The Eiger Sanction (1975)

Directed by Clint Eastwood
Clint Eastwood, George Kennedy, Vonetta McGee, Jack Cassidy, Thayer David, Brenda Venus, Jean-Pierre Bernard, Reiner Schoene, Michael Grimm, Gregory Walcott, Frank Redmond
Music by John Williams
Based on the Novel by Trevanian

SANCTION: A violation of the law, to enforce the law.

I’ll start by saying I am a big fan of Clint Eastwood, but sadly his forays into spy films, The Eiger Sanction and Firefox haven’t been Clint’s grandest moments. Never-the-less, they are still enjoyable in their way.

The Eiger Sanction starts with Agent Wormwood picking up a microfilm on a bridge in Zurich. Upon returning to his apartment, two men burst into his room attempting to retrieve the film. Wormwood swallows the film, but one of the assailants, armed with a switchblade, cuts it from his throat before he can get it down.

Meanwhile, in the United States, ex C2 agent, now an art historian, Jonathan Hemlock (Clint Eastwood) is lecturing a group of students. Upon returning to his office, he finds Pope (Gregory Walcott) sitting at his desk. Pope is a low level C2 agent with delusions of being a hard man. He has been sent to bring Hemlock to C2 headquarters. But Hemlock doesn’t feel too obliging. You see he has retired. Pope insists. Hemlock physically removes Pope from his office (in the usual Eastwood manner).

Afterward, Hemlock is notified that a Pissaro painting is available on the black market. Hemlock is not only an art historian but an avid collector, and has acquired a substantial collection through his black market contacts.

Soon after, ‘Dragon’ (Thayer David), the head of C2 is on the phone and convinces Hemlock to come in. ‘Dragon’ is an albino who has to stay in specially modified rooms dark rooms. Hemlock describes ‘Dragon’ in the film as: ”…a bloodless freak who can’t stand light or cold.” Not only is he physically grotesque, but his methods of coercion are equally reprehensible. He blackmails Hemlock into performing a sanction (assassination) by threatening to inform the IRS about Hemlock’s collection of paintings. Hemlock accepts the mission on the proviso that he receives a letter from the IRS stating that his collection is legal. It is agreed, and Hemlock is sent off to Zurich to kill one of the men who killed Agent Wormwood.

Hemlock completes his mission and returns home. It is not long before ‘Dragon’ is once again chasing his services. This time, ‘Dragon’ gives Hemlock a little more information. Agent Wormwood was in fact Henri Bach, an old friend of Hemlock’s. Hemlock has already liquidated one of the killers, ‘Dragon’ wants him to sanction the other. But they still do not know who the target is. All they have ascertained is that the second killer is a mountain climber and will be climbing the Eiger in the summer, as part of a good will climb involving France, Germany, Austria and the United States.

Hemlock is not only a super cool assassin, and art historian, but he is also a very good mountain climber. That makes him the logical choice for this mission. Hemlock agrees and starts training for the climb.

Well that’s a brief look at the plot, and you can see it’s all good old fashioned espionage fun. So it’s not the plot that let’s the film down. It’s the tone. In his book, The Screen Greats: Clint Eastwood, Alan Frank had this to say about The Eiger Sanction:
‘The Eiger Sanction (1975) was a disappointingly thin and routine spy thriller, with nothing to differentiate it from the dozens of similar that had been produced to cash in on the success of the James Bond movies.’ Frank is close to the mark in his assessment but probably had never read the Trevanian novel on which the film was based. By the mid seventies, the Bond imitators had moved from being mere carbon copies, but to parody. The Eiger Sanction was supposed to be a parody of the Bond movies or their ilk. For example, as mentioned in the film, the head of C2 is ‘Dragon’. But in the film his first name, which is ‘Yurassis’, is never mentioned. Yep ‘Yurassis Dragon’ (say it out aloud). Sure, it’s juvenile humour, but that is what The Eiger Sanction is, or should be about – taking all the Bondian set-pieces and clichés and poking fun at them. Richard Schickel in his biography Clint Eastwood said: ‘A send-up of sorts was perhaps intended, but that is not entirely clear…’

Two elements of the movies that do work well are the music by John Williams (would you expect anything less?), and the cinematography. This definitely a film that should be watched in widescreen. The panoramic vistas are breathtaking, especially in Monument valley, where Hemlock conducts his training for the Eiger climb.

So The Eiger Sanction is a disappointment, but not for what is does, but for what it doesn’t do. Because I am an Eastwood fan, I do tend to cut this film a little bit of slack. I enjoy it, but it is an ‘Eastwood film’. What I mean by that, is Eastwood doesn’t try to make Hemlock a character. It is Eastwood being Eastwood (or at least seventies style Eastwood, before he started branching out). If you have enjoyed The Gauntlet or The Enforcer you will probably find this entertaining. If you are looking to expand your spy film collection, this film is interesting but not really satisfying.

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The Eiger Sanction (1975)

Journey Into Fear (1943)


Directed by Norman Foster
Joseph Cotton, Dolores del Rio, Ruth Warrick, Agnes Moorehead, Orson Welles, Everett Sloane, Jack Moss
Music by Roy Webb

Based on the novel by Eric Ambler

The stock players from Orson Welles, Mercury Theatre Company bring Eric Ambler’s Journey Into Fear to the screen. Often direction for this film is attributed to Welles, but in later life he denied this. Regardless of who directed this movie, it is still a tidy little thriller with pretty good performances.

Here’s the plot. In a hotel room a phonograph hisses and whirs, playing an old copy of Chagrin d’Amour, when the needle sticks, and the same line of the record is repeated again and again. It’s all rather hypnotic and annoying. But the hotel patron isn’t paying attention. His mind is on other things because he is a professional killer preparing for a hit. His name is Benat (Jack Moss).

Meanwhile an American couple, Howard and Stephanie Graham (Joseph Cotten and Ruth Warrick) arrive in Istanbul. Howard Graham works for Bainbridge and Sons, an armaments company. At the hotel, the companies Istanbul representative, Kopeikin (Everett Sloane), meets Graham and shepherds him off to a nightclub, without his wife (to discuss business, naturally). At the nightclub, Graham is lured onto the stage by a magician performing a disappearance act. The ‘trick’ works, but the magician ends up dead with a knife in his back.

All the patrons of the nightclub are sent before the much feared Head Of Secret Police, Colonel Haki (Orson Welles). Haki pays particular attention to Graham, who he believes was the intended target of the murder. Before Graham can get into any more trouble, Haki has put him on a steamer to Batum. It appears a notorious Nazi operating in the area, named Müeller has hired Benat to kill Graham, so it is imperative that Graham get out quickly, and not by the regular routes. Haki promises to take care of Graham’s wife and have her meet him safely in Batum. Kopeikin escorts Graham to the steamer, and at the gangplank wishes him good luck and gives him a pistol.

I must admit, that I love this kind of film. This is one of those ones where various characters from differing backgrounds make a journey together. Some are good. Some are bad, and some are simply along for the ride. Recently I looked at Sleeping Car To Trieste which is in a similar vein, another popular example would be the Humphrey Bogart’s film Across The Pacific.

Any film with Joseph Cotton and Orson Welles is going to compared to The Third Man. Journey Into Fear is obviously not in that class. The Third Man is a classic, but Journey Into Fear is a worthy companion piece. It is a little more simplistic, but that’s not a bad thing. If you like old fashioned suspense thrillers, this film is definitely worth a look.

Incidently, Journey Into Fear was remade in 1975 with Sam Waterston in the role as Graham.

Journey Into Fear (1943)

Book Covers: Part 4

Here’s a few Femme Fatales.


Marita is one of my favourite spy biographies. It has a little bit of everthing in it.

From the back cover:
The daughter of a German cruise liner captain and an American actress, Marita Lorenz was a plucky but naive nineteen-year-old when she met Fidel Castro in Cuba in 1959. Swept away by his charisma and aura of power, she became his mistress soon after and left her home and family in New York to be with him.

It was to prove a cataclysmic decision in her extraordinary life, introducing her to the glamour and danger of an alien world.

Recruited by the CIA after being betrayed, kidnapped and drugged, she found herself embroiled in the intricacies of international espionage. She went on to work – often reluctantly – for American intelligence for twenty-five years, and carried out a series of hazardous and intriguing assignments, including a curious gunrunning mission, with one Lee Harvey Oswald, just days before the JFK assassination.

This is her remarkable true story – the memoir of a Mata Hari of the Cold War, describing with passion and candour her relationship with Castro, her subsequent affair with her ‘second dictator’, former Venezuelan President Marcos Perez Jimenez, and the year she spent abandoned in the jungle with a tribe of Yanomani Indians.

As intricate and high-powered as any thriller, MARlTA is fascinating proof that truth is indeed stranger than fiction.


This is the second Anna Zordan adventure, also known as The Little Dragon From Peking.

From the back cover:
Can a sex-bomb beat an A-bomb?

Only if she uses the deadliest weapon of all – her body – to SEDUCE AND DESTROY


Well you’ve got to love a spy dressed in purple with white boots.

From the back cover:
“The authorities believe the violence was initiated by a gang of ruthlesslv efficient foreign terrorists!”

The image of the Leader of the Opposition flickered on ten million British TV sets. What, he demanded, had the Prime Minister learned about the explosion on the London docks? Or about the millions of counterfeit sterling banknotes flooding the money market? Or the commando-style raid on an Army small-arms depot in which secret experimental weapons were stolen? Or the “Black Sunday” riot in which fifty civilians and policemen were killed?

Anna Zordan wondered what the Leader of the Opposition would say if he knew that twelve scripts for a new spy series had been stolen from a London TV station and that the disasters befalling Britain were reenactments of the first four segments of that series. And how would he feel if he learned that an early episode called for the assassination of the Leader of the Opposition?

The secret service had assigned Anna Zordan to track down the conspirators before they could turn any more TV fantasies into horrifying reality. Anna’s intelligence, training – and sensuality – were the last resort for a nation on the brink of chaos.

Book Covers: Part 4

Book Covers: Part 4

Here’s a few Femme Fatales.


Marita is one of my favourite spy biographies. It has a little bit of everthing in it.

From the back cover:
The daughter of a German cruise liner captain and an American actress, Marita Lorenz was a plucky but naive nineteen-year-old when she met Fidel Castro in Cuba in 1959. Swept away by his charisma and aura of power, she became his mistress soon after and left her home and family in New York to be with him.

It was to prove a cataclysmic decision in her extraordinary life, introducing her to the glamour and danger of an alien world.

Recruited by the CIA after being betrayed, kidnapped and drugged, she found herself embroiled in the intricacies of international espionage. She went on to work – often reluctantly – for American intelligence for twenty-five years, and carried out a series of hazardous and intriguing assignments, including a curious gunrunning mission, with one Lee Harvey Oswald, just days before the JFK assassination.

This is her remarkable true story – the memoir of a Mata Hari of the Cold War, describing with passion and candour her relationship with Castro, her subsequent affair with her ‘second dictator’, former Venezuelan President Marcos Perez Jimenez, and the year she spent abandoned in the jungle with a tribe of Yanomani Indians.

As intricate and high-powered as any thriller, MARlTA is fascinating proof that truth is indeed stranger than fiction.


This is the second Anna Zordan adventure, also known as The Little Dragon From Peking.

From the back cover:
Can a sex-bomb beat an A-bomb?

Only if she uses the deadliest weapon of all – her body – to SEDUCE AND DESTROY


Well you’ve got to love a spy dressed in purple with white boots.

From the back cover:
“The authorities believe the violence was initiated by a gang of ruthlesslv efficient foreign terrorists!”

The image of the Leader of the Opposition flickered on ten million British TV sets. What, he demanded, had the Prime Minister learned about the explosion on the London docks? Or about the millions of counterfeit sterling banknotes flooding the money market? Or the commando-style raid on an Army small-arms depot in which secret experimental weapons were stolen? Or the “Black Sunday” riot in which fifty civilians and policemen were killed?

Anna Zordan wondered what the Leader of the Opposition would say if he knew that twelve scripts for a new spy series had been stolen from a London TV stationand that the disasters befalling Britain were reenactments of the first four segments of that series. And how would he feel if he learned that an early episode called for the assassination of the Leader of the Opposition?

The secret service had assigned Anna Zordan to track down the conspirators before they could turn any more TV fantasies into horrifying reality. Anna’s intelligence, training – and sensuality – were the last resort for a nation on the brink of chaos.

Book Covers: Part 4

Book Covers: Part 3

In this batch of covers, for spy lovers, there’s a few familiar faces. There’s one of the Quiller novels. Another Bond, and a novel that was turned into a movie featuring Michael Caine. There’s also the very rare Avakoum Zarhov Vs 07.


FROM THE BACK COVER:

James Bond –
Secret agent and dedicated gambler, now famous the world over, makes his FIRST APPEARANCE in this startlingly original tale of espionage in a French seaside town.

Tension & Torture!
Romance & Murder


From the back cover:

Avakoum Zahov
His name was whispered with dread in the spy centres of the West.
Zahov?
Who was he?

The daring exploits of Agent 07 are well known to readers in the Western countries.

BUT WHO KNOWS THE OTHER SIDE OF THE STORY?

How do the Communists view the renowned British agent and his anti-espionage adventures?

We find out in this exciting story by Bulgaria’s bestselling author, Andrei Gulyashki, the creator of Avakoum Zahov, top agent for Department B, a gentle, perceptive, educated man of good taste and great charm who has a passion for archaeology and Mozart and who sees 07 as a sinister threat to world security.

In the final struggle between the world’s greatest Secret Agents-one must lose. And the loser must pay the penalty for defeat!

AVAKOUM ZAHOV – BULGARIA’S TOP AGENT MATCHES WITS WITH HIS WESTERN COUNTERPART – THE INFAMOUS 07.

ANDREI GULYASHKI was born in Bulgarska Rakovitsa village, district of Koula, in 1914. He participated actively in the resistance movement. Took up writing in 1931. He worked as editor for the newspapers “Rabotnichesko Delo” and “Otechestven Front,” the magazines “Septemvri” and “Plamuk” and is Director of the National Theatre in Sofia at present. Twice awarded Dimitrov Prize, the highest honor for works of literature and science in his country.

Book Covers: Part 3

Assassin (1993)


AKA: Point Of No Return
Directed by John Badham
Bridget Fonda, Dermott Mulroney, Gabriel Byrne, Harvey Keitel, Anne Bancroft
Music by Hans Zimmer

Assassin is an American remake of Luc Besson’s Le Femme Nikita, without the new wave, post punk trappings. Bridget Fonda plays ‘Maggie Blowjob’ (well, that’s what she calls herself in a police interview), who is a dishevelled, anti-social drug addict who kills a policeman while trying to score her next fix. For her crimes she is sentenced to death by lethal injection. The death sentence is not carried out and Maggie awakens in a Spartan, white room. At first she thinks she is in heaven until Bob (Gabriel Byrne) enters with a proposition. Either she can co-operate and be trained to be a covert agent (giving a little bit back to the community she abused), or the ‘death penalty’ can still stand. Maggie reluctantly agrees (some choice). Over the next three years she is trained in martial arts, the use of weapons, computers, and even how to dress, walk and talk. Finally she is released into the community.

It is interesting to see Harvey Keitel as Victor ‘The Cleaner’. A cleaner is the man who comes in when a mission has gone wrong to clean up the scene and dispose of the bodies. Compare this character with Mr. Wolf in Pulp Fiction (made a year later).

To some people this may be sacrilege, but in some ways I think that Assassin has stood the test of time better than Le Femme Nikita. Although only made three years previous, the original was definitely a film made at a certain time. Besson made his film, stylistically, cutting edge. But what is cutting edge one year, is passé the next. Badham travels a more timeless path and this serves the film well. One of the elements that helps the film is the choice of music.

The incidental music is by Hans Zimmer is fairly unobtrusive. But musically it is the great songs by Nina Simone that drive the story along. In fact, the code-name selected for Maggie is ‘Nina’. Songs like ‘Feelin’ Good’ which struts out when Maggie has finally been released into society emphasise the feeling of freedom that Maggie must be experiencing. At the end of the movie, when Maggie has to leave everything behind her ‘Black Is The Colour Of My True Love’s Hair’ emotes a feeling of melancholy and loss that sums up the character perfectly.

Other Simone performances include, ‘I Want A Little Sugar In My Bowl’, ‘Here Comes The Sun’ (yeah, the Beatles one), and ‘Wild Is The Wind’. I doubt the common practice of using popular, commercial artists of the day would have had the same impact – and only serve to date the film in future years.

I know that Hollywood’s penchant for remaking hit French films is reprehensible, but on this occasion the final result is fairly pleasing. In some sequences, it is shot almost scene for scene, which I guess is about as respectful as you can get. Assassin obviously is not as groundbreaking as La Femme Nikita, but if you view it as a stand alone feature, it’s a solid spy film, retaining the original ‘dirty people’ for a ‘dirty job’ ethos. You could do a lot worse.

Assassin (1993)