Saturday, August 7, 2010

"The Eiger Sanction:" Give a guy credit for balls of steel

Title: The Eiger Sanction
Released: 1975
Genre: Spy thriller
Notable for: Clint climbs mountains
Coolest thing Clint does: Dangles (for real) on a rope off a sheer rock face

Nothing sounds much stupider than the idea of Clint Eastwood playing a mountain-climbing assassin spy. The stupidity factor explains why neither of us ever watched "The Eiger Sanction" until compelled by the noble yet absurd duty of completing The Clint Eastwood Project.

Expectations were low, but we were both pleasantly surprised.

"Definitely worth watching," Andrew says. It is a passably interesting spy story sprinkled with gratuitous female nudity, humor now very politically incorrect, and legitimately striking mountain sequences.

Forgive us for being slightly confused about whether we are supposed to take the spy stuff entirely seriously. Much of it is more like "Get Smart" than James Bond. The spy boss is a "bloodless albino" far beyond eccentric. His right-hand man is an obnoxious tool who breaks out ridiculous karate skills to fight Clint. Clint's lifelong enemy is a swishy guy with a homicidal streak and a beefy bodyguard.

The story starts with Clint, a college art-history professor, being both blackmailed and bribed out of retirement and back into the employ of a shadowy spy network. His specialty is assassination, or "sanctions." Clint is the only man for the job because he has mountain-climbing experience and one of two enemy agents to be killed is going on a expedition up the Eiger in Switzerland.

Clint's character is somewhat urbane and very jaded. He has disdain for his students, his spy network and even his country. In his assassin's view, America conducts itself no better than its enemies.

We suppose his character is also intended to be hip and worldly because he enjoys interracial love and his nemesis is a gay guy played by Jack Cassidy. The hipness falls flat but we laughed at the jokes because they are full of stereotypes no one would put on film now. Cassidy's gay character has a lapdog named "Faggot." Clint's main love interest is a "black chick" named Jemima. "Maybe your mother was turned on by pancakes," he tells her in allegedly flirty banter. He also has sex with a Native American girl who never says a word, as if the white fathers have not taught her their tongue. Clint himself puts on a stereotypical "cupcake" lisp as a disguise in one scene. We gather it was considered a hoot just to see Clint pretend to be gay.

Clint, as director and lead actor, was mostly interested in the mountain-climbing stuff. That's what makes the movie.

His character works to get back into mountaineering shape by looking up an old friend who runs a mountain-climbing school in the desert. The old friend is played by George Kennedy in his second Eastwood film in a row. For another return appearances, this is the third film in a row that shows Clint drinking Olympia beer. Malpaso must have had a product-placement deal with Olympia, because no one liked that beer that much.

Conveniently, Kennedy's mountain-climbing school has been transformed into a resort full of beautiful young women do nothing but lounge around in bikinis. Clint's trainer is the Native American girl who can run like the wind up mountains. To encourage Clint to keep up, she pulls ahead and pops her top to show her boobs. So there is some great film-making here.

Twists and turns of the spy story seem of secondary importance by the time they get on the Eiger. Clint and some other actors really went up on the mountain (helped by helicopters). They shot real climbing scenes and many of their own stunts. That stuff was real: One crew member was killed an another was seriously injured by a rock slide during production.

Mountain-climbers gave the film props for authenticity, despite a couple of gaffes only an expert would notice. Expert credentials are not necessary to see that, no matter how safely the stunts were staged, Clint had balls to do it.

Any real man respects a guy with balls. It's difficult to imagine any filmmaker today doing what Clint did to make this movie.

Next up: "The Outlaw Josey Wales."


  1. I like this one too. Nothing fantastic, but very good for the old horizontal Saturday afternoon slot.
    Plus I always enjoy Jack Cassidy, my favourite Columbo villain.

  2. The Eiger Sanction is a hidden gem amongst Eastwood films. What's most interesting however is how Eastwood himself virtually refuses to talk about this film. In subsequent interviews and his autobiography, Eastwood seems positively reticent to answer questions about the film. That fact alone makes the film one to look for.

  3. Ol' Matthew here says "nuttin fantastic", Saturday slot indeed. Wonder what he would look like vertical on a rope way up in a mountain? We'll never know, he's the type to see a gem such as this from his couchcliner and call kats like Mike Hoover nothing while he inhales another Swiss Roll cake instead of climbing the Swiss Alps with a camera to make a masterpiece like this. I believe my point is made, soundtrack is a unique title for Williams too, unlike any other one he has done, very space~jazzy stuff that fits like a glove for this film.

    1. Have to agree...and btw it's Swiss Cake Rolls...just ate one and watching Eiger from the couch...but one of my favorite Clint Movies of all time. Love the drama between the characters and he was ahead of his time with the black/white romantic Jemima thing...If you go to Switzerland you will understand why this movie is so breathtaking...Heaven on Earth

  4. The last "kat" gets a kudos. He could've mentioned that the mute Indian girl has maybe the most pretty pair o' titties ever, and how cool the "cupcake deliveryman" scene is worth price of admission alone, but that is my gig. And his point about ol' Matt is more important anyway. I just saw it on Encore movie channel and Giggled it, guessing he did too from the time & date he posted. By the way, OST is awesome, as is to be expected with a Clint flick. You can see a Badfoot Brown LP cover in front of the stack of records sitting in the radio station in ""Play Misty for Me"".... another groovy movie with Eastwood. Badfoot Brown is an alias Bill Cosby used for a jazz band he had in the 70s, get it on vinyl for some funky stuff, good luck as it aint ever been re-issued on CD. Check out for info.

  5. i am 56 yrs old and i could swear i remember a news blurb at the time about clint being injured making this movie i think it was like he got stuck with a ski pole or something which of course has nothing to do with eiger hell maybe i dreamed it i dont know