Monday, April 30, 2018

The Eiger Sanction

Over the weekend, I got around to watching The Eiger Sanction off my DVR. It's available on DVD and Blu-Ray in multiple editions and, for those of you with the Cinemax premium cable package, it's going to be on several times this week.

The movie starts off in lovely Zürich, Switzerland, with an older guy walking up to his apartment and opening up a piece of bubble gum that contains some microfilm. In the background, we can see a pair of shady figures, which can mean only one thing: spies are afoot, and somebody's about to get killed by somebody else. Sure enough, the two shadowy guys whose faces we never see (for reasons that will become obvious in a bit) kill the one guy whose face we did see.

Cut to a college somewhere out west. Professor of art Jonathan Hemlock (Clint Eastwood) is finishing up the last lecture of the semester. In his office, he's approached by somebody who clearly has nothing to do with the university. Hemlock, as it turns out, had a past in the spy services himself. Specifically, he was an assassin, but he insists he's retired now. Still, Dragon (Thayer David), the head of this spy service, wants Hemlock to perform one more assassination, or "sanction" as they say in their jargon. Find the guys who killed that agent in Zürich. And you're going to do it, Hemlock, because I've got all sorts of dirt on you, says Dragon.

The guy was also one of Hemlock's best friends when they fought as mercenaries in Indochina some time in the past, so Hemlock goes to Switzerland and finds one of the guys who killed their spy and kills that guy in return. End of story. Oh, you bet that it's not going to end that quickly. Nobody could find the other guy. But that's good enough for Hemlock, who did the job he was asked to do.

And then, bizarrely, the agency gets a piece of intelligence that the other guy who killed this agent is going to be taking part in an international expedition to climb the north face of the Eiger in Switzerland, and this is where Hemlock really comes in. Hemlock, in addition to being an assassin and an art connoisseur, also used to be an accomplished mountaineer. They don't kow which of the other guys on the expedition killed the agent, but it's going to be Hemlock's job to find out and make the other guy's death seem like a mountaineering accident. Hemlock, with his mountaineering past, is the only agent who can do the job, because climbing the north face of the Eiger is notoriously difficult.

So Hemlock goes off to train with his old friend Bowman (George Kennedy), faces another mercenary Mellough (Jack Cassidy) who once betrayed him and the previously murdered agent, and then finally gets ready for the big climb in Switzerland. It really seems as though any of the other three climbers could be the man Hemlock is looking for....

To be honest, the main plot of The Eiger Sanction is a bit absurd. The idea that they'd get a bead on only one assassin but not the other is mildly odd, but then the idea that they just know he's going to be on that expedition, but still don't know which one it is, really defies logic. Having said that, however, the movie as a whole is fairly entertaining. I felt that the training scenes at Bowman's tourist resort in Monument Valley went on too long, but other than that everything pretty much worked.

There's enough suspense in the Alps, and the scenery is gorgeous. There are lots of picturesque mountains in Switzerland, Utah, and at Hemlock's university. Plus Zürich isn't a bad backdrop, although this is a decidedly lower-rent part of the city. Suspend your disbelief, and strap yourself in for two hours of entertainment.

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