Monday, April 04, 2016

The Eiger Sanction

Clint Eastwood stars in one of his few spy flicks (FIREFOX is another) as Jonathan Hemlock, art history professor by day, government assassin by night. Having compiled an impressive (and highly valuable) art collection using his untaxed earnings from killing people for the U.S., his former boss, the albino Mr. Dragon (Thayer David, repulsive as usual) blackmails the retired Hemlock into making two more touches. Unfortunately, Dragon doesn’t know the identity of the second target — just that he is one of several mountain climbers who plans to tackle the intimidating Eiger in Switzerland.

Eastwood’s fourth film as a director in four years (following PLAY MISTY FOR ME, HIGH PLAINS DRIFTER, and BREEZY), THE EIGER SANCTION is based on the first novel by Trevanian, a Texas college professor whose real name was Rod Whitaker. Yes, the same Rod Whitaker who receives a screenplay credit on EIGER, along with hack Hal Dresner (SSSSSSS) and Warren Murphy, the co-creator of the Remo Williams Destroyer novels. Eastwood insisted on shooting EIGER on the Eiger against the advice of several on the production. One man was killed and two others injured, including cinematographer Frank Stanley, a veteran of four Eastwood movies whom the director never again hired after Stanley blamed him for the tragedies.

A bigger tragedy is the character of Miles Mellough, a flamboyantly gay spy who minces about with a little pet dog named Faggot. Though played decently by Jack Cassidy (HE & SHE), the Mellough character was embarrassingly offensive even in 1975. Trevanian claimed his Hemlock novels (he wrote a sequel, THE LOO SANCTION) were parodies, but if they were, Eastwood didn’t get the memo (though it’s possible Cassidy got it). The director occasionally veers into comic book territory, particularly the cartoonish Dragon and Gregory Walcott (JOE KIDD) as Dragon’s buffoonish sidekick, and Hemlock’s frequent one-liners, while funny, seem out of character for a sophisticate.

George Kennedy, earlier in THUNDERBOLT AND LIGHTFOOT with Eastwood, provides amiable backup as Ben Bowman, who trains Hemlock at his resort in Arizona, leading to an astonishing helicopter shot of Kennedy and Eastwood drinking Olympia nearly 6000 feet high atop Monument Valley’s Totem Pole. Though the many accidents indicate EIGER was a troubled shoot, at least Eastwood got great footage, and the star adds to the considerable suspense by clearly doing some dangerous stuntwork. Vonetta McGee (BLACULA) co-stars as a spy named Jemima Brown. Yeah, Trevanian had to have been kidding.

1 comment:

northierthanthou said...

Interesting to think this might have been a parody. Clint certainly did play it straight, but I think the rest of the movie is equally flat footed. Good film, but not much of a sense of humor to it.