-ray was region free, it featured a transfer that utilized MPEG-2 encoding and lossy Dolby Digital 2.0 stereo audio. Shout! Factory's release utilizes what is presumably the same sterling high definition master in an MPEG-4 AVC-encoded 2.35:1-framed transfer that is simply stunning apart from some jittery shots. The enhanced definition does make some of the Peter Murton's impressive sets seem less authentic (if only in the sense that they look like high budget detailed film sets rather than real rustic locations). The lossless DTS-HD Master Audio 2.0 that makes itself known immediately with a vivid rendering of the highs and lows of Lalo Schiffrin's title music. It's not a thrilling mix for the most part, but it does give some definite umph to the climactic battle. Optional English subtitles are also included.
The UK Blu had no extras whatsoever while Shout! Factory's edition boasts a number of extras that were present in Carlton's UK 2-disc DVD edition (the Blu is from rights owner ITV so it is odd that they did not include any of the ATV-produced vintage extras they own). The 2007 featurettes are in 1080i, so they look softer with blurry motion (whipping camera pans, the film clips themselves, and the interviewees gesticulating hands). "THE EAGLE HAS LANDED Revisited" featurette (15:04) revisits Mapledurham locations with production designer Peter Murton magazine and film magazine editor David Worrall (who supplies additional factoids about the production and the location). Murton describes the buildings that were added (he confides that they prettied up the village but did not improve on its amenities) as well as how the effects were achieved (as well as the local vicar's apprehension at damage that could be done to the real church). John Eyston, owner of the manor house where Churchill stays in the film, recalls how the village benefited from the shoot since it was in a state of disrepair at the time (they wanted to keep the sets, but the lime and plaster construction would not have lasted the rainy season). Canadian-born actor David Gilliam (FROGS) describes the hot six month location shoot and acting amidst pyrotechnics without protection (the cameras were shielded and the technicians backed off after starting them).
In "Tom Mankiewicz: Looking Back" (10:26), the screenwriter (who died in 2010) describes the problem of distilling the source novel to a workable running time for a film and making Steiner a more sympathetic protagonist. He also reveals that Caine was originally offered the role of Devlin, but he had misgivings of playing an IRA officer; and what he added to Devlin's role when he learned Sutherland – with his "wonderful shit-eating grin" – would be playing the role (he reserved much of the script's humor for Hagman's character).
The vintage "ATV Today on Location" (9:13) features brief interviews with Caine, Hagman (who describes his character as a loser compared to the usual portrayal of Americans fighting Germans, and gives away his fate), and Sturges. The "Film Night Location Report" (5:15) features Sturges, and Caine addressing how much of the plot might actually be true. Sutherland and Agutter discuss their characters (sometimes with more depth than afforded them in the finished film). "On Location in Norfolk" (3:26) features coverage of Sturges and his camera crew getting second unit footage (since the Mapledurham location is almost two hundred miles from the Norfolk setting). The lengthiest of the vintage featurettes is "On Location Interviews" (25:51) features extended talks with Caine, Sutherland, and Sturges. Caine discusses the importance of liking the character he is playing while Sutherland cares less about being sympathetic to the audience than the director's perception of the character, with both references past roles and collaborations with directors. Sturges talks about his directorial career, and the difficulty of getting the tone right with a war picture. A theatrical trailer (2:59) for the film is also included. The DVD side of the package includes the film and all of the extras (in standard definition, of course). (Eric Cotenas)
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