Directed by: Richard Marquand (Jagged Edge)
Starring: Donald Sutherland, Kate Nelligan. Christopher Cazenove, Philip Martin Brown
Richard Marquand’s Eye of the Needle (1981) is a type of thriller not often seen these days. For that matter, it was rather unusual even in 1981. It’s largely — for at least half its length — a fairly standard World War II spy yarn, and some of the setup gets a little tedious. Donald Sutherland plays Faber, a murderous Nazi agent known as “the Needle” because of his tendency to dispose of anyone who gets in his way — or might get in his way — with a well-placed stiletto. A great deal of the film deals with him uncovering the details of the plans for the Allied invasion of France, and the dummy airfield set up for the express purpose of throwing the Germans off the scene as to the real invasion route. All of this is OK without ever being particularly compelling. Let’s face it, it’s not the easiest subject to milk for suspense since we know from history that he can’t succeed. Once he’s marooned on a small island with handicapped sheep farmer David (Chistopher Cazenova), his wife Lucy (Kate Nelligan) and their daughter, the story takes on a completely different tone by virtue of Faber’s relationship with Lucy. In this stretch, we start to see more of Faber as a human being — and get hints into how he may have become the utterly ruthless and seemingly unfeeling person he is now. The film doesn’t use this reduce his menace, but it adds considerably the emotional weight of both his actions and those of Lucy. It’s never a great film, but it is definitely an entertaining one. The real question, however, is what about this film caused George Lucas to decide Marquand should helm Star Wars: Episode VI — Return of the Jedi (1983)? Look fast to catch Bill Nighy as an RAF Squadron Leader late in the film.
In Brief: Entertaining (if somewhat padded) World War II espionage thriller with Donald Sutherland as a ruthless Nazi spy trying to get the D-Day invasion plans to Hitler. Once the film arrives in its final hour with Sutherland stranded on an island off the coast of England, the story takes a turn into something deeper and becomes considerably more involving.