Eagles Over London

Eagles Over London


Reviewed by: Val Kermode

One of Quentin Tarantino’s favourites, and made nine years before the original Inglorious Bastards, this is a full-on macaroni combat movie. Enzo G Castellari tells his story in straightforward boys own fashion. He doesn’t care for too much script, characterisation or sub-plots. He’s got Van Johnson and split screen. It’s big, it’s noisy and it’s exciting.

In May 1940, as the British and French are cut off at Dunkirk, a band of Germans ambush and kill one British squadron and take on their identity, so that they can mingle with those returning to England and then sabotage the new radar warning system. Captain Stevens (the rather wooden Frederick Stafford) finds evidence of their dastardly plot and gets permission to organise his own men to work with the military police in tracking down the Germans.

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One of the saboteurs, posing as Lieutenant Martin Donavan (Francisco Rabal) befriends Captain Stevens to get more inside information. Confusingly, Spanish actor Rabal has perfect English, while Austrian-born Stafford sounds like the imposter. It’s a multinational cast, so what the hell, and American Van Johnson as Air Marshal George Taylor is there to provide extra hero power.

The early scenes at Dunkirk are very effective, though there’s none of the blood and guts we have come to expect. For a modern audience, it’s strange to see soldiers being strafed by German planes and falling without even a tear in their uniform. But Castellari still makes this work, with long shots of the crowded beach, close ups of men in the water and a rousing original score by Francesco de Masi.

It’s unfortunate that when the troops arrive at Dover there are clearly Spanish hills in the background, and this is even more incongruous for Portsmouth in a later scene. The film contains many anachronisms, including seamless stockings and Sixties make-up and hairstyles. Perhaps the worst is the Post Office Tower clearly visible across the Thames.

If you can forgive this, you will enjoy the aerial battles, entirely created in the studio and, in pre CGI times, with model planes and cityscapes. This is where split screen allows the inclusion of old newsreel footage and on the whole it works well.

I can’t agree with Tarantino’s typically over the top comment that this film “makes Atonement look like shit”, but Castellari says he had his best time ever making it, and it shows. It’s a simple, fast-paced adventure where the goodies track down the baddies, and then more goodies shoot the baddies out of the sky.

Reviewed on: 08 Jan 2010
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Eagles Over London packshot
Germans infiltrate a British squadron in a bid to sabotage a radar warning system.
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Director: Enzo G. Castellari

Writer: Tito Carpi, Vincenzo Flamini, José Luis Martínez Mollá, Guilles Morris Dumoulin, Enzo G. Castellari

Starring: Frederick Stafford, Van Johnson, Francisco Rabal, Ida Galli, Luigi Pistilli, Renzo Palmer, Luis Dávila, Christian Hay, Jacques Berthier, Teresa Gimpera, George Rigaud, Eduardo Fajardo, Ugo Adinolfi, Umberto Di Grazia, Ricardo Valle

Year: 1969

Runtime: 100 minutes

BBFC: 15 - Age Restricted

Country: Italy, France, Spain


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