Sunday, October 23, 2011

Go Tell It On The Mountain

Recently, I sat down to watch a movie I knew nothing about, other than it starred Clint Eastwood and featured mountain climbing. The movie was The Eiger Sanction, and it was a pleasant surprise.

Eastwood, who also directed, played a college art history professor with the awesome name of Jonathan Hemlock. Unbeknownst to the college and the cute coeds who make googley eyes at the prof, Hemlock is also a government assassin who worked for the shadowy agency C2.

Hemlock is sent to “sanction” or terminate the people who killed one of the agency’s own. He realizes this is pointless, but accepts the work for the money which he uses to buy black market art pieces (hey, everybody got to have a hobby).

I wasn’t expecting the movie to have the “American James Bond” vibe that it did. Most of this was courtesy of Hemlock’s creepy agency boss who goes by the name, Mr. Dragon, played by Thayer David. Dragon is an albino with white eyes and a need for his office to be bathed in red light, a spectrum which he can tolerate. Hemlock and Dragon’s exchanges bring to mind those of Bond and his boss M, but with a bit more venom, as Dragon is a real asshole (both characters know this). Dragon even has a nurse named Miss Cerberus, a combination of Nurse Ratchet and Young Frankenstein’s Frau Blucher, who changes his blood!

The movie, based on a popular novel by “Trevanian” (a European sounding pseudonym for American writer Rodney William Whitaker) is slower paced than contemporary action movies, or even James Bond movies of the time. However, the mountain climbing scenes were well done – no CGI or crappy process shots - with Eastwood and company actually climbing the mountain in Europe, as well as mountains at US locations seen earlier in the film in sequences showing Hemlock training for the Euro-climb.

George Kennedy was a treat as Hemlock's old pal and climbing trainer, Ben Bowman. Here he brings a bit of the fun and energy he had in his Academy Award-winning role in Cool Hand Luke.

The movie is a little on the longish side, it could easily have had 10 minutes trimmed off, but Eastwood was in top form, as were many of the lovely unclothed ladies featured in this R-rated film. And the film is topped off by a nice romantic John Williams score.

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