The Eagle Has Landed

The Eagle Has Landed (1976)
Artisan Entertainment
Cast: Michael Caine, Robert Duvall, Donald Sutherland
Extras: Cast and Crew Information, Winston Churchill Biography

’The Eagle Has Landed’ was the final film directed by the great John Sturges. While not as critically-acclaimed as his earlier works, it does display many of the same subtle touches that made films such as ’The Great Escape’ and ’The Magnificent Seven’ so successful. Eschewing the typical formula for a wartime adventure film, the director instead focused on characters over action. The result is a very taut drama that stays true to the bestselling Jack Higgins novel on which it is based.

The film opens with Admiral Canaris (Anthony Quayle) returning from a meeting with Hitler in late 1943 in which the Fuhrer came up with the bright idea to kidnap British Prime Minister Winston Churchill and whisk him away to Germany so the Third Reich could sue for peace from a position of power. Although Hitler himself is sure to forget about his crazy scheme, Heinrich Himmler (Donald Pleasence), always the efficient toady, demands that the plan be carried out.

Canaris gives the task of planning this mission to Colonel Max Radl (Robert Duvall), an officer who eschews politics and can be counted on to make it happen. For mission commander, Radl selects disgraced Colonel Kurt Steiner (Michael Caine), whose refusal to participate in mass genocide led to his fall from favor. Steiner sees the job as an opportunity to carry out an honorable mission or, failing that, to escape the firing squad by dying in battle.

Assisted by local IRA agent Liam Devlin (Donald Sutherland), Steiner’s commandos enter a small English seaside town where the Prime Minister is due to arrive. Passing off his troops as Free Polish soldiers on maneuvers, Steiner prepares to spring his trap but, unbeknownst to him, a small American Army contingent has also entered the town and is perplexed by the presence of these ’Polish’ forces. What ensues is an action-packed firefight between determined, honorable foes and a thrilling attempt by the Germans to escape.

’The Eagle Has Landed’ is presented in a non-anamorphic letterboxed format framed at roughly 2.35:1. I say roughly because the image actually seems to have been stretched a bit resulting in an aspect ratio closer to 2.00:1. The image is generally good with nice colors and sharpness but there are many blemishes and imperfections on the source materials and blacks tend to come across more as shades of gray. The video is adequate but an anamorphic, cleaned up transfer would have been appreciated.

Audio is a fairly subdued DD 2.0 mix. The package indicates that this is a surround mix but my receiver didn’t recognize it as such and I heard no activity from the rear speakers. That being said, dialogue is fairly clear and, while there is very little dynamic range, the front soundstage does make good use of directional effects. I imagine the sound mix is very true to the original theatrical release and only a real remastering would have fleshed it out with a bit more oomph.

Extras consist solely of text-based supplements and I was surprised at how comprehensive they were. The first set provides in-depth cast and crew bios and filmographies for every actor and actress with a major role in the film. The second supplement provides a very detailed biography of Winston Churchill. It seems like an odd inclusion since Churchill is really not a primary character in the story but I appreciated it nonetheless.

’The Eagle Has Landed’ was one of the last blockbuster World War Two action films to come out of the seventies. Benefiting from a very talented ensemble cast (as evidenced by the many names mentioned in the review above), the film succeeds because the story is fleshed out with fully developed characters. As a result, the very gripping action sequences have a more emotional and dramatic impact than is the norm for this type of movie.

While the video and audio are nothing special, it is nice to have ’The Eagle Has Landed’ available in a widescreen, albeit non-anamorphic, version. The fact that the DVD is readily available for about ten dollars makes up somewhat for the lack of extras and remastering work and at that price I can’t help but give Artisan’s DVD my recommendation.