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  Eiger Sanction, The A Mountain To Climb
Year: 1975
Director: Clint Eastwood
Stars: Clint Eastwood, George Kennedy, Vonetta McGee, Jack Cassidy, Heidi Brühl, Thayer David, Reiner Schöne, Michael Grimm, Jean-Pierre Bernard, Brenda Venus, Gregory Walcott, Candice Rialson, Elaine Shore, Dan Howard, Jack Kosslyn, Walter Kraus, Frank Redmond
Genre: Action, ThrillerBuy from Amazon
Rating:  6 (from 2 votes)
Review: An American agent known as Wormwood has been murdered on assignment in Switzerland, so the microfilm he had managed to capture has fallen into Soviet hands, but the powers that be are more interested in executing the men who killed their spy. To that end they get back in contact with Jonathan Hemlock (Clint Eastwood), now working as an art professor at a university, a man who used to be one of their top assassins but gave it all up when he priced himself out of their range. But can he be tempted back with the promise of a rare painting for his small but valuable collection?

For many Clint Eastwood fans, the fact he directed what to them was a bog standard action thriller was cause for some bafflement, but if you watched it with fresh eyes you might well find one of his oddest outings, certainly his strangest movie of the seventies thanks to being drawn from a highly idiosyncratic novel by Rod Whitaker, using his nom de plume Trevanian. The main attraction would be to see Eastwood perform his own stunts as he climbed the face of the Eiger, and not only climb that either as halfway through the plot he would be scaling Monument Valley too, but take a step back from the impressive spectacle and regard this adventure through a modern prism then it all appeared very weird.

Not only in the locations Clint ended up in, but in the characters Hemlock met, starting with Pope, played by Gregory Walcott of Plan 9 from Outer Space fame who keeps calling him "sweetheart" and turning up to persuade him to attack this job with more enthusiasm, then get attacked by the professor more often than not. But that's nothing compared to Pope's boss Mr Dragon (Thayer David) who is an ex-Nazi albino living in a dimly lit room where he orchestrates all kinds of espionage, and has his blood changed twice a year ("With what?" asks Hemlock grimly). And it goes on, with our macho hero encountering quirky personality after quirky personality, and that included his leading lady Vonetta McGee, then best known as Blacula's girlfriend and here playing a stewardess called Jemima.

"And I'm Uncle Ben," quips Hemlock, illustrating the very seventies sense of humour found here; she has ulterior motives for seducing him as we discover, but then this was one of those movies where everyone was like that with the assassin wanting a tax exemption for his art collection, though he's upfront about this to those who can help him. From some angles The Eiger Sanction could be a comedy, except it didn't quite commit to the jokes in spite of there being quite a few, and besides by the last half hour when the mountain is being climbed they dried up to a trickle. Before that you had to watch Clint variously beat people up, have sex with women, ascend tall rocks and exchange witty banter, as if he were harbouring an ambition to be an American James Bond.

Then again, there were plenty of American leading men who would have been keen to fill that role if it were offered, and this was Clint's party after all, so you could indulge him quite easily. Behind the scenes the production was marred by a mountaineering death while out on the Eiger, a tragedy made doubly worrying because it could easily have been Eastwood who was killed instead, which may be why the tone gets more grave the further it progresses. Nevertheless, such characters as villainous Miles (Jack Cassidy), a flaming homosexual with a little, leg-humping dog and a big bruiser of a bodyguard have made this undoubtedly colourful which is difficult to forget once we're meant to be taking this very seriously, and the attitudes of the piece are more callous than perhaps intended when there are breaks to discuss what is at stake and the ethics of the complicated set up. When the twist comes late on, it not only adds a dose of futility, but tends to undercut what's led up to it, amusing enough as it was. Music by John Williams.
Reviewer: Graeme Clark


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Clint Eastwood  (1930 - )

Becoming a superstar in the late 1960s gave Clint Eastwood the freedom to direct in the seventies. Thriller Play Misty for Me was a success, and following films such as High Plains Drifter and The Outlaw Josey Wales showed a real talent behind the camera as well as in front of it. He won an Oscar for his downbeat Western Unforgiven, which showed his tendency to subvert his tough guy status in intriguing ways. Another Oscar was awarded for boxing drama Million Dollar Baby, which he also starred in.

Also a big jazz fan, as is reflected in his choice of directing the Charlie Parker biopic Bird. Other films as director include the romantic Breezy, The Gauntlet, good natured comedy Bronco Billy, Honkytonk Man, White Hunter Black Heart, The Bridges of Madison County, OAPs-in-space adventure Space Cowboys, acclaimed murder drama Mystic River, complementary war dramas Flags of Our Fathers and Letters from Iwo Jima and harrowing true life drama Changeling. Many considered his Gran Torino, which he promised would be his last starring role (it wasn't), one of the finest of his career and he continued to direct with such biopics as Jersey Boys, American Sniper and The Mule to his name.

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