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Film / Eye of the Needle

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Eye of the Needle is a 1981 World War II spy-thriller film directed by Richard Marquand and based on the book of the same name by Ken Follett. It stars Donald Sutherland, Kate Nelligan, Christopher Cazenove, and Ian Bannen. Bill Nighy and Rik Mayall make their film acting debuts in bit parts.

It's 1944, and the Allied Armies in England are on the verge of launching an invasion force to liberate mainland Europe from the Nazis. Henry Faber, a ruthless German spy nicknamed "Die Nadel" (The Needle) for his signature weapon, has learned that the coming invasion will not be at Pas-de-Calais like the Germans have been lead to believe, but at Normandy. With information that could turn the tide of the war, Faber makes his way across Britain with Allied agents hot on his tail, and finds himself stranded on a remote Scottish island populated by a reclusive ex-pilot, his wife, and their young son. As Faber tries to find away to alert his superiors, the wife begins to slowly fall for him, catching him a doomed love triangle as her husband begins to suspect he's not what he claims to be.

Eye of the Needle is notable as the film that convinced George Lucas to hire Marquand to direct Return of the Jedi, impressed how he handled such a difficult production on-schedule and on-budget. To-date, it's the only theatrically-released adaptation of Follett's works.


This work features examples of:

  • Adaptational Villainy: In the novel Faber is ruthless but not sociopathic to the event he is in the film. He kills the landlady who walks in on him, but is shocked by the act and throws up afterwards. He can't bring himself to kill Lucy either, much to his own surprise.
  • All Germans Are Nazis: Faber isn't just a Nazi, he's a personal friend of Adolf Hitler.
  • An Arm and a Leg: David gets both his legs amputated, leaving him largely wheelchair-bound and ending his burgeoning Air Force career.
  • Artificial Limbs: David has a pair of prosthetic legs that he uses outside the house.
  • Artistic License – Ships: The German U-53 is portrayed by a British S-class submarine.
  • Blue Blood: Faber's parents are both German nobility, and his parentage is said to be a big part of how he was able to rise through the ranks of the Nazi party so swiftly.
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  • Bluffing the Murderer: An unintentional version. Lucy returns home after discovering David's body (seemingly dead of an accident), but just as she's about to tell Faber, he tells her (not realizing she's seen the body) that he just saw David alive and well.
  • Career-Ending Injury: David's career as a fighter pilot is cut short by a car accident on his wedding day.
  • Children Are Innocent: How David and Lucy's son is portrayed.
  • Deep Cover Agent: Faber is one, working as a supervisor at British munitions and train yard and frequently fraternizing with servicemen and officers, at least until his cover is blown.
  • Even Evil Has Standards: In the novel after killing the landlady, Faber tears the clothes on her corpse to make it look like a sex crime, but refuses to rape the body to further sell the illusion because he won't go that far "even for the Fatherland".
  • Fauxreigner: Faber's as English as they come, replete with a "chin-chin" attitude and a love of good tea. You'd never guess he was an undercover German spy.
  • Feed the Mole: What the British were doing to Faber and his fellow agents. The plot of the film is kicked off by him realizing he's been had and rushing to get the correct information to his superiors.
  • Genre Mashup: It's a spy thriller, set during World War II, with a romance at the center.
  • Handicapped Badass: Despite being a double amputee, David has no qualms about fending off Faber after he realizes he's a German spy, very nearly killing him before being thrown off a cliff.
  • Have You Told Anyone Else?: Faber asks his fellow spy this before stabbing him to death.
  • Just Plane Wrong: The helicopter used by the Allied agents wouldn't exist for another several years.
  • Leave No Witnesses: How Faber treats anyone who might be able to ID him.
  • Paper-Thin Disguise: Faber never makes any attempt to disguise or significantly alter his appearance. It's also notable that he doesn't even seem to be using alias.
  • Reality Has no Subtitles: The film has several scenes of untranslated German.
  • Retractable Weapon: Faber's signature stiletto, a thick, razor-sharp needle that pops out of a metallic handle.
  • Run for the Border: Faber is trying to get to a U-Boat off the coast of Scotland to get out of Britain before the D-Day invasion.
  • Switch to English: Faber insists he and his fellow spy converse in English, lest a passerby overhear some German and become suspcious.
  • They Look Just Like Everyone Else!: Until his cover is blown, Faber is thought by everyone as a quintessential Englishman, well-liked and even admired by his friends and neighbours.
  • The Sociopath: Faber is an ice-cold murderer with no qualms about killing an ally just because he suspects he might squeal if captured, and manipulates an emotionally-vulnerable woman into carrying on an affair even after he's murdered her husband, albeit after being discovered and threatened by him.

Alternative Title(s): Eye Of The Needle