Based on the novel of the same name by Jack Higgins, 'The Eagle Has Landed' is a unique adventure war film that can leave viewers feeling a bit uncomfortable since it's told from the perspective of the Third Reich. Set at the height of World War II, there are times when you're nearly rooting for the enemy — a small covert unit of rowdy but oddly likable paratroopers quietly landing in the fictional country town named Studley Constable. And it's not so much that we want them to succeed in their attempt to kidnap Winston Churchill, but that we want to see how close they can come in completing their mission and if it will ultimately fail. The answer to that should come as no surprise, yet seeing it all come to fruition makes for a rousing and thrilling action saga.
'The Eagle Has Landed' also marks the final directorial effort from John Sturges, an illustrious filmmaking career that gave us such wonderful works as 'The Great Escape' and 'The Magnificent Seven.' His talent behind the camera can be admired in his use of the CinemaScope format in films like 'Bad Day at Black Rock' and his ability to turn B-material into a stirringly striking actioner in 'Gunfight at the O.K. Corral.' That same talent extends into this film, where we have beautiful, picturesque landscape views of the quiet English countryside, populated by colorful, unsuspecting residents. As the operation proceeds with Nazi soldiers disguised as Polish paratroopers on a training exercise, the handsome location turns into sullen, thrilling site waiting for the moment when things suddenly erupt.
This largely underrated war film is a fascinating and gripping watch that feels like a mix of Robert Aldrich's 'The Dirty Dozen' and Alberto Cavalcanti's 'Went the Day Well?' Michael Caine as decorated officer Oberst Kurt Steiner leads an elite force of mostly misfit soldiers to carry out the operation codenamed Eagle. They are not exactly a group of convicts and troublemakers as in Aldrich's classic, but similarly, they're a troop conflicted about the war, thought of as an embarrassment to the uniform, with the stakes high, and of course, set against them. When Oberst Max Radl (Robert Duvall sporting a cool eye patch) with special high-privilege rank from Heinrich Himmler (an excellent Donald Pleasence) approaches Steiner with the mission, he sees it as an opportunity to redeem himself and his loyal soldiers, if not an occasion to die gloriously and with honor.
Donald Sutherland also turns in a terrific performance as boisterous and always jovial Liam Devlin, a trained member of the IRA welcoming the chance to fight the British Empire any way he can. He is sent into the town first to meet with German sleeper agent Joanna Grey (Jean Marsh) and make preparations for the invasion. But as we would expect, certain unforeseen complications threaten the success of the mission, starting with Liam's sudden romance with local girl Molly Prior (Jenny Agutter) and U.S. Army Rangers being stationed nearby. Tension reaches its peak when an accident exposes the Nazi troop's cover, forcing Caine's Steiner to take the village hostage and readying for battle. Making the situation worse is Larry Hagman as inexperienced, overzealous Colonel Pitt while Captain Clark (Treat Williams) remedies the disaster.
One definite reason for watching 'The Eagle Has Landed' is seeing Caine, Duvall, and Pleasance play Nazis while Sutherland joins the cast as a sympathizer. In the hands of these capable actors, the plot about a covert Nazi operation to kidnap Winston Churchill becomes an engagingly taut thriller that builds towards a stirring action-packed climactic finish. In what became his final duties as director, John Sturges delivers a tense and effective war picture that carries an air of believability, leaving audiences to wonder if the events depicted were based on reality. Sadly, the film is grossly underrated and neglected by most moviegoers, but fans of good action war stories will positively love this.
The Blu-ray: Vital Disc Stats
Shout! Factory brings 'The Eagle Has Landed' to Blu-ray as a two-disc combo pack. A Region Free, BD50 disc sits comfortably on the panel opposite a DVD-9 copy, and both are housed inside a blue case. This is the 131-minute version, which is 3 minutes shorter than the original European cut. At startup, the disc goes straight to a static menu with a photo of the poster and a plain set of options while music plays.
'The Eagle' lands on Blu-ray with a shockingly good AVC-encoded transfer that shows distinct fine lines in the quaint architecture of the English village. Every pebble on the road, brick on the wall, and stone in the old church is plainly visible, while the faces of the cast reveal each wrinkle and we can clearly see the texture and threading in the costumes. Exterior shots are, of course, the best, as each blade of grass and every leaf is sharp and detailed, and background objects are discernible during poorly-lit interiors. A couple very minor soft scenes make an appearance, here and there, but they're negligible and don't distract. Contrast is spot-on and balanced, allowing for excellent visibility in the distance, and black levels are strong. The color palette is bright and accurate throughout, making this high-def presentation the best the film has ever looked.
The British war drama also arrives with a great DTS-HD Master Audio stereo soundtrack that delivers nice oomph in several action sequences. Explosions are admittedly a bit lacking in the bass department — or better yet, not as dramatic — but that's to be expected from a film of this vintage. Bullets, however, have a good punch, with welcomed impact. Imaging delivers a broad soundfield with surprisingly excellent off-screen effects and panning, and the music of Lalo Schifrin displays a good deal of warmth and fidelity. The mid-range is very well-balanced, with detailed clarity although the design is not particularly extensive or dynamic. With dialogue that is well-prioritized and intelligible, the lossless mix is an engaging and terrific complement to the video.
Brimming with stirring performances by Michael Caine, Robert Duvall, and Donald Sutherland, 'The Eagle Has Landed' is an excellent war thriller that imagines a Nazi perspective on a covert operation for winning WWII. John Sturges, directing his final movie, delivers a rousing and thrilling action adventure film that's grossly and sadly underrated. The Blu-ray arrives with a great audio and picture presentation, and a small collection of vintage featurettes, making the overall package recommended for fans of classic war movies.