Eagles Over London (1969)
By: Paul Ryan on March 19, 2010  | 
Severin | All Regions, NTSC | 2.35:1 (16:9 enhanced) | English DD 2.0 | 112 minutes (Full Specs)
The Movie
Cover Art
Director: Enzo G. Castellari
Starring: Frederick Stafford, Van Johnson, Francisco Rabal, Evelyn Stewart. Luigi Pistilli
Screenplay: Tito Carpi, Vincenzo Flamini, José Martinez Molla, Gilles Dumoulin, Enzo G. Castellari
Country: Italy
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Like westerns, zombie films and post-apocalyptic actioners, World War II epics films got their own Italian spin from the mid-sixties to the late-eighties. Collectively dubbed "macaroni combat" or "Euro-war", some titles include Five For Hell (1969), From Hell to Victory (1970), The Last Hunter (1980), and Warbus (1985). The best-known of these outside Europe is probably Enzo G. Castellari 1978's Dirty Dozen knock-off The Inglorious Bastards, but his 1969 film Eagles Over London (aka Battle Command and Battle Squadron) is better regarded in his native Italy, where the film was a great commercial success. Released the same year as Guy Hamilton's big budget The Battle of Britain (and actually distributed in Italy under that same title), Eagles Over London never received theatrical distribution in America, being quietly dumped straight to television instead. Forty years later, cult label Severin Films has dug up the film for a belated home entertainment release.

Following the evacuation of Dunkirk, German forces plot a massive Luftwaffe bombardment of London. Aiding them on the ground is a squad of Nazi soldiers, disguised as British troops, complete with stolen identity papers. These saboteurs, led by "Lieutenant Martin" (Francisco Rabal) are out to destroy a top secret British radar installation. Attempting to uncover the plotters is British Army Captain Paul Stevens (Frederick Stafford), aided by RAF Air Marshall George Taylor (Van Johnson). As the Battle of Britain draws nearer, Stafford becomes aware that the saboteurs may be closer than he ever imagined…

A mix of old-style war movie adventure and more contemporary-style filmmaking, Eagles Over London is less well-known than Castellari's later Bastards, but is also a lot more interesting. Castellari regularly employs a three-way split screen device (partially incorporating original WW2 newsreel footage) to heighten the sensation of the aerial combat scenes, and it still looks visually exciting over forty years later. The dogfights (done with models and studio mock-ups) are done with flair, despite the odd moment of visible wires. The re-enactment of the evacuation of Dunkirk is especially impressive, with a great sense of scale and scope. There is also some very effective London location work, blended with interiors at shot Rome's Cinecitta studios. The main plot of disguised German agents infiltrating England adds an enjoyably pulpy element to the historical background and anticipates Quentin Tarantino's Castellari homage Inglourious Basterds, which inverts this plot device. There are also plenty of eccentric touches along the way, such as the blitzkrieg sex scene, and the predominantly female-staffed radar base (though these very British ladies still make the men folk a cup of tea at a drop of a hat).

On the downside, there is a problem similar to many other Euro-pudding productions of the time in that while the leads speak English, just about everyone else is dubbed (even if they appear to be mouthing their lines in English) and not very well at that. The voices chosen for the British non-comms are hilarious in their overwrought cockney twang, recalling Dick Van Dyke's infamous Mary Poppins (or, Meeeerreeey Pawp-eens) accent. There's also some strange casting of the English-speaking actors, with Czech-Austrian Stafford and American Johnson both cast as Brits, suggesting that the Italian producers didn't have much of an ear for English accents.

These gaffes aside, Eagles Over London is entertaining and energetically-directed, with a unique and flavourful atmosphere. If you haven't delved into the macaroni combat genre before, this is a good place to start.
Presented in its full 2.35:1 ratio (and 16x9 enhanced to boot), Eagles Over London scrubs up reasonably well on DVD, though it could have done with some further restoration. There's a fairly pronounced level of grain, not to mention some little bits of print damage here and there. A couple of aerial shots have a distracting hair in the gate, but digitally removing it might well have been beyond Severin's resources. The newsreel footage used throughout is of variable quality, but still suits the film just fine. There are no subtitles available.
The single 2.0 (not 5.1, as indicated on the rear cover) track is a tad muffled in places, but dialogue is rarely hard to make out. The dubbing and ADR are easily detectable, both aurally and – especially – visually, but the music and sound effects are quite well mixed.
Extra Features
A Conversation with Enzo G. Castellari and Quentin Tarantino, Part 2: As the title says, this is a chat between Castellari and uberfan/fanboy Tarantino. The first part of this piece was included as part of Severin's presentation of The Inglorious Bastards (and also turns up on Madman's Australian release). Don't get me wrong, I really do like Tarantino as a filmmaker, but he's often downright excruciating in interviews. I honestly couldn't finish the first part of this piece thanks to some hideously embarrassing gushing on Tarantino's part. This second part is more tolerable, though a star-struck Tarantino still seems unable to simply shut the hell up and let Enzo talk. When Castellari does get a word in, what he has to say is certainly interesting. Topics such as the film's initial genesis, the use of American actors in Italian cinema, the use of split-screen imagery, and the cannibalizing of this film by the later macaroni combat flick, From Hell to Victory are touched on. Or at least they are when Q.T. shuts his friggin' gob…

Eagles Over Los Angeles: On 6th May 2008, Tarantino hosted a screening of Eagles Over London (on a double-bill with Castellari's High Crime) at the Silent Movie Theater in Los Angeles. In fact, this was the first time the film had been exhibited theatrically in the United States (a fact Q.T. does not let you forget in this or the preceding featurette), and Castellari is on hand to introduce the screening and speak about the film afterwards. Quentin's cringe worthy babbling aside, there are some more interesting anecdotes from Castellari. Enzo discusses some initial crankiness on Van Johnson's part (whom he otherwise speaks very fondly of), and his regrets over using so many zooms in the film. A very impressed Brian Trenchard Smith (whose Siege of Firebase Gloria is another Tarantino favourite) can be heard bellowing out a couple of comments in the audience, which is kinda nice. The audio does leave a lot to be desired though, with both Quentin and Enzo frequently speaking too far from the microphone.

Deleted Scene: A thirty-second deleted scene, which slightly expands the German plot. Nothing crucial, but it's nice to have it in this release.

Trailers: Original English-language theatrical trailers for both this film and The Inglorious Bastards.
The Verdict
Movie Score
Disc Score
Overall Score
Somewhat rickety in its casting, and extremely rickety in its dubbing, Eagles Over London is nonetheless an entertaining war epic. Castellari's stylish direction and some very impressive combat scenes make up for the shortfalls. Severin's disc is nicely put together, though it's a shame that Tarantino's name has been stamped all over the disc to make it more attractive to the peanut gallery, rather than letting Castellari's work stand on its own. Still, it's a disc worth seeking out, and if you're Blu-Ray inclined, you might also want to check out Brother J.R's take on the film here.

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