Enzo G. Castellari's masterful "Eagles Over London" is not just a better film than most folks would give it credit for, but raises a couple of interesting questions about why the Italians bothered making WW2 movies in the 1967 - 1971 "classic" period of genre film-making. Oh sure, they were cashing in on THE DIRTY DOZEN, THE GUNS OF NAVARONE, THE LONGEST DAY, THE GREAT ESCAPE, and the other blockbuster war "hits" of the decade ... but what is really going on here? Since when all is said & done most of the examples are either silly (FIVE FOR HELL), boring (RANGERS ATTACK AT DAWN), cartoonish (ATTACK FORCE NORMANDY) or just plain bizarre (THE DIRTY HEROES, SALT IN THE WOUND), "Eagles Over London" offers a rare opportunity to examine the form without having to necessarily apologize for the film in question. It's not just another Spaghetti War cheapie.
THE PLOT: An elite squad of German SS commandos -- led by the always delightfully evil Luigi Pistilli -- infiltrate Allied forces evacuating from Dunkirk by gunning down a misplaced patrol and stealing their identities, infiltrating England & letting the British to do the heavy lifting getting there. The goal is to render Britain's home radar detection system ineffective and allow German bombers to pound London into road salt. Two Allied officers realize something is amiss and work to expose & stop the infiltrators before all hope -- and the war -- is lost. It's a crackerjack plot ingeniously staged using actual British locations, cleverly endearing use of models & clumsily edited stock footage that more or less tells the story with minimal exposition, performed by some of Italian genre cinema's finest stars, and director Castellari actually had a respectable budget. This is a pretty good war movie, in spite of what the purists may have to say, and elements of it's story & extra-large scope would later turn up in THE EAGLE HAS LANDED and A BRIDGE TOO FAR.
The film raises some even more interesting questions about whether or not Americanized audiences can ever take Italian B cinema seriously (in short, NO) and just what the point of having Italian filmmakers explore WW2, since after all for the bulk of the conflict they were allied with Germany under Musillini, who was as brutal of a fascist dictator as you can ask for. So what's the point? Or were they just so arrogant as to not apologize for themselves & dared to walk on hallowed ground?
I've speculated on this with some cohorts and we came to the conclusion that it is a combination of the need to fulfill contracts with production companies that decided there was money to be made creating war films, along with a genuine interest in the duality of the subject matter, specifically having the opportunity to sort of re-write Italian history and put them on the side of the Good Guys. They were for the last couple months of the war, but only after we had reduced most of their country to rubble -- which is one of the reasons why most of these things are either set in France (FIVE FOR HELL, THE DAM BURSTERS) or Northern Africa (BATTLE OF EL ALAMEIN, BATTLE IN THE DESERT) where the duplicity of Italy's role in the war is either a moot point, or history saw them serving with honor and gaining the respect of their British, American and Canadian adversaries.
"Eagles Over London" actually sets itself in Britain at the time when only England stood between Hitler and his ambition to rule, enslave and murder half of the world, and I think that one of the problems Hollywoodized war movie buffs may have with it is the audacity of an Italian director & cast to actually put themselves in that role rather than recruiting specifically American, British, Canadian & French actors to re-stage their successful bid to oppose Hitler's ambitions. In that plane of consideration, this might be one of the riskiest efforts from the short lived sub-genre, and the fact that Enzo & company managed to pull it off, make an entertaining film AND end up on the side of the Good Guys shouldn't be dismissed by silly considerations like authenticity of costumes, props, locations, names, words painted on signs or whatever. This isn't a history lesson, after all, it's a genre movie, and what might confuse or annoy traditional war movie buffs is seeing these B movie directors actually dare to have fun with the genre.
So whatever negative vibe this movie may generate is a combination of sour grapes over Italy's actual role in the war, short-sightedness in being focused on authenticity, and a fuddy-duddy attitude about how war films are only supposed to be solemn tributes to those who fought, died, and ultimately won. The winners ultimately end up getting to write the histories that are later taught, after all, and while the ending may lack the sort of emotional payoff that Hollywoodized audiences expect from their war films it is still just as entertaining as any other example from the decade. When all is said and done we as humans go to the movies to be entertained, and you can't fault Enzo for having managed to do exactly that.
I would rank this right up there with SALT IN THE WOUND, DESERT COMMANDOS, BATTLE IN THE DESERT and THE WAR DEVILS as one of the more respectable efforts, transcending their Spaghetti War stigma and making THE GREEN BERETS look foolish by comparison. Maybe that is what really pisses everyone off about them: They made The Duke look like a glory boy, flag waving, lunkheaded propagandist by comparison, which he was. Nothing wrong with that either, mind you, but some people just can't stand being told the truth about themselves and you shouldn't hold it against the Italians for managing to pull off putting John Wayne in his place.
9/10: Enzo should be proud!!