a critiQal film review The Eiger Sanction (1975)

Plot: Former government assassin Jonathan Hemlock (Eastwood) now devotes his time to teaching and collecting paintings, but his quiet life is interrupted when he is persuaded by his former employers work for them again. Hemlock has to join a crew of explorers on a trip up the Eiger, a treacherous Swiss mountain. Hemlock must simultaneously determine which of his fellow climbers is a Soviet spy, kill his target and scale the deadly peak.

475 words (Est. Reading Time 2m 22s)

With Clint Eastwood’s latest, The 15:17 to Paris (2018), headed to DVD this coming Tuesday, it seemed only fitting that we take a look back at one of his earlier films. So when we ran across The Eiger Sanction, it seemed like a perfect fit.

But would this 70’s flick still hold up today? Has time destroyed another classic film? Should we have just picked Dirty Harry (1971) instead?

Clint Eastwood both stars in and directs The Eiger Sanction. As both a college professor and a “retired” assassin, he’s got several roles to fill in this film. But, like he always does, he fills them as only he can. Sure, his professor comes off as a bit lecherous, and his assassin would be lost in the world of, say, The Professional (1994), but for the 70’s, they seem to fit right in. As an assassin, he comes off as more of a James Bond-type, complete with his share of “Eiger” girls. It’s an entertaining role for him, and viewers, even though they might be thrown off by the non-PC times, should stick around to see what’s going to happen.

The rest of the cast in The Eiger Sanction is decent as well, with only George Kennedy being really recognizable. The rest, including “Eiger” girl #1, Jemima (played by Vonetta McGee), are all decently acted, and contribute when they need to.

While The Eiger Sanction may start out as a James Bond-type film, it eventually turns into a struggle to climb a mountain. That’s probably the best part of the film. With Eastwood, the anti-hero, not knowing who he can trust, he still has to work together with three complete strangers in order to scale the mountain safely. It’s pretty good, as the tension is always there, even though they spend most of their time just going about their climb.

Unfortunately, the worst part of The Eiger Sanction these days is the whodunit. Most viewers should be able to guess the culprit almost right from the start. Although, since it’s kind of a tired plot by this point, it’s hard to tell if that’s just the way viewers have been conditioned by this time, or if the film itself is that transparent.

While the rest of the film is okay, it’s that tense mountain climb later on that will really pull viewers in to The Eiger Sanction. While it’s nice watching Clint Eastwood do his own imitation of James Bond, more of the film spent on the mountain would have greatly increased the viewer’s enjoyment of the film. Still, even more than 40 years later, there’s nothing really damaged by time (other than the decidedly non-PC views of many of the characters) that will keep viewers away from this film.

While it definitely has a slow build-up, and the ending leaves a bit to be desired, The Eiger Sanction still isn’t half bad.

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