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Film / Escape to Athena

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A 1979 British war comedy/adventure film directed by George Pan Cosmatos, starring Roger Moore, Telly Savalas, David Niven, Stefanie Powers, Elliott Gould, Claudia Cardinale, Richard Roundtree and Sonny Bono.

The film takes place during the Greek side of World War II circa 1944, in one island under the Nazi influence. Local members of the Greek Resistance conspire with the prisoners of a POW camp to take it over and cause an uprising against the invaders. Then it is off to a monastery on top of a mountain to claim its riches.

This film has the examples of:

  • Action Girl: Even the prostitutes take up arms during the uprising.
  • The Backwards Я: Some American posters used the Greek alphabet's letter "sigma" in the place of letter "e" in the title, turning it into ΣscapΣ to AthΣna.
  • Badass Preacher: The Greek priest often seen in the sideline. Once the bullets start flying, he kept reading his bible aloud while tossing grenades hidden in the various objects he is carrying.
  • Bait-and-Switch Gunshot: After La Résistance seize the submarine refueling depot, a machine gun is seen swiveling menacingly towards the heroes, but when it fires it kills a German guard on the roof who was about to shoot Prof. Blake, as one of the good guys has already taken over the bunker.
  • The Cameo: William Holden as an older P.O.W. encountered by Charlie, who does a double take and asks "Are you still here?" (an Actor Allusion to Holden's role in Stalag 17).
    Holden: It's not a bad life. Got a match?
  • Chase Scene: A motorcycle chase in the tight corridors of the town breaks out when Charlie has to stop Major Volkmann from alerting the submarine base about the uprising. Charlie encounters some trouble because his motorcycle has a sidecar while the Major's does not.
  • Crazy Jealous Guy: Zeno assassinates Braun largely because he's the favourite client of Zeno's prostitute girlfriend.
  • Dance Party Ending: The last scene before the Distant Finale has all the Greeks dancing in the plaza celebrating liberation. The Allied characters and Hecht, on the other hand, are busy plotting a new get rich quick scheme.
  • Death by Materialism: Charlie is lucky to escape this as he insists on staying behind to get the plate with the place about to blow up.
  • Dissonant Serenity: A priest stops reading the Bible long enough to throw a grenade, then goes right back to it. Likewise a man having his face shaven.
  • Distant Finale: The final couple of minutes show the town in the (then-) current day, with the gold plates as the proud central piece of a local museum.
  • Every Car Is a Pinto: Zeno sabotages the brakes on Nazi officer Braun's car. It not only slams into a wall and explodes, it also blows up a German ammunition dump in the process.
  • Faceless Goons: The V2 missile launching crew have all black uniforms with silver reflecting facemasks. It doesn't resemble any WWII uniform, but makes them look suitably spooky.
  • Faking the Dead: When Charlie catches up to Major Volkmann in the building, he tries to sneak up to the office door, but trips over a few pots and pans outside. The Major opens fire on him through the door, prompting Charlie to let out an agonized yell as if he were hit, then spending the next few seconds quietly removing wood splinters from his hand. Once Volkmann thinks he has killed his pursuer, he moves quickly to the phone, at which point Charlie bursts through the door and guns him down.
  • Firing Squad: La Résistance do a Big Damn Heroes when the Germans are about to shoot civilian hostages.
  • Graceful Loser: After his first attempt woo the USO girl Dottie is rejected, Major Hecht withdraws in some confusion, but leaves his bottle of wine.
  • Great Escape: First half of the film consists of half of the main character devising a way to escape the prison camp, so that they can take over the place from Nazis and raid the monastery on mount Athena (hence the title).
  • Guns Akimbo: Zeno gives Charlie a Walther P-38 and a Mauser C96 for the uprising, cautioning Charlie to fire in short bursts to avoid overheating. Charlie uses them rather well for an untrained, interned civilian entertainer, and after cornering Major Volkmann in his office, he kills the Major with a fusillade of bullets from both guns.
  • A Handful for an Eye: The frogman that Otto fights on the beach throws sand into his eyes.
  • Heel–Face Turn: The good guys easily convince Major Hecht to join them. To establish it before the turn, he is shown to be a Punch-Clock Villain who is displeased to work with the SS, and more interested in smuggling valuable Greek artifacts uncovered at the dig site.
  • Honey Trap: The headquarters of La Résistance is in the local whorehouse, with the girls being used for collecting secrets, and taking Germans prisoner when it's time to liberate the town.
  • Human Shield: During the uprising in the village, the SS officer Major Volkmann seizes a young Greek boy as cover, only to have him saved by Major Hecht.
  • Impossible Task: The POWs make the job of clearing out the local ruins of artifacts one on purpose - archeological work is fairly light duty with no war impact, while whatever they might get called on to do next if they ever officially finish might not be. So every few days they steal something from the collection of artifacts that they've already found and bury it so they can then dig it back up again to convince the Germans there are still more things to be discovered.
  • La Résistance: Zeno leads a group of Greek Partisans which operations includes the local Bordello while Professor Blake leads a group of allied POW and local workers inside a German excavation camp.
  • Laser-Guided Karma: Played for Laughs with the gassing of the Nazi radio tower during the climax.
  • Leave Behind a Pistol: After the POW camp's takeover, Prof. Blake gives Major Hecht a choice between aiding the Greek Resistance or being killed by them. When he asks if there's any other option, Blake wordlessly chambers a round into his P-38 and removes the magazine, leaving the weapon with the Major. He elects not to kill himself.
  • Moe Greene Special: Prof. Blake kills one of the German frogmen by shooting him into his eye through his swimming goggles as he threatens to cut Dottie's throat.
  • Named by the Adaptation: The Luftwaffe captain who sets the base to self-destruct as he dies is named Schroeder in the novel. Similarly, Luftwaffe commanding officer Vogel and Hecht's Mook Lieutenant Mann get first names in the book, Klaus and Ernst respectively.
  • Noble Bigot: Hecht immediately spotted Charlie as Jewish-American (just like his actorinvoked Elliott Gould) and is aware of his government's notorious anti-semitism, but is nonetheless civil and cordial towards him and has no problems teaming up with him later as it could be possibly subverted as while Hecht is aware of his government and the rest of its military being Politically Incorrect Villains, he himself could be not at all.
  • Novelization: A pretty decent one by Clive Egleton (under the pseudonym Patrick Blake).
  • Not Distracted by the Sexy: Like a true Officer and a Gentleman and despite being played by a James Bond, Major Hecht is the only one of the German soldiers and officers not to engage in the whistles and catcalls of his fellow comrades while watching Dottie's striptease and in fact found it perversely distasteful and dismayed at realizing it's not what he had in mind when he agreed to have her to perform for his men.
    • Given that Dottie is his mistress at the time, it's more likely because he's not happy about everyone else getting a perve at her.
  • Pin-Pulling Teeth: A tongue-in-cheek version occurs when a Greek priest takes a bite from a fruit, then throws it at the German soldiers. It explodes, apparently being a disguised grenade.
  • Potty Failure: Rotelli slips laxative into the Germans' food as one of the many ploys to take the camp.
  • Punch-Clock Hero: Charlie, Rotelli, Nat, and Dottie are only interested in the treasures rather than liberating Greece or removing major German threats.
  • Punch-Clock Villain: SS Major Volkmann, to a disturbing extent. He and his adjutant casually talk about killing a Greek prostitute in front of her, saying that it should show the locals that Volkmann means business without upsetting them too much. Hecht, however, is a more straight-forward example before his Heel–Face Turn.
  • Same Language Dub: Philip Locke was dubbed by Michael Sheard.
  • Self-Destruct Mechanism: A dying Luftwaffe officer sets the missile site at Mt. Athena to destroy itself after all seems lost.
  • Stupid Jetpack Hitler: A secret Nazi missile base guarded by Faceless Goons. Not that the Nazis didn't have V2's or even underground factories for assembling them, but never the setup seen here.
  • Those Wacky Nazis: The main antagonists of the film, although Volkmann and his SS bully boys are the only ones depicted as irredeemably evil.
  • Token Enemy Minority: Rotelli, the Italian.
  • We Need a Distraction:
    • Zeno gets inside the POW camp by driving to the gate, pretending to be distressed about a soldier that he accidentally drove over. Then at the first opportunity, he shoots the guards.
    • Not to mention the striptease scene.
    • Earlier in the movie Zeno is operating a radio transmitter in the brothel when a German soldier knocks on the door. Zeno readies a gun in case he opens it, but fortunately one of his girls quickly pulls the soldier away to her room instead.
  • What Happened to the Mouse?: Major Hecht's men who surrendered including Sgt. Mann are never seen again afterwards.
  • Worthless Treasure Twist: Zeno, the head of the Greek Resistance, convinces the escaped POW's to loot a mountaintop monastery of gold plates worth $2 million. Instead they find the Germans have converted the monastery into a V2 missile silo, and the only plates they find are a crate of cheap metal ones with Hitler's face on them. At the end it's revealed that Zeno had the gold plates stashed at his headquarters (the local whorehouse) the entire time — he just wanted their help in blowing up the German base.
  • You Can Leave Your Hat On: The POW's put on a variety act for their German guards, the climax of which is a strip show by Dottie, an interned female USO performer. While the Germans are busy leering over her performance, the Greek Resistance sneak up and take them all prisoner.