The Eiger Sanction (1975)
Directed by Clint Eastwood
Screenplay by Hal Dresner & Warren B. Murphy and Rod Whitaker, based on the novel by Rod Whitaker (as Trevanian)
Produced by Robert Daley
While it isn’t the best Blaxploitation movie made with a white cast, The Eiger Sanction works overtime to offer suburban audiences their equivalent of pimps, prostitutes and private dicks in this turgid but thoroughly watchable action flick featuring art collecting, assassination and mountain climbing. Based on the first of two paperback novels by American professor and playwright Rod Whitaker under the pseudonym “Trevanian”, the bestseller was allegedly intended as an Ian Fleming satire, but either Whitaker’s funny bone was broken or he was genuinely geeked about using technical mountain climbing as a plot device. For Clint Eastwood, it offered the opportunity to work with a small, mobile crew and the mountain sequences are the chief reason to see the movie.
Not even the Sylvester Stallone vehicle Cliffhanger with its abundant budget comes close to offering the high altitude kicks of The Eiger Sanction, with two stunning, white knuckled climbs: The Eiger in the Bernese Alps of Switzerland and the Totem Pole, a 640 foot rock spire in Arizona’s Monument Valley. In 1975, the special effects involved Eastwood and his crew lugging equipment up the sides of mountains to grab shots (professional climbers doubled for the cast at times). The spy business has no conviction whatsoever, but it’s worth grimacing through to get up the mountains, as well as watch Vonetta McGee — the beguiling Blaxploitation queen of Blacula, Detroit 9000 and Thomasine & Bushrod — as Eastwood’s love interest. John Williams composed the lavish musical score.
In Zurich, an American spy with the codename Wormwood (Frank Redmond) picks up a roll of secret film and is knifed by two assassins. Back in the States, dreamy, rock climbing art professor Jonathan Hemlock (Clint Eastwood) is paid a visit by a goon (Gregory Walcott) who works for his former employer Mr. Dragon (Thayer David), an albino spymaster who has to keep himself out of sunlight. A retired contract killer for an organization calling itself CII, Hemlock is blackmailed into “sanctioning” the pair who killed Wormwood or risk the IRS being tipped off about his art collection. While Hemlock uses his climbing skills to off the first assassin in Montreal, he succumbs to the charms of CII agent Jemima Brown (Vonetta McGee) who seduces Hemlock and steals his sanctioning fee.
Revealing that Wormwood was a retired spy who once saved his life, Dragon convinces Hemlock to sanction the other assassin, an expert mountain climber participating in an international climb of the Eiger in the Swiss Alps, likely a German (Reiner Schoene), Frenchman (Jean-Pierre Bernard) or Austrian (Michael Grimm) climber. To sharpen his mountaineering skills before joining them, Hemlock visits his pal Ben Bowman (George Kennedy) who runs a resort in Arizona and will be accompanying him to the Eiger as groundman. After squaring off against his old adversary — a swishy double agent named Miles Mellough (Jack Cassidy) — Hemlock and Ben arrive at the Eiger, where Jemima, duplicity among his fellow climbers and shifting weather patterns jeopardize the sanction.
Rotten Tomatoes “Tomatometer” average among 12 users: 75% for The Eiger Sanction
Metacritic “Metascore” average among leading critics: Not available
Peter Avellino marvels over the absurdity that is The Eiger Sanction at Mr. Peel’s Sardine Liqueur
Neil Fulwood goes climbing with The Eiger Sanction at The Agitation of the Mind
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