Published Nov 01, 2013An exhilarating entry to the historical fiction genre, which contains other titles like The Day of the Jackal and, more recently, Inglourious Basterds, the "what if" scenario in The Eagle Has Landed concerns a secret plot by the Germans to kidnap Winston Churchill. It takes its time carefully building momentum and getting all of its key pieces in place before an explosive climax, which ranks amongst the best action sequences in the illustrious career of director John Sturges (The Magnificent Seven).
Sensing that WWII is beginning to become unwinnable, German colonel Radl (Robert Duvall) is tasked with drawing up the best possible way to secure Churchill, so Hitler can make a last gasp at gaining the upper hand in the conflict. Eventually committing to the idea with great conviction, Radl finds two essential participants in seeing the plan through. Steiner (Michael Caine) is an officer educated in England who's facing a court martial due to his anti-genocide stance, while Liam Devlin (Donald Sutherland) is a member of the IRA and is easily convinced to lend a hand.
Devlin is dispatched to a small village in Norfolk where Churchill is due to pass through and, while blending in with a phony job as a marsh warden provided by a German sleeper agent (Jean Marsh), can't help but start an ill-fated romance with Molly (Jenny Agutter), a young woman in town. Needless to say, not everything goes according to plan and the film succeeds in the difficult task of creating empathy for a group of people about to commit a heinous act, to the point where the audience can't help but want them to succeed. When Larry Hagman shows up towards the end as a comically tenacious colonel leading American troops in an effort to foil the scheme, it only increases the viewer's sympathy for the Germans.
This is a top-notch thriller often overlooked in the logjam of great films coming out of the '70s, one that creates great suspense by humanizing deplorable actions. The supplemental material is too overstuffed with on-set visits and interviews, but discussions of the cast and director's resumes reveal some interesting opinions on projects (Sutherland was not a fan of Dalton Trumbo's adaptation of his book, Johnny Got A Gun, for anyone wondering). In a short interview with the film's writer, Tom Mankiewicz, we learn of the difficulties he had adapting Jack Higgins' massive novel and also that he feels Michael Caine's wife, Shakira, is one of the most beautiful women he's ever seen.
The film's production designer, Peter Murton, returns to the quaint town where the climax took place in another short featurette, showing how little has changed. The only evidence of the movie having been filmed there is an unimpressive, framed picture in the church. (Shout! Factory)