I’m going straight unconventional with this Halloween post. I want it to be known that Cinema Suicide isn’t just a horror movie blog. I’m often unfairly pegged as strictly horror. True, the bulk of the writing goes out to the genre but that’s only because it’s what’s happening right now. I’m actually a fan of revival cinema in all forms and one that I don’t get enough of are Italian war movies. A while back, I did a write up of Severin’s stellar release of Enzo G. Castellari’s Dirty Dozen knock off, Inglorious Bastards (review). Now they’re back with another release of Enzo’s war epic, Eagles Over London. They sent me a copy for evaluation and I’m here, bearing down on Halloween, to tell you why you might want to take a night off from the evening’s creepy festivities and take in the historical flavor of one of World War 2’s turning points, The Battle Of Britain.
What does all of this have to do with Halloween, you ask? On October 31, 1940, the British Air Force managed to resist and push back the nigh-unstoppable German Luftwaffe in the face of certain defeat. Earlier that year, the German war machine had dealt some crushing blows to the French and British armies and England began pulling back troops as France negotiated an armistice with Germany. Castellari’s movie, Eagles Over London, wraps the story of England’s fight around a tale of Nazi infiltrators in England. And it’s awesome.
As the British army begins it’s withdrawal from France, a group of British soldiers on their way to the beach at Dunkerque are attacked by German soldiers in British uniforms. These Nazis manage to sneak back to England aboard the vessels that are carrying soldiers back to Dover. Once inside, they use their position to radio back intelligence about the British defenses. They’re discovered too late, of course, before they even hit landfall but the British military doesn’t know who they are and it’s a mad dash to find them out, stop the German advance in the skies and save England. Meanwhile, the Luftwaffe, the German air force, makes run after run on British land, testing defenses and trying to land as much collateral damage as possible during their blitzkrieg over London.
Eagles Over London is easily one of Castellari’s best, most ambitious movies. Among genre buffs like us, he’s probably best known for his ultra-crappy post-nuke movies like Bronx Warriors and After The Fall Of New York, but Castellari is a tradesman in the world of Italian film. He was all over the place in terms of genres and touched on all the popular ones. In spite of some real garbage as his career trended downward into the 80’s, Catellari left a huge mark on Italian genre film by crafting a couple of massive World War 2 epics. Eagles Over London is the greatest realization of his vision. This is a huge movie with a number of extremely impressive set pieces that are unheard of in the world of Italian exploitation.
While the movie plays fast and loose with historical fact, it’s an exciting way to tell a very large story about World War 2. Inglorious Bastards had a tendency to take its time getting to the point, Eagles Over London spreads itself evenly over a number of characters in a much larger story and it maintains a steady, tense pace throughout. A big draw of the picture was its massive, exciting air battles (all of The Battle of Britain was fought in the air) but the main event in this movie is a cat and mouse game as a core of British officers race to find the Nazi infiltrators. It all culminates in a battle in the skies over London and an agains-all-odds fight on the ground for the British forces to regain control of their command center.
Castellari makes incredible use of his signature Peckinpah style action photography, full size prop military hardware, stock footage and miniatures to reproduce one of the turning points of World War 2 and while it often looks like stock footage and miniatures (Hey! It was 1969!), there aren’t too many Italian action movies that look like this. It’s also stocked with stellar cast of noble heroes, including Van Johnson and Frederick Stafford and a bunch of Nazi scum, including Francisco Rabal and Luigi Pistilli. Since this is a Castellari war flick, a staple of the Macaroni Combat subgenre was always the goofy comic relief character. Here, you have Seargent Mulligan, a hot headed British guy with the biggest set of balls you’ve ever seen. A fan edit of all of his scenes would make one of the baddest war movies of all time as he laughs off most of the movie’s peril and spends most of the movie yelling. His role in the movie is worth the price of admission alone.
Just about everything in Eagles Over London is solid gold save for one unfortunate thing. Since the budget of the movie couldn’t support elaborate air battles and most of the film’s action takes place on the ground, the film’s climax, a massive air battle and a desperate fight to stop the German spies, lacks any kind of substantial impact. The film’s locomotive pace deflates suddenly and traces of Castellari’s original soapy draft of the script rolls out while set to one of Winston Churchill’s morale boosting speeches.
Severin’s release of the movie is of the typical Severin quality. The print used to source this release is a bit grainy in the early scenes but the color and quality balances not long after the film’s start and just about everything else about it is fantastic. You get the rest of Tarantino’s discussion with Castellari about the movie, continued from the Inglorious Bastards release and a speech he gives at the beginning of a screening this movie made in Los Angeles last year, double up with one of Castellari’s Poliziotteschi movies, High Crime. There’s also a deleted scene, something almost unheard of in exploitation circles for movies like this. The overall release is outstanding!