This Distracted Globe random header image

Blaxploitation Goes Mountain Climbing

May 20th, 2010 · 4 Comments

Eiger Sanction 1975 poster A Eiger Sanction 1975 poster B

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
123 minutes

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.

31 Days of Eastwood

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.

Eiger Sanction 1975 Clint Eastwood

Eiger Sanction 1975 Vonetta McGee Clint Eastwood

Eiger Sanction 1975 Clint Eastwood

Eiger Sanction 1975 Clint Eastwood George Kennedy

Eiger Sanction 1975 Clint Eastwood

Eiger Sanction 1975 Vonetta McGee

Eiger Sanction 1975

Eiger Sanction 1975 George Kennedy

Eiger Sanction 1975 Jean-Pierre Bernard Clint Eastwood

Eiger Sanction 1975 Clint Eastwood

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

What do you say?

Tags: Based on novel · Crooked officer · Femme fatale · Hitman

4 responses so far ↓

  • 1 Kristie // May 20, 2010 at 6:35 am

    This movie sounds weirdly ecclectic and fun. The German title from the poster translates “By Order of the Dragon”. Not sure how they came up with that…

  • 2 Judith // May 20, 2010 at 5:00 pm

    Have you read the book or just seen the movie? The book is a scream – nothing wrong with Trevanian’s funny bone. The movie eviscerated the book (what else is new?), which explains the missing funny bone.

    Also, I like Clint, but he’s about the last person in the world I’d cast as a super-intellectual, harpsichord playing professor with a private fine art collection in his basement consisting of mainly stolen pieces.

  • 3 Yojimbo_5 // May 22, 2010 at 3:01 pm

    Loved the book, and thought the movie missed the point. And don’t forget, Humphrey Bogart used the same lisp gambit in “The Big Sleep.”

  • 4 Joe Valdez // May 22, 2010 at 5:49 pm

    Kristie: Eastwood’s spymaster in the movie is named Dragon, but that title fits about as well as putting technical mountain climbing in an Ian Fleming spoof. Still, when I think of The Eiger Sanction the way I do about Shaft, the whole silly thing is pretty damn cool. Thanks for translating and for commenting, Fraulein!

    Judith: I haven’t read the book and should know by now that a screenplay might bear absolutely no resemblance to an author’s work at all. Executive producers Richard Zanuck & David Brown wanted Paul Newman as Hemlock and when he declined, Eastwood might have been correct to jettison the goofier aspects of the material. The bit where his character uses a lisp as some sort of disguise is painful to watch. Thanks for commenting!

    Jim: The comments Judith and you made have me curious to pick up the novel, but I have a feeling it’s not a title carried by the Fullerton Public Library. Anyway, I still haven’t gotten around to reading my collection of Remo Williams stories. Thanks for commenting!

Leave a Comment