When it comes to 1970s Clint Eastwood movies you can usually have a good idea of what’s in store before you go in.
While the genres and surroundings might change and horses and orangutans are swapped freely with prisons and views of San Francisco, Clint’s act rarely changes. He’ll either talk tough or not talk much at all. And it usually works great.
In the Eiger Sanction, the formula is altered with very mixed results. While Harry Callahan’s racist bigotry can be indulged to a point considering the times it’s set in and the ultimate payoff of taking scumbags off the streets, here we see Eastwood play an unrepentant asshole and none of us are in on the joke.
The film opens with a mysterious spy in Zurich, getting killed over microfilm. So far, so seen it before. Soon John Hemlock(Eastwood) is summoned by a secret organisation to carry out a killing[Sanction) on the killer in exchange for cash and further improvements on his art collection. You see he’s been retired and is now a professor at the local university, teaching horny uninterested students about fine art.
He carries out the bidding of the strange albino Dragon, his de facto boss, but is double-crossed by air stewardess he met earlier.
Jesus, it’s a mess. By now he’s already chewed through five films worth of smart ass and unnecessarily angry remarks and made a bizarre joke about rape that surely wasn’t funny in 1975 either.
The stakes are raised and he’s told he has another Sanction to carry out. This time on a large dangerous Swiss mountain. This mountain holds particular resonance for John as he failed to climb it during a past life as a climber.
John heads to Utah to get some training in. George Kennedy comes in and does his George Kennedy act from Cool Hand Luke, though not really as good. More women appear, either get fucked or get their asses slapped. John gets trained by a mute girl who entices him to train harder by stripping off her top. Meanwhile, an old enemy turns up at the resort. He’s gay and he calls his dog Faggot.
I’m exhausted. We’re only an hour in.
Anyway, in between this horror, we get some amazing cinematography. Beautiful wide angles of mountain climbing, some death-defying sequences too. Very often nowadays you might take for granted such mastery of the camera. But here, with the technology available so limited, huge credit must be given. Indeed it is the saving grace of the film.
The standard of camera work only improves when they get to the snowy mountains of Switzerland. By now John is up the Eiger and we’re still none the wiser as to his enemy. I was very indifferent at this point too.
I watched the new Wonder Woman during the week and while I was moderately charmed by a good performance by the lead, ultimately I became restless as the CGI began to dominate. After watching Eiger I could plainly see that Clint did all the mountain climbing himself. That’s impressive.
Ultimately though, the script would have lost nothing by cutting the first thirty pages and advising Eastwood that he was never the debonair playboy type.
I really can’t recall a more uneven film. Frank Stanley, the man behind the lens deserves all the acclaim. Sadly, the film cost him his friendship with Eastwood and they never worked together again.
The film had three screenwriters none of which were the author of the original novel though one, did end up writing Lethal Weapon 2.
Those with a low tolerance for chauvinism should give this a wide berth.