This week’s pick is director John Sturges’s classic World War II thriller The Eagle Has Landed. The film stars some of Hollywood’s best talent: Michael Caine (Col. Kurt Steiner), Donald Sutherland (Liam Devlin), Donald Pleasence (Heinrich Himmler), Robert Duvall (Col. Max Radl) Jenny Agutter (Molly), Anthony Quayle (Adm. Canaris), Jean Marsh (Mrs. Grey), Treat Williams (Capt. Clark), and Larry Hagman (Col. Pitts).
The Eagle Has Landed supposes the theory that a team of German commandos clandestinely enters England and kidnaps Prime Minister Winston Churchill (the least heavily guarded world leader) and hold him for ransom in order to make the British sue for peace, thus allowing the Germans to continue on as the masters of Europe.
Amazed by the rescue mission to free Italian dictator Benito Mussolini from his mountain prison, Hitler proposes the idea to kidnap Churchill. The high command brings in architect colonel Radl (Duvall) to devise the plan in how to kidnap Churchill. Radl settles on Col. Kurt Steiner (Caine) a decorated paratrooper whose anti-Nazi reputation and crack unit are just the ones to pull off a mission considered too risky.
Radl meets with Heinrich Himmler (Pleasence), Hitler’s deputy Fuhrer who green lights the project code named: Eagle. Steiner assembles his sixteen men unit, and an Irish Republican Army agent Liam Devlin (Sutherland) to enter England and commence with the operation.
Steiner and his men disguise themselves as Free Polish paratroopers as they enter the tiny hamlet of Studley to locate Churchill’s base of operations and escape by way of a torpedo boat on the coast.
One of Steiner’s men is killed when he tries to rescue a little girl when she falls into a water mill. The soldier is killed and his German uniform is revealed. Steiner and his men take the villagers hostage and holds them in the town church.
Close by, a detachment of U.S. Army Rangers responds to the reports of the German commandos. The less than competent Col. Pitts (Hagman) takes it upon himself to launch a rescue mission to free the hostages. Steiner’s men ambush Pitt’s men, and the Rangers suffer heavy casualties. Pitt himself falls victim to his lack of combat experience and is killed by Mrs. Grey (Marsh) a German sleeper agent who has infiltrated the village and is helping Steiner’s men achieve their objective.
Captain Clark (Williams) assumes command of the Ranger Company after Pitt’s death and arrives at the church under a flag of truce. Clark informs colonel Steiner that he knows why they’re in England, that Mrs. Grey has been killed, and that their radio to communicate with Berlin has been confiscated. Steiner refuses to surrender and attempts to personally infiltrate Churchill’s country home to capture or kill him after his men stay in the church as decoys to make the Americans think they’re all still there.
The film’s intensity is very well executed by Sturges who apparently clashed with Caine throughout the film. Lalo Schifrin’s score is incredible and adds so much to the film and it’s edge of your seat action sequences. Like many Hollywood adaptations of novels, the film differs from author Jack Higgins novel in several ways. One such way is Steiner’s father; a high-ranking general is detained by the Gestapo to force Steiner to take the mission, which he had initially refused. Non the less, the film is very well done and is a fantastic what if scenario thriller.
The Eagle Has Landed is available on DVD through Artisan Home Entertainment and is available on Netflix.