The Eiger Sanction (1975)

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 5 out of 10

4-Word Review: Clint goes mountain climbing.

Dr.  Jonathan Hemlock (Clint Eastwood) is a retired assassin and mountain climber now working as a college art and history professor. However, due to his penchant of collecting rare paintings he is sucked in to doing hits from time to time by an obscure government bureau in order to help pay for his expensive collection of artwork. His assignment this time is to track down the Russian assassin who killed his old army buddy that at one time had saved his life while back in the war. The identity of this killer is not known, the only thing that is known is that the man walks with a limp and is a part of a team of mountain climbers set to scale the foreboding Eiger Mountain in the Swiss Alps.

Eastwood’s foray into the spy genre while entertaining enough to be considered passable still ends up being a misfire. Sure it is fun to see him go a bit against type especially with the accepted image of the spy. Here he wears glasses and actually turns down the advances of beautiful women at least when approached by an attractive student who states she is willing to do ‘anything’ in order to get better grades. It is even fun hearing him speak like a flaming homosexual when he disguises himself as a gay delivering man. However, the overall hokey premise does not suit Eastwood’s rugged persona and mentality. He seems stiff, out-of-place and unemotional most of the way and never believable. I also couldn’t buy into the idea that this paid assassin was actually a deep and philosophical man who abhorred the violence.  A person who becomes as good of a killer as this character is purported to being would have to have some deep dark passion for it in order to spend as much time doing it as he does.

The supporting cast does not fare much better. Dragon (Thayer David) who is head of the secret government bureau that recruits Roger is over-the-top and cartoonish as an albino man who must live in almost complete darkness in an underground temperature controlled room. George Kennedy gets another bland, thankless role this time as Ben Bowman the man who helps train Roger to climb the mountain. It seems like once he won the Academy Award for Best supporting actor in 1967 for Cool Hand Luke his career when straight downward. I also didn’t like the names given to the characters, which were supposedly done as an ‘inside joke’. The last name of Hemlock for the main character is too obvious and naming the black prostitute Jemima seemed even worse.

The only actor and character that comes off well here is Jack Cassidy as the gay man named Miles Mellough who walks around with a pet poodle named Faggot while playing a crafty game of cat and mouse with Jonathan. The character is both threatening and amusing and it was a real shame that he gets killed off in the middle as he could have made the tension more interesting had he stayed on until the end.

Most critics have described the pacing as ‘sluggish’ although I thought it was alright and it gets sprinkled so much with Eastwood’s amusing one-liners that it is always entertaining. The only real issue I had in this area is the first part, which seems unnecessary. It has Jonathan flying out to Switzerland to kill one of the killers only to come back and then fly out again to get the other one. This all becomes redundant and the scene involving the assassination of the first killer is poorly choreographed and edited.

The film’s main redeeming quality is the mountain climbing sequences, which is impressive. I loved the bird’s-eye view camera shots that captured the majestic landscape both in the scenes at Monument Valley as well as in Europe. The fact that Eastwood did almost all of his own climbing and stunts is equally impressive. There looks to be a lot of research put into the making of this film and the climbing segments are well shot and authentic looking. The climax atop of the Eiger becomes a bit drawn out and if anything I found the climb that Eastwood and Kennedy did on the ‘Tootem Pole’ in Utah in the middle of the movie to be more exciting and breath taking.

(Spoiler Alert)

The biggest, most glaring problem that I had with this movie comes at the very end with the ‘surprise’ identity of the killer, which turns out to be the Kennedy character who is finally seen walking with a limp. This though makes no sense because if the man had a limp how was he able to disguise it for so long during the many weeks that he spent with Jonathan during their training and how was he able to climb up the mountain with Jonathan in Utah. The fact that none of this gets answered and almost seems over-looked really makes this thing seem pointless and poorly thought out.

(End of Spoiler Alert)

Rod Whitacker who wrote the novel of which this movie is based labeled this film as being ‘vapid’ and I would have to agree. The story seems to borrow a lot of the same ingredients from other spy films without adding anything new or original of its own.

My Rating: 5 out of 10

Released: May 21, 1975

Runtime: 2Hours 3Minutes

Rated PG

Director: Clint Eastwood

Studio: Universal

Available: VHS, DVD, Amazon Instant Video

One response to “The Eiger Sanction (1975)

  1. Love this movie, one of my very favorite Clint’s. The scenes with Jack Cassidy are oh so scrumptious!

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