Eagles Over London (US - BD)
Gabe defends England from the Nazis alongside some Italians posing as Brits
My personal filmic education has unfortunately not prepared me as much for Eagles Over London as I wish it had. I usually have at least some historical idea of what went into Italy’s best cash-in cinema, but this particular feature isn’t as obviously steeped in the tropes of The Dirty Dozen as most of the country’s popular World War II adventures, or at least the four or five films I’ve seen from the Macaroni Combat sub-genre. Released the same year as Guy Hamilton’s Battle of Britain, Eagles Over London follows the events leading up to the historical Battle of Britain, the first major campaign to be fought entirely by air force. The film follows the story from both the German and British military points of view. The historical accuracy is questionable, but I’m not personally clear enough on the events to make a point of it. Like I said, my credentials are in question with this particular review.
Director Enzo G. Castellari, who also directed the better received and well known Inglorious Bastards, has an eye for action, and is able to wring every ounce of production value from his likely middling budget. Eagles Over London is never as endearing or entertaining as Bastards, but it certainly feels more epic, and better emulates American war cinema than anything similar from the region. The battlefield scope is at times positively breath-taking. Some of the boats and war vehicles could be expert matte paintings, but most of the set design, props, and sheer quantity of extras (things that could not be faked with movement before computer technology) is worthy of David Lean and Steven Spielberg. The opening act beach attack scene is every bit as massive as a big budget American crew could’ve accomplished at the time. But herein lies the film’s most defining dilemma—it’s largely indiscernible from so many Hollywood productions. The idiosyncratic elements that normally make these Macaroni Combat films special are few and far between. I hate to take anything away from Castellari’s massive technical achievements (which are even greater when one considers his relative lack of experience at the time), but without distinct knowledge of the film’s origins, the whole exercise could be easily mistaken for a generic American or British production (the budget was apparently one of the highest in Italian history, but still likely slight compared to Hollywood counterparts).
Castellari makes a few stylistic choices that give the production a needed visual boost. When he moves away from the large scale battle stuff (which is impressive, but largely anonymously shot) he finds a bevy of good angles, uses aggressive split screen, keeps the camera moving, and has a joyful affinity for multi-layered compositions. The director even achieves a few genuinely memorable moments throughout the film as well, moments good enough to recommend the film, including a love-making session set against the Blitzkrieg, and a standout pub scene that obviously inspired Quentin Tarantino on Inglourious Basterds. The script sporadically rises to the occasion as well, but mostly spends its energy setting up plot heavy cog after plot heavy cog. The plot comes from good stock, but the writers (of which there are five) seem to be too tied to the facts (at least their version of the facts), which means Castellari’s (hindered) stylistic eye is the only thing that sets it apart from a standard docudrama. The characters suffer the most, and are incomparable to those of the film’s obvious inspirations, or to Castellari’s character actor heavy follow-up. At the very least the story moves quickly, is easy to follow without speaking down to the audience too much, and the screenwriters valiantly cover both the German and British side of the conflict equally. I can’t think of any films from the era that cover both sides of a conflict, at least not until Tora Tora Tora was released the following year.
Eagles Over London definitely feels like an afterthought, and though the presentation is solid and commendable, it’s not treated with quite the same loving care Inglorious Bastards was. The print has clearly been given the once-over, and is cleaner than it would have been if Severin didn’t put any effort into the restoration process. There aren’t many obvious artefacts or signs of major print damage (though it appears a few frames have gone missing here and there), and is relatively consistent, if not a bit thicker than those of the Inglorious Bastards transfer. Unfortunately there’s very little here that couldn’t be achieved by a standard definition transfer. The details aren’t particularly sharp, though they are even throughout the transfer, with a few minor exceptions. A much larger issue is the state of the print’s colour. Castellari clearly isn’t going out of his way to saturate the film, but I’m pretty sure his intensions weren’t quite this washed out. Outdoor shots are slightly too cool and the most extreme contrasts are infiltrated by blues. Indoor shots are warmer, but the warmth has a similar effect on blacks. The last act is a strange mix of good and bad, including both the transfer’s best moments, along with its most damaged stock footage.
The audio presentation follows the precedent set forth by the video presentation. Eagles Over London does not get the same 5.1 remix treatment Inglorious Bastards did, and is presented in Dolby Digital 2.0 English. The box art calls the mix ‘surround’, but I’m pretty sure it’s a mono mix. I didn’t catch any noticeable stereo effects. Flat out damage is only a minor problems (a few minor pops), but the whole track is a bit scratchy, and the louder and/or more aurally busy moments are distorted. The mix is actually quite aggressive for an older film, but this fury is muddled on the single channel track into noise, and the track’s bass lacks substantial support. There are many big booms, but they mostly sound tinny rather than exciting. The score is largely tradition, and very similar to the Bastards score. The sound designers smartly separate the music from the more aggressive effects on many occasions, but overall the music suffers the same high end distortion problems. As in the case of almost all period Italian film it’s clear that many of the actors are not speaking English and the ones that are speaking English are doing it without sound. Everyone is dubbed, so lip-sync is constantly off. I’m assuming efforts to properly sync on sequence would result in another sequence stumbling even further out of sync, so this is one source shortcoming we cannot fault the disc’s producers for. The echo and reverb perhaps could’ve been solved, but I’m no expert.
The extras on this disc are but a shadow of Severin’s Inglorious Bastards release, and begin with ‘A Conversation with Enzo Castellari and Quentin Tarantino, Part 2’ (14:00, HD). Castellari gives some good behind the scene info, but not much that can’t be found on the film’s IMDb page, unfortunately. Tarantino’s input is, again, invaluable, especially the stuff concerning the film’s shared footage (all the big battle stuff, apparently). This is followed by ‘Eagles Over Los Angeles’ (16:30, HD), a look at a screening for the film that took place before the Bastards DVD release. Tarantino chats up the audience, explains the film’s place in Italy, and hands it off to Castellari, who approaches the whole thing with an endearing sense of humility (he hates his use of crash-zoom, and his lead actor, for which I cannot blame him). The extras end with a single deleted scene (00:30, HD) in German, and trailers for Eagles Over London and Inglorious Bastards.
Eagles Over London is a towering technical achievement, worthy of note in the greater pantheon of WWII cinema, but it’s a little faceless, and doesn’t feature much of the quirky characters and violence that usually marks Italian WWII cash-ins. Audiences looking for a more traditional look at the subject matter will be satisfied, but those of us used to partitioning our war related entertainment might be caught a bit off guard. The A/V quality isn’t quite up to the standards Severin has let us know they’re capable of (I’m still excited about that Hardware transfer), but is acceptable given the film’s age, condition, and treatment over the years. The extras are brief, but quite endearing, and potently infectious.
* Note: The images on this page are not representative of the Blu-ray release.
Review by Gabriel Powers
This product has not been rated
Release Date: 13th October 2009
Disc Type: Blu-ray Disc
Audio: Dolby Digital 2.0 English
Extras: A Conversation with Enzo G. Castellari and Quentin Tarantino Part 2, Eagles Over Los Angeles, Deleted Scene, Trailers
Easter Egg: No
Director: Enzo G. Castellari
Cast: Van Johnson, Frederick Stafford, Francisco Rabal, Luigi Pistilli, Ida Galli
Length: 104 minutes
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