During World War II, a group of Nazi’s kills a regiment of English soldiers and dons their uniforms, essentially slipping through the cracks as the English and French armies leave Dunkirk and head back to Britain. Once there, Captain Paul Stevens befriends Captain Martin, who unbeknownst to him is one of the Nazi infiltrators, whose mission is to destroy the Allies’ radar system so they can’t detect an impending Nazi invasion. The two men become such close friends that Paul offers Martin to stay with him, which Martin happily obliges as now he’s found himself very much on the inside. Soon enough however the Allies become wise to the undercover Nazi’s, as bodies that are stripped of their uniforms begin to pop up. Paul is given the task to expose the saboteurs, but it couldn’t be at a worse time; the Battle of Britain has begun.
Arguably director Enzo G. Castellari’s most ambitious and involved film, Eagles Over London doesn’t actually feel like a film from the famed exploitation maestro. Maybe it’s due to the fact that the scale of the film is so large, bordering on epic even, to the point where it feels like something that would come out during the summer from Hollywood. It just doesn't seem like this is a product from the same guy that provided us with post-apocalyptic trash like The Bronx Warriors and Poliziotteschi grit such as the excellent The Big Racket. To be quite honest, Eagles Over London doesn’t play to Castellari’s strengths whatsoever; it’s a middling tale at best with little to recommend on the story front, which offers nothing that we haven’t seen before. Nazi’s dress up like English soldiers and infiltrate the enemy? Maybe this was new hat in 1969, but in 2009 it comes off as very run of the mill. The story just doesn’t have the oomph that many other Castellari flicks have; if he would have added in anything sleazy or overly violent, it may have been able to stand out from similar fare of the era. It’s quite odd too that apparently Eagles Over London is Castellari’s most recognizable film in Italy and saw a lot of success upon its release. Why his career didn’t stay with directing big-budgeted blockbusters is certainly a mystery.
Castellari himself mentions in one of the included extras that he didn’t much care for Frederick Stafford, who plays the lead of Captain Paul Stevens, and it’s hard to argue with him. His performance is very dry and wooden, showing little emotion or character growth throughout the film. This isn’t just a singular problem though; the majority of the cast isn’t very distinct or well-developed, and I must admit it took me nearly half of the film to finally nail down who was who on a consistent basis. The one bright spot is Renzo Palmer, who plays the wise-cracking, takes-no-shit Sgt. Donald Mulligan. He steals every scene he’s in with his hilarious bravado, and watching him use soldiers as pillows and bitching and moaning about everything from slow-moving soldiers to bad tea are among the high points of the film.
There is however one aspect of Eagles Over London where things truly shine, and it’s the incredible action sequences. This is where Castellari is at his best, and he delivers some seriously astounding battles that will have your jaw on the floor on a number of occasions. Exhilarating shootouts, tons of explosions, and crazy dogfights are all pulled off in wonderful fashion, but the real thriller is the total recreation of the Battle of Dunkirk that involves English and French troops evacuating France while under fire from German bombers. The scope of this sequence is awe-inspiring, and really needs to be seen by anyone interested in the art of film. It’s amazing what hard work and dedication could produce way back in 1969 when FX for epic scenes like this were much harder to pull off realistically. And I can’t forget to mention a certain love scene that incorporates a nighttime Blitz of London. You just can’t make this stuff up!
Castellari completists will most definitely want to check out Eagles Over London, as it’s a stark contrast to what fans of his are accustomed to, and shows the jack-of-all-trades that he was. While it fails at providing a compelling story and some boredom looms between the action (as well as tedium with the tired soundtrack looping over and over again), when things pick up it’s generally so good that you’ll stick around for the duration to see what else gets blown up next. Also watch out for the ridiculous amount of camera zooming used during the flick. Castellari says it’s painful for him to revisit it, but for the rest of us, it’s good for some cheesy laughs.
Severin Films gives Eagles Over London the royal treatment on both DVD and Blu-Ray. Both versions are presented in 2.35:1 anamorphic widescreen (with the Blu-Ray being 1080p), and look decent. The DVD is just fine, exuding the usual Severin quality, while the Blu-Ray has its moments, particularly during outdoor scenes. There’s a healthy dose of grain on display which I like for older films on the format, but I’m really not convinced that the film benefits very much from an HD treatment. The print is in good shape, although some of the scenes look a little rough and washed-out. To be honest, if you’re on the fence about what version to buy (or if you’re scared to get the DVD since you plan on getting a BR player eventually), you’d be fine with either one. The DVD is great, the BR is decent; it’s a small step-up from the DVD, but it’s far from a revelation. Both releases include only a Dolby Digital 2.0 track, and the Blu-Ray sadly does not enjoy a lossless track. The audio is your standard 2.0 track, with the dialogue clear and is free of any real damage, but the fights come off flat, and I think a lossless track could have been great, especially since I’ve become a believer in lossless 2.0 thanks to BFI’s and Criterion’s releases.
There are two main extras on the disc, both featuring my arch-enemy Quentin Tarantino. Okay, so I don’t hate him really, but I can’t stand to hear him talk. His enthusiasm should be commended, but his mannerisms and endless babble makes you wonder if his mental health isn’t deteriorating and he makes me feel like I'm going nuts too. I couldn’t stomach the entire 14-minute sit-down interview with him and Castellari, as Enzo can nary get a work in edgewise, but the other included extra, which is from the film’s screening in LA, is an easier proposition, with Tarantino mainly gushing over the film and then turning the mic over to Enzo who makes fun of his mannerisms to big laughs and tells some good stories (including his Van Johnson fetish). A short deleted scene is included, as well as trailers for this as well as Castellari’s Inglorious Bastards. It should be noted that on the Blu-Ray, all of the extras are in 1080p, but for some reason the Eagles Over London trailer is smooshed at the top of the screen, leaving the bottom 2/3 of your TV in black space. Seems to be an odd encoding error, but otherwise the release is of a quality.
Please feel free to discuss "Eagles Over London" here, in our forums!