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Film / The Eagle Has Landed

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The Eagle Has Landed is a 1976 World War II film, directed by John Sturges and based on the novel of the same name by Jack Higgins, detailing a fictional plot to capture or kill Winston Churchill by a group of German commandos.

Michael Caine, Donald Sutherland, and Robert Duvall star as, respectively, the leader of the squad, their Irish nationalist liaison, and the German colonel in charge of masterminding the mission. Also in the cast are Jenny Agutter, Donald Pleasence, Jean Marsh, Treat Williams, Larry Hagman and Wolf Kahler.

The Eagle Has Landed provides examples of:

  • Actor Allusion: This is not the first time Robert Duvall played a sympathetic WWII German Wehrmacht character, as Duvall previously guest-starred in two episodes of Combat! as a Heer medic named Peter Halsman and a Heer demolition expert named Karl.
  • Adaptational Name Change: Colonel Robert Shafto to Colonel Clarence Pitts, Major Harry Kane to Captain Clark and finally Ritter von Neumann is given the nickname "Hans" by Steiner in the film (which becomes the case of an aversion of One-Steve Limit, due to the presence of one of the German paratroopers Hans Altmann).
  • Adaptational Personality Change: The German paratrooper Werner (alias Corporal Kuniski) in the book was a Badass Bookworm and The Smart Guy of the Badass Crew, while in the movie he was the Plucky Comic Relief of the platoon.
  • Adaptational Villainy: In the book, Himmler ordered to have Steiner and his crew to wear their uniforms underneath their disguises so they do not get prosecuted as spies. However, in the movie, it was Steiner's demand alone to wear their German uniforms under their Polish ones, Himmler on-screen never suggested such a thing as he never cared for the lives of Steiner and his men.
  • Adaptational Wimp: In the novel, Col. Robert Shafto served in combat in the Philippines, fought his way out of a Japanese trap (even if had to leave behind most of his men to do it) and leads a small commando force, "Shafto's Raiders" that periodically raids the German-occupied French coast. His film counterpart, Colonel Clarence Pitts, spent eight years in the Louisiana National Guard and is itching to participate in real combat for the very first time.
  • Adapted Out: The present day Book Ends, Steiner's father and his arc involving being imprisoned by the Gestapo, renegade British soldier Harvey Preston and his arc explaining how he came to be fighting on the German side note  and the Special Branch detectives hunting Devlin and their own arc are not present in the film adaptation.
  • Alas, Poor Villain: Steiner's team who were all killed in the line of duty with Neumann and Devlin as exceptions are given this treatment by the Allied forces who respected them and in the book weren't posthumously honored and completely forgiven by the townspeople and the vicar until after the war. Only Preston (who was Adapted Out in the film) wasn't acknowledged in the posthumous honor in the book.
  • All for Nothing: The key twist of the film: after the entire German force and scores of American and British troops have been killed, it turns out that the "Churchill" in the area is a Body Double while the real one attends a conference in Tehran.
  • All Germans Are Nazis: Averted. Steiner and his unit are depicted as chivalrous men of honor, and they are opposed to the persecution of Jews.
  • America Won World War II: Zig-zagged and ultimately subverted. A company of US Rangers just happens to be stationed in a manor right next to the village, and is tasked to neutralise the German commandos head-on before Churchill arrives. While there are plenty of British characters, they provide mostly the Innocent Bystander role. The American Colonel's plan of attack ends in complete disaster, succeeding only in getting him and many of his men killed. While a second attack (led by his subordinate) is successful, Steiner escapes to confront Churchill... who is revealed to be a decoy, making the entire battle essentially meaningless.
  • Anti-Villain: All of the Germans and their allies are Punch Clock Villains who seek to avoid unnecessary casualties mostly and in some cases feel they have legitimate grievances against the British. The exception is Heinrich Himmler, who signed off on the mission and is pretty much as much a bastard as he was in Real Life.
  • Armchair Military: In both the novel and the film, Col. Shafto/Pitts complains to anyone who will listen that none of the officers ordering his transfer back to the United States has ever held a combat command or been in action himself, up to and including General Eisenhower.
    • In the film, Col. Pitts himself is guilty of this; prior to being sent to England, his military experience consisted of eight years ("every other weekend!") in the Louisiana National Guard, where his only battle wounds were inflicted by mosquitos ("I can still feel them on me!"). Characteristically, this experience was so grueling for him that he believes it's monstrously unfair that his superiors don't consider him battle-hardened enough to participate in D-Day.
  • Artistic License History: The Nazis really did send a commando squad to assassinate Winston Churchill in 1943, but they knew all about the Tehran Conference and sent them there instead, with orders to kill not just Churchill but Roosevelt and Stalin as well. They were foiled before they got anywhere near any of them. Incidentally, the mission was headed (from abroad) by Otto Skorzeny, the man who rescued Mussolini which (in-universe) inspired the events of the story.
  • Badass Crew: Steiner and his paratroopers.
  • Badass Preacher: After learning the truth about Steiner and his men, Father Verecker remains a Defiant Captive with his anti-Nazi Patriotic Fervor against them. In the book, it is revealed Verecker used to be a military chaplain until a Career-Ending Injury caused by a German bullet to the face cuts his service short causing him to have a personal grudge against the Nazis for his disfiguration (which Father Verecker doesn't have in the film, making his hostility towards the Germans being mostly out of patriotism rather then also personal reasons).
  • Bad Boss: Himmler has Radl executed by firing squad to distance himself from the failed operation, using Radl as a scapegoat and making it seem like he exceeded his own orders after Himmler manipulated/forced him to carry it out. Averted with Reasonable Authority Figure Canaris, however, who Radl tells his junior staff officer will protect him and his family from reprisal.
  • The Bad Guy Wins: Subverted. Steiner kills Churchill, but he was just a body double. The real Churchill wasn't even on the same continent.
  • Boom, Headshot!: Col. Shafto/Pitts' unglamorous death.
  • Broken Pedestal: Pamela Vereker is initially dazzled by Col. Shafto's flamboyant personality, his old-fashioned courtesy, and Capt. Harry Kane's (carefully neutral) description of his recent exploits. Detecting Kane's skepticism, she seizes on the fact that Kane has not taken part in any of these exploits and berates him for criticizing a brave man like Shafto. Then she sees Kane's deformed fingertips, and he admits that he was tortured by the Gestapo in France, and she realizes that Kane has been closer to the real business of the war than Shafto ever has.
  • Contrived Coincidence: Radl notes the odd synchronicity of him being ordered to evaluate the feasibility of a commando strike against Churchill just as Intelligence receives a report that Churchill will soon spend a weekend at a location where such a strike would be possible.
  • Curb-Stomp Battle: Inflicted by the hardened veteran German paratroopers upon the relatively inexperienced American Rangers mainly due to the incompetence of Colonel Pitts.
  • Cyanide Pill: While collecting the papers needed for his mission, Liam Devlin asks Colonel Radl, "No Cyanide Capsule?" "I could not think of a situation that would force you to take one", replies Colonel Radl.
  • Deadpan Snarker: While Captain Clark is briefing the local British military headquarters, word arrives that Col. Pitts has chosen to charge into the village with guns blazing, with results predictable to everyone but him:
    Capt. Clark: Col. Pitts is a man of, uh... limited combat experience.
    British Maj. Corcoran: Apparently no longer.
  • Death by Adaptation: The Jewish girl whom Steiner helped escape, but was shot and killed actually survived unscathed in the book.
  • Defiant Captive: Father Verecker attempts to talk down Steiner after he and most of his congregation have been taken captive.
  • Demoted to Extra: Arthur Seymour and the German pilot who escorted Steiner and his team and the E-boat captain who was sent to rescue the said team are given less prominence than in the book.
  • Dies Differently in Adaptation: Arthur Seymour is shot dead by Molly, while in the book he survives up to after the war only to die in a drunk driving accident. Also, the Churchill impersonator who was shot by Steiner in the film was actually saved at the last minute in the book before the latter could pull the trigger, but is killed instead in a bomb raid during a theatre tour.
  • Doomed by Canon: If you know history, you will know that the Germans' do not succeed, and in fact, Churchill wasn't even in the country at that point in time.
  • Dressing as the Enemy:
    • The German paratroopers disguise themselves as a Polish unit. Subverted, in that they wear their German uniforms underneath.
    • In the climax, Steiner steals an American soldier's uniform to get close enough to Churchill to assassinate him.
  • Elites Are More Glamorous: In-Universe. Hitler is on a cloud after Otto Skorzeny's small commando unit rescues Mussolini from his imprisonment, and is intoxicated with the idea of using commandos to effect similar "miracles" all over the war front. But Admiral Canaris is the only one of his advisors with the guts to tell Hitler to his face that Mussolini's rescue won't affect events in Italy one jot, much less the war effort as a whole.
  • Eyepatch of Power: Subverted. While Colonel Radl does wear a black eyepatch, he is neither particularly evil nor that powerful. He is in fact a calm, empathetic and remotely fatalistic officer.
  • Face Death with Dignity:
    • The Body Double could have revealed his true identity to save his life, but acts as Churchill right to the end.
    • Radl. Knowing that he's doomed once the mission falls apart, he makes sure his assistant and his family will be safe from reprisal. Then, when he is arrested, he calmly surrenders and is executed by firing squad.
  • Faux Affably Evil: Himmler tries to present himself as an amicable sort with lots of bemused chuckles and smiles in his mannerisms, but it doesn't put Radl at ease dealing with the most dangerous man in the Third Reich.
  • General Failure: Colonel Failure at least. Pitts got his commission for his experience as a veteran weekend warrior in the Louisiana National Guard and had never seen combat. Once combat finds him, he botches it spectacularly. One can easily see why his superiors refused to give him a combat command and wanted him transferred back to America.
  • Glory Hound: Colonel Pitts (who loudly resents that he is about to be transferred to a desk job stateside without having ever seen combat) refuses to call in the presence of the Germans to the British or other American units so he can hog all the glory for himself. He gets much of his platoon and even himself killed in the process.
  • Good Counterpart: Steiner and his crack team are this of the German infiltration unit in Went the Day Well? as while the latter were Those Wacky Nazis who were a Hate Sink team with no redeeming qualities product of the era's Propaganda Machine and Would Hurt a Child, Steiner and his team were sympathetic Punch Clock Villains who were a Token Good Teammate group of the Nazis for being anti-Nazi themselves product of the post-WWII attitudes when depicting them in fiction and Wouldn't Hurt a Child; as a matter a fact had attempted to save children whether be from Holocaust (which they failed in the film adaptation) or from drowning even if it blow their cover. While the Nazi team's motive for their mission in Went the Day Well? were For the Evulz and typical "Tomorrow the World" rhetoric, Steiner's team's whole reason for taking the mission was due to No Good Deed Goes Unpunished due to the aforementioned incident intervening the Holocaust.
  • Have You Told Anyone Else?: Molly manages to avoid the Germans after they've taken the rest of the town captive and goes to Joanna for help. Joanna, who is actually a spy, asks her if anyone else knows about this before reaching for a pistol.
  • Hero Antagonist: The Allied forces of course. Captain Clark in particular, who spearheads the effort to prevent Steiner and his men from killing Churchill after his commanding officer Colonel Pitts proves to be The Neidermeyer.
  • Heroic Sacrifice:
    • One of the Germans dives after a little English girl to save her from being crushed by a watermill, only to fall victim himself and inadvertently expose having a German uniform under his fake Polish one.
    • Most of the troops who proposed the Bolivian Army Ending to help Steiner escape.
  • Heroic Wannabe: The glory seeking and America Won World War II-invoking Colonel Pitts.
  • Historical Villain Upgrade: Admiral Canaris was in fact a member of the German Resistance, involved in several plots to kill Hitler, and shared information with British intelligence, and is unlikely to have signed off on a plot like this or at least done something to sabotage it (to be fair, he only authorized the feasibility study because he felt obliged to go through the motions in regards to the Fuhrer's idea until Hitler came up with another "brilliant" plan, even if he felt it was a total waste of time). Men like Radl would likewise have been chosen for their Anti-Nazism as much as their competence. Subverted somewhat since they are still presented as sympathetic, sane and reasonable men, compared to Hitler and Himmler, and in the end Radl's underling is told Canaris will protect he and his family from Radl's fate at Himmler's hands.
  • Honor Before Reason: Incorrectly reported regarding the German paratroopers avoiding detection by not wearing the German uniforms beneath their Polish disguises. In fact, the Hague Convention specifically allows soldiers to wear enemy uniforms as a legitimate ruse d'guerre. They are not, however, permitted to fight in enemy uniform. Therefore, while the audience may not understand why, or even consider the decision foolish, the decision to wear the German uniforms underneath the Polish ones was actually in compliance with international law. The history of the Brandenburg Commandos discusses this legality at length, and the real world German commandos performed a number of missions wearing multiple uniforms.
  • Hypercompetent Sidekick: Captain Clark is this for Colonel Pitts. Unlike Pitts, he is not a Glory Hound and actually does value diplomacy and tactical approaches. In the novel he was a combat-experienced Ranger.
  • Inspector Javert: Colonel Pitts, the leading Special Branch detective hunting Devlin in the book and especially Father Verecker towards the German paratroopers.
  • I Reject Your Reality: After Mussolini is rescued from his imprisonment, Hitler buoyantly asks his advisors how long it will take the forces of fascism to re-establish control of Italy. Himmler and Goebbels play along and say it will happen virtually overnight, but Admiral Canaris says it's unlikely to happen at all, with or without Mussolini. Needless to say, Hitler doesn't want to hear it.
  • It Has Been an Honor: Steiner to his troops, who propose a Bolivian Army Ending while giving him cover to escape and complete the mission.
  • Karma Houdini: Devlin survives the battle and evades the post-battle sweep in the movie.
  • Kicked Upstairs: After he lost an entire regiment to the Japanese in the Philippines, the Army sent Col. Shafto to the quietest military post in Southern England they could find, hoping he'd stay out of trouble. When that doesn't work, they order him transferred back to Fort Benning in Georgia, to oversee training for new recruits.
  • Leeroy Jenkins: Insofar as Col. Shafto/Pitts' orders to attack the entrenched German paratroopers can be called a "plan". It's also his "plan" for cornering Joanna Grey in her own home which gets him a bullet right between the eyes.
  • Maybe Magic, Maybe Mundane: Devlin's astounding ability to tame any dog with prolonged whistle. Steiner even comments that it's the sort of thing that would have gotten him burned in the old days.
  • Men of Sherwood: Initially subverted with the American soldiers when their commanding officer displays a sense of Hollywood Tactics. However, once the idiot gets himself killed, his second in command rallies the survivors in an effective way against the Elites Are More Glamorous Forced into Evil German paratroopers.
  • Miles Gloriosus: Colonel Pitts. He was never given any meaningful authority throughout the war, and it really shows.
  • Military Maverick: Steiner is a German war hero, but he opposes the deportation of Jews. He confronts the SS to save a Jewish woman. He refuses to salute a SS general and he insults a SS Sturmführer. He is court-marshaled and ends up in a penal colony.
  • My Country, Right or Wrong: Steiner and his men will carry out the missions they are given for their country, even if they don't agree with their leaders' politics.
  • The Neidermeyer: Colonel Pitts. Piqued at being ordered back to the US (he is considered too inexperienced to participate in D-Day) he launches an attack on the church where the German Fallschirmjager (paratroops) are holed up without doing a proper recon, completely missing the Germans hidden at various points in the village and wiping out his entire platoon; to top it all he gets killed by Joanna Grey while trying to kill her with a grenade; since they were played by Larry Hagman and Jean Marsh, respectively, this spawned a thousand t-shirts saying "Rose Shot J.R.!"
  • No Celebrities Were Harmed: Devlin and Steiner are both composites of numerous real life people, most of whom had much colder relations with the Nazis. Averted with Heinrich Himmler, played to perfection by Donald Pleasance, and Admiral Canaris who in reality was involved in several plots to assassinate Hitler.
  • No Good Deed Goes Unpunished:
    • Steiner's and his men's act of trying to rescue a Jewish girl from the Holocaust is what led them to face a court-martial by their SS rivals, transferred to a penal colony for his men to die one at a time in suicide attacks and eventually embarked on a mission to kill or capture Churchill, which happens to be their only means of escaping court-martial.
    • Later, one of Steiner's men not only drowns rescuing an English girl, but his German uniform is also revealed in the process, blowing their cover.
  • Odd Friendship: The roguish Devlin gets on very well with both Radl and Steiner, who are straight-laced military men.
  • Plucky Comic Relief: Werner/Corporal Kuniski is the joker of the German paratroopers.
  • Poor Communication Kills: The novel has the C-47 on which the protagonists flew to England shot down by a German night fighter that mistook it for an actual Allied plane. For added horror, the plane's crew are listening helplessly on the radio as the fighter closes in for the kill.
  • Same Language Dub: Arthur Seymour (Terence Plummer) was dubbed by BRIAN BLESSED.
  • The Scapegoat: Hitler never signed off for the mission to capture Churchill; Himmler faked the order, and while visibly upset that the mission failed he was able to easily buck the blame to Radl and have him executed for "treason", since he was "exceeding his authority". Radl seems vaguely aware of this, but can't do anything about it, though he claims he was "measured for my casket months ago" — though that was probably just to tease his doctor rather than because of presentiments of death.
  • Shoo Out the Clowns: Werner (alias Corporal Kuniski), the Plucky Comic Relief of Steiner's team, is one of the casualties in the Bolivian Army Ending.
  • Shoot the Shaggy Dog: For the Germans, since the entire mission was a pointless effort from the start because the Churchill residing in the English countryside was just a decoy, and the real Churchill was in Tehran to attend an Allied conference. For the Allies, it's a resounding victory.
  • Shot at Dawn: Radl is arrested and summarily executed by an SS firing squad under the pretext that he "exceeded his orders to the point of treason".
  • Shown Their Work: While most movies of this era handwaved the use of non-German equipment by Germans by simply assuming the audience wouldn't be able to tell the difference, they actually go out of their way in this one to provide believable reasons for it, such as the British torpedo boat used by Steiner's men being specifically mentioned as being a captured vessel, as well as the C-47 that was used to drop them into England.
  • Shut Up, Kirk!: Steiner quickly gets fed up with Father Verecker's posturing.
    Verecker: Colonel, my one consolation is that thanks to my sister, your plot has failed.
    Steiner: Really? I thought the plot failed because one of my men died saving the little girl out there.
  • Small Name, Big Ego: After being posted to southern England, Col. Shafto has the idea of forming a small group of commandos to raid the German-occupied French coast. One of his unit's raids gets him on the cover of Life Magazine and makes him a hero back in the States, but nothing indicates the Germans are aware that his force of less than fifty men even exists. According to Captain Kane, the military achievements of "Shafto's Raiders" include blowing up an unoccupied lighthouse in Normandy, and landings on several uninhabited coastal islands.
  • Surrounded by Idiots: When Col. Shafto is told that more than half of his men have been killed by Steiner's, he gripes that it always falls to him to make the tough decisions and do the real fighting.
  • Sympathetic Inspector Antagonist: Captain Clark is this to Steiner and men. He even gave Steiner and his team a chance to surrender without any bloodshed, however Steiner chooses to Face Death with Dignity and remain Defiant to the End since he's an enemy soldier. Also in the book only, the young Special Branch detective partner hunting Devlin which the latter acknowledges he's this and spares his life after overpowering him and killing his superior.
  • Those Wacky Nazis: Played straight with Himmler, Preston in the book and the SS handling the Holocaust, averted with Steiner and his platoon, who are disgusted with their government's crimes against humanity and only undergo a mission to kidnap Churchill to escape court-martial after trying to save a Jewish girl. Averted with Radl, his junior staff officer played by Michael Byrne and Admiral Canaris (like in Real Life) as well.
  • Title Drop: After the mission to capture Churchill commences, as Radl brief Himmler on its progress.
    Radl: Reichsfuhrer, I am pleased to report that the Eagle has Landed.
  • Token Good Teammate: Steiner and his team, as well as Liam Devlin and Colonel Radl along with his staff subordinate played by Michael Byrne (as part of being Typecast as a Nazi or WWII German soldier in his acting career), are considered to be this to the rest of Nazi Germany. Admiral Canaris counts too as he was one in Real Life.
  • Too Dumb to Live: Colonel Pitts, due to his incompetence and inexperience in combat and eventually gets killed by sleeper agent Grey before having the chance to toss a grenade.
  • Tragic Villain: Radl, Steiner, and Steiner's men could easily be the heroes if this movie if they just weren't fighting for the wrong side. The Nazis screw them over, ruthlessly use them, and basically get them all killed.
  • Undignified Death: Of all the ways Col. Shafto/Pitts thought he would go out, getting shot between the eyes by a middle-aged woman (who happens to be a German sleeper agent) on the steps of her village home probably wasn't one of them.
  • Villain Protagonist: The protagonists are a group of German commandos trying to assassinate Churchill under orders from Heinrich Himmler. The film does establish that the commandos themselves are honorable men concerned only with their mission and are disgusted by the war crimes they witness, even if their bosses might be mass murderers.
  • Villainous Breakdown: Benito Mussolini, after being deposed as dictator of Italy and imprisoned, has become a shell of his former self. After Mussolini is rescued by German commandos, Hitler is the only one who refuses to see it, carried away with the idea of installing Mussolini as the new head of a fascist Italian state with German backing.
  • We Have Reserves: Col. Shafto abandoned an entire regiment of his men to be captured or killed by the Japanese in the Philippines, deciding that his escape and survival was more important. On being told that more than half of his men have been killed in the first twenty minutes of the attack on Steiner's men, he bemoans what a disaster it is - for him, since without men, he has no meaningful command authority, and for certain some pencil-pusher in the Army command will find a way to blame him for it.
  • What Happened to the Mouse?: The commandos' torpedo boat with Hans, Steiner's Number Two and the Sole Survivor, is last shown beached somewhere with nothing else shown about him or the boat's skipper and crew.
  • Worst News Judgment Ever: Capt. Harry Kane mentions to Pamela Vereker that an impressionable news photographer caught Col. Shafto coming back from one of his raids on the German-occupied French coast, and plastered Shafto's image on the cover of Life Magazine, making him a hero in the States. Clearly the photographer didn't stop to ask what vital military mission Shafto was coming back from (which, according to Kane, included the destruction of one empty lighthouse in Normandy and several unopposed landings on uninhabited islands off the French coast).
  • Worthy Opponent: Captain Clark is this to Steiner.
  • Wrong Genre Savvy: Col. Shafto/Pitts is so blinded by the glory of saving Winston Churchill from a German commando unit that he orders his men to charge headlong into the village like The Cavalry riding to the rescue, where they are cut down with contemptuous ease by the well-entrenched and more-experienced German paratroopers. One of them even lampshades the Americans' lack of finesse:
    "My God, where do they think they are? The Somme?"


Video Example(s):


Heinrich Himmler

Reichsfuhrer Heinrich Himmler tries to present himself as an amicable sort with lots of bemused chuckles and smiles in his mannerisms, but it doesn't put Radl at ease dealing with the most dangerous man in the Third Reich.

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Example of:

Main / FauxAffablyEvil

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