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The Eagle Has Landed
Directed by John Sturges
Produced by David Niven, Jr.
Jack Wiener
Written by Jack Higgins (novel)
Tom Mankiewicz
Starring Michael Caine
Donald Sutherland
Robert Duvall
Jenny Agutter
Donald Pleasence
Anthony Quayle
Larry Hagman
Treat Williams
Distributed by ITC Entertainment
Release date(s) December 1976
Running time 135 m (UK)
123 m (U.S.)
145 m (25 fps PAL)(Extended R2 DVD version)
Language English
Budget $6,000,000

The Eagle Has Landed is a 1976 film version of the novel The Eagle Has Landed by Jack Higgins. It was directed by John Sturges and starred Michael Caine, Donald Sutherland and Robert Duvall. It is Sturges' final film, and despite tension between Caine and Sturges, the film was quite successful upon its release and retained a cult following.

Contents

Plot summary

Inspired by the rescue of Hitler's ally Benito Mussolini by Otto Skorzeny, a similar idea is considered by Hitler, with the support of Himmler (Donald Pleasence). Admiral Canaris (Anthony Quayle), head of the Abwehr (German military intelligence), is ordered to make a feasibility study of the seemingly impossible task of capturing the British Prime Minister Winston Churchill and bringing him to Germany.

Canaris considers the idea a joke, but realizes that although Hitler will soon forget the matter, Himmler will not. Fearing Himmler may try to discredit him, Canaris orders one of his officers, Oberst Radl (Robert Duvall) to undertake the study, despite feeling that it is a waste of time.

An Unteroffizier on Radl's staff finds that one of their spies, code named Starling, has provided tantalizing intelligence - Winston Churchill is to visit an airfield near the village of Studley Constable in Norfolk, where Joanna Grey (Jean Marsh), a German sleeper agent lives. Radl comes up with a scheme that could work. Himmler summons Radl and unofficially tells him to proceed, without notifying Canaris. Radl recruits Liam Devlin (Donald Sutherland), a member of the IRA lecturing at a Berlin university, to the mission.

Radl looks for a suitable officer to lead the mission and chances upon the highly decorated and experienced, but conflicted, Fallschirmjäger officer Oberst Kurt Steiner (Michael Caine). While returning from the Eastern Front, Steiner intervened when SS soldiers rounded up Jews at a railway station in Poland, and attempted to save the life of a teenage girl who was shot while trying to escape. For this, he was court-martialled, along with a platoon of his men. Rather than face the firing squad, the men were allowed to transfer to a penal unit on the Channel Island of Alderney, where they made high risk attacks with torpedo boats against British channel convoys.

Radl travels to Alderney and, with the help of Devlin, recruits Steiner and his surviving men. The team will parachute into the UK from a captured C-47 with Allied markings. The commandos outfit themselves as Polish paratroopers, as few of them speak English. The plan is to infiltrate Studley Constable, complete their mission, rendezvous with an E-boat on the nearby coast and escape.

The plan is foiled when a German paratrooper rescues a local girl from certain death by a water wheel. He instead is killed in the process and his German uniform (worn under the Polish uniforms as protection against being executed as spies) is revealed to the onlooking villagers. The locals are rounded up but Pamela Vereker (Judy Geeson), the sister of the village priest Father Vereker (John Standing), escapes to alert a unit of the United States Army Rangers stationed nearby. Inexperienced, glory-seeking Colonel Pitt (Larry Hagman) tries to foil the German plan almost single-handed but is killed by Joanna Grey in her house, while his poorly-planned assault on the church fails with heavy casualties. Pitt's young deputy, Captain Clark (Treat Williams) then organizes a second, successful attack.

Steiner's men sacrifice themselves to delay the Americans while Devlin, Steiner and his wounded second-in-command Neustadt escape, with the aid of local girl Molly Prior (Jenny Agutter) who was romantically involved with Devlin. Instead of boarding the boat, Steiner makes one last attempt at Churchill. Steiner infiltrates the country house and apparently succeeds in shooting Churchill before being shot himself. However, when Captain Clark appears on the scene, he is informed that "Churchill" was actually an impersonator - the real Prime Minister is at the Tehran Conference.

With the failure of the operation, Radl is executed by firing squad under the pretext that he was "Giving orders beyond his control to a point of treason". In this way Himmler distances himself from the failed mission.

Differences from the novel

The film lacks many details and side plots of the novel, including the detention of Kurt Steiner's father, General Steiner, by the Gestapo as an additional incentive for Steiner to undertake the mission, and the attempted double-crossing of Devlin by Birmingham black marketeers which resulted in him being tracked down by Scotland Yard's Special Branch. In the novel, Steiner and Radl are both of the rank of Oberstleutnant - Lieutenant Colonel - where in the film they are both referred to throughout (including the credits) as Oberst - Colonel - the next higher rank. Some minor details such as names are changed; for example in the novel, Steiner's cover name is Carter and in the film it is Miller. Steiner's paratrooper uniform in the novel is more like those of his men, wearing a Luftwaffe fliegerbluse and schiff sidecap, while in the film he looks more like a pilot than a soldier, sporting a leather jacket and peaked cap. Some new events and explanatory dialogue are inserted - in the novel Molly does not shoot the mentally unstable villager Arthur Seymour. Also, a member of a British SS unit British Free Corps is featured in the novel, but absent from the film. In the novel, Steiner hesitates before shooting Churchill and is shot and supposedly killed. However, Steiner reappears alive in The Eagle Has Flown, a sequel to the novel. Radl is not executed; instead, he has a heart attack after discovering Devlin has escaped from England and is convalescing in the same hospital and dies soon after the war at home with his family. The book commences with author Higgins stumbling upon evidence for the event and concludes with him supposedly meeting the various surviving characters as he gathers information for the story, the final revelation coming from an aged Father Vereker that "Churchill" had been an impersonator and even if the mission had succeeded, it would not have mattered.

Deleted scenes

The original running time for the film was just over 135 minutes, but nearly 6 minutes were cut by the producers before the film was generally released. Some, if not most, of those scenes were restored for the special edition dvd, these scenes are:

  • An alternative opening, originally the film started with Heinrich Himmler (Donald Pleasence) arriving at a medieval castle for a conference with Hitler, Canaris, Bormann and Goebbels.
  • Extended scene when Radl arrives at Abwehr headquarters, he discusses his health with a German Army doctor (played by Ferdy Mayne).
  • Scene at a Berlin University where Liam Devlin is a teacher.
  • Scene in Landsvoort where Steiner and Von Neustadt discuss the mission and its merits and consequences.
  • Devlins arrival at Studley Constable is now extended where he and Joanna Grey discuss their part in the mission.
  • Devlin drives his motorbike through the centre of the village and on to the cottage, where he inspects the barn before returning to the village.
  • Scene where Devlin reads poetry to Molly Prior.
  • Extended scene in which Molly interrupts Devlin shortly after he receives the army vehicles.
  • Scene on the boat at the end that shows the fate of Von Neustadt. (This scene is visible in one of the special edition DVDs extras, in the action photo gallery)

Cast

Filming locations

The majority of the film, set in the fictional village of Studley Constable, was filmed at Mapledurham in Oxfordshire and features the village church, Mapledurham Watermill and Mapledurham House. Mock buildings such as shops and a pub were constructed on site in Mapledurham while interiors were filmed at Twickenham Studios.

The sequence set in Alderney was filmed in Charlestown, near St Austell in Cornwall. Some of the filming took place at RAF St. Mawgan, near Newquay, and at Rock, both in Cornwall. The railway station sequence where Steiner and his men make their first appearance was filmed in Rovaniemi, Finland.

The parachuting scenes were carried out by members of the REME (Royal Electrical and Mechanical Engineers) Parachute Display Team.

External links

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