Art collector and college professor Dr. Jonathan Hemlock (Clint Eastwood, Dirt Harry) is blackmailed into returning to his old profession: a hired assassin for a mysterious government agency. Hemlock’s dangerous mission takes him to the Swiss mountain “The Eiger” where he must identify and kill a Soviet spy.
Reaction & Thoughts:
“Good luck, Hemlock, on your latest assignment: the Eiger sanction.”
When I was a kid the two biggest male movie stars were Burt Reynolds and Clint Eastwood. While Reynolds’s career eventually went up in smoke, the 90-year-old Eastwood is still going strong — most recently, the actor starred in The Mule, which was a huge box-office hit. This gotta be some kind of Guinness world record!
Eastwood’s longevity in Hollywood is due in part to the actor’s uncanny ability to reboot his image at the exact moment when we thought we had him figured out. The Eiger Sanction isn’t one of Eastwood’s best films, but it allowed the actor to dip his feet into an uncharted genre: the espionage thriller. Unfortunately, because of a lumpy narrative, the film comes across as being nothing but a James Bond wannabe.
This is Eastwood’s fourth film as a director. While he does a good job behind the camera, Earwood can’t overcome an uneven script (by Warren Murphy based on Rodney William Whitaker’s novel of the same name). One of my biggest movie pet peeves is when characters say things only for the benefit of the audience. The film has a lot of that. It’s the kind of expository dialogue that makes me cringe. Another problem is that the film’s first half has a lot of scenes that don’t move the story forward.
Eastwood later admitted that he never liked the script (he tried to fix it to no avail) and only made the film because of the mountain climbing scenes. You can clearly see that Eastwood is much more comfortable with alpinism than with cloak & dagger stuff. The realistic sequences at the top of the famous Eiger peak (Eastwood did his own stunts) are at odds with the almost campy tone of the spy games.
This is precisely why I much prefer the film’s second half. Since the second half takes place in Grindelwald, Switzerland, it goes without saying that this section of the movie is characterized for its beautiful scenery. Frank Stanley’s (Thunderbolt and Lightfoot) cinematography is breathtaking. Ferris Webster’s (High Plains Drifter) expert editing is notable during the hair-raising climbing sequences.
John Williams’s (Star Wars) music score, his only score for an Eastwood production, is very good too. Williams’s jazzy soundtrack is strangely subdued, but one has to remember that Eastwood has never been a fan of bombastic music scores.
Although Eastwood isn’t remotely believable as a spy (he is too matter-of-fact to play “an International man of mystery”), I appreciated his desire to try something new. BTW, Eastwood’s very first scene mirrors Harrison Ford’s classroom sequence in Raiders of the Lost Ark. A coincidence? Hmm… I wonder. The rest of the cast is quite good. George Kennedy (Cool Hand Luke) is fun as Eastwood’s sarcastic pal and Jack Cassidy (Bunny O’Hare) chews up the scenery as Eastwood’s nemesis.
Conclusions & Final Thoughts:
Okay, let me do a little “Monday morning quarterbacking” and say that the film would have been a great thriller if they had scraped the entire first half and concentrated on the second section of the movie instead. I didn’t think the two halves worked well together. All things considered, the clunky and longish The Eiger Sanction is never boring. Eastwood fans will definitely want to check it out. Color, 128 minutes, Rated R.