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Terrible script, silly first half but stunning mountaineering sequences
on 12 May 2011
The Eiger Sanction is one of those films with a high enough concept and a big enough star not to need to have a good script, which is lucky because despite the efforts of no fewer than three writers the script is not very good at all, and seems to know it. Clint Eastwood is a somewhat unlikely mountain-climbing art professor: we know this because he's introduced standing next to a big sign saying he's an art professor while enamoured students swoon over pictures of him mountain climbing. Luckily for the film he's a somewhat more likely retired assassin working for Thayer David's total albino: we know he's a total albino because he tells us. David and Eastwood don't get on, which is strange, because David's office is perpetually in the kind of near total darkness that Eastwood the director loves. Maybe he just doesn't like people who impersonate Bond villains. He doesn't want to go back in business either, but David threatens him not only with an audit of his stolen art collection but also to auction them off to the public, something which horrifies art snob Eastwood into agreeing to kill an unknown man with an occasional limp who just happens to be part of a team led by old pal George Kennedy attempting to climb the Eiger. Only his target obviously knows that one of the party is out to kill him and his fellow climbers start to meet accidents...
Yes, it's a very silly film - silly enough for Eastwood to camp it up as a gay delivery man in one scene, Jack Cassidy to play a gay turncoat with a horny dog called Faggot with a thing for Clint's leg and for our antihero to beat up one of the stars of Plan 9 From Outer Space - but as the author of the novel, Travanian (Rod Whitaker) pointed out, worse than just being vapid it also led to the death of one of the climbers involved in the shoot, David Knowles. His accidental death early in shooting on the Eiger itself does unfortunately take some of the sheen off the film's most impressive aspect, the unfaked climbing sequences with Eastwood not only doing almost all of his own stunts on the North Face of the Eiger itself and on the 'Totem Pole Rock' in Monument Valley rather than on a friendlier slope or on studio sets with dodgy back-projection but also directing the film as well. And spare a thought for the poor camera crew, having to take the same risks with the added burden of lugging up and operating camera equipment as well. The film improves considerably as it goes along, though the first half is more of a politically incorrect guilty pleasure, but the spectacular mountain sequences are gripping enough to be worthy of a better film.
Unfortunately the DVD, one of the earliest releases on the format, is pretty low quality: the dark scenes are darker than even Eastwood intended there's a lack of detail and a lot of clumsy edge enhancement: it's such a poor transfer with so little effort put into it you half expect it to be panned-and-scanned fullframe, but it is 2.35:1 widescreen with the original trailer as extra, which is something at least.