The Eiger Sanction (film)

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The Eiger Sanction
Eiger sanction.jpg
Theatrical release poster
Directed by Clint Eastwood
Produced by Robert Daley
Richard D. Zanuck
David Brown
Screenplay by Rod Whitaker
Hal Dresner
Warren Murphy
Based on The Eiger Sanction 
by Trevanian
Starring Clint Eastwood
George Kennedy
Jack Cassidy
Vonetta McGee
Music by John Williams
Cinematography William N. Clark
Frank Stanley
Edited by Ferris Webster
Distributed by Universal Pictures
Release dates
  • May 21, 1975 (1975-05-21)
Running time
123 minutes
Country United States
Language English
Budget $9 million[1]
Box office $14,200,000[2][3]

The Eiger Sanction is a 1975 American action thriller directed by and starring Clint Eastwood. Based on the novel The Eiger Sanction, by Trevanian,[N 1] the film is about an art history professor and mountain climber who doubles as a professional assassin and is coerced out of retirement to avenge the murder of an old friend.[4]


College art history professor Dr. Jonathan Hemlock (Clint Eastwood) is a retired government assassin who performed "sanctions", a euphemism for officially approved killings. He also has a reputation as one of the world's top mountaineers.

During his career with a secret government agency called "C2", Hemlock amassed a private collection of 21 masterpiece paintings, paid for from earnings from his previous sanctions. The director of C2, Mr. Dragon (Thayer David), is an albino ex-Nazi confined to semi-darkness and kept alive by blood transfusions. He has an uncouth, inept aide, Pope (Gregory Walcott), whom Hemlock can't stand.

Dragon wants Hemlock to kill two men responsible for the death of another government agent, code name Wormwood. Insisting he is retired, Hemlock refuses until Dragon threatens to expose Hemlock's art collection to the IRS. Hemlock then agrees, travels to Zurich, and carries out the first sanction for $20,000, twice his usual fee, plus a letter guaranteeing no trouble from the IRS.

Returning from Europe, Hemlock meets C2 courier Jemima Brown (Vonetta McGee), who seduces him, then steals his money and IRS exemption letter. Dragon agrees to return them if Hemlock completes another assassination. Hemlock learns the murdered C2 agent, Wormwood, was in fact his old friend Henri Baq (Frank Redmond), who once saved Hemlock's life. He then demands $100,000 plus expenses.

Hemlock is particularly qualified because the target is a member of an international mountain climbing team which, in the summer, will ascend the north face of the Eiger in Switzerland. It is arranged for Hemlock to be the American member of the team. He must kill one of the climbers. C2 is unsure of the target's identity, and Hemlock is only told that the man walks with a limp.

Hemlock travels to Arizona to train at a climbing school run by another friend of his, Ben Bowman (George Kennedy). Bowman amiably whips him back into shape with the help of an attractive, Native American woman called George (Brenda Venus) (later revealed to be Bowman's daughter). Hemlock also encounters an enemy, Miles Mellough (Jack Cassidy), a former ally from the military who betrayed him in Southeast Asia. Mellough tries to kill Hemlock by hiring George to drug him, but Hemlock survives. He then lures Mellough into the desert, where Mellough and his bodyguard try to kill him. Hemlock shoots the bodyguard and leaves Mellough to die in the sun.

Hemlock travels to Switzerland with Bowman, the "ground man" (supervisor) of the climb. There they meet the other members of the climbing party—one German, one Austrian, one Frenchman—at the Hotel Bellevue des Alpes in Kleine Scheidegg. There is a brief conflict, mainly because the headstrong German member, Karl Freytag (Reiner Schöne), insists upon being the team's leader. Jemima Brown turns up to clear the air with Hemlock for betraying him, as does Pope, whose continued interference earns him a beating from Hemlock.

The men begin their ascent of the Eiger's north face in good weather, but the conditions abruptly turn icy and treacherous. The French climber Jean-Paul Montaigne is struck by falling rocks and dies, and the German's arrogant planning has left the survivors with no route of retreat. Hemlock assumes leadership of the team.

The climbers make their way toward a tunnel window that connects to a railroad station inside the mountain, carrying the dead climber between them. At the last moment, Freytag and the Austrian Anderl Meyer (Michael Grimm) fall to their deaths when their anchors come loose; the Frenchman's corpse plummets as well. Hemlock's life is left almost literally hanging by a thread; he dangles alone a few meters from the tunnel window.

Bowman and a rescue crew make their way through the Eiger to the tunnel window, where they attempt to throw Hemlock a rope. Hemlock notices, "You're limping, Ben," an indication that Bowman is the traitor he's after. Bowman throws him the rope, and Hemlock attaches it and then, having no other choice, cuts his own rope. Bowman pulls him into the tunnel to safety.

On the train, Bowman admits he first became involved with "the other side" due to his daughter George's addiction to drugs, but had no idea there would be any killing. Back at Kleine Scheidegg, Bowman wants to know if he needs to spend the rest of his life concerned about Hemlock's coming after him. Hemlock tells him, "Forget it".

Rejoined by Jemima Brown, Hemlock takes a phone call from Dragon, who assumes Hemlock killed all three of the other climbers intentionally, to ensure he killed the target. Jemima is curious about whether Dragon could be correct.




Universal bought the film rights in 1972, soon after Trevanian's novel was published, and it was originally a Richard Zanuck and David Brown production. Paul Newman was intended for Jonathan Hemlock. After reading the script, Newman declined, believing the film was too violent.[5]

With concerns over early drafts, Eastwood contacted novelist Warren Murphy (known for his The Destroyer assassin series) in Connecticut in February 1974 for assistance, despite Murphy's having never read the book nor written for a film before.[6] Murphy read the novel and agreed to write the script, but he was unhappy with the novel's tone, which he believed patronized readers.[6] Murphy completed a draft in late March and a revised script a month later.[7]

George Kennedy, who had recently finished filming Thunderbolt and Lightfoot with Eastwood, was cast as Big Ben Bowman, Hemlock's friend and secret adversary. Jack Cassidy was cast as the colorful (and flamboyantly gay) assassin Miles Mellough. Thayer David, a year before his role as a boxing promoter in Rocky, was cast as the albino "Dragon" (named "Yurasis Dragon" in the book). Vonetta McGee of Thomasine and Bushrod was cast as the African-American female C2 operative, Jemima Brown.


The Eiger

In the summer of 1974, Eastwood travelled to Yosemite National Park where he trained in mountain climbing. Filming in Grindelwald, Switzerland, began on August 12, 1974, with a team of climbing experts and advisers from America, Canada, Germany, Switzerland, and the United Kingdom.[8] The climbers were based at the Hotel Bellevue des Alpes at Kleine Scheidegg.[9]

The 13,041-foot Eiger,ogre in German, is renowned for its treacherous climbing. Its north face has earned the German nickname Mörderwand or Mordwand meaning murder wall or death wall.[9] Eastwood's decision to brave the mountain was disapproved of by Dougal Haston, director of the International School of Mountaineering, who knew of its dangers at first hand, having been climbing the Eiger with John Harlin when he was killed, and by cameraman Frank Stanley, who thought climbing a perilous mountain to shoot a film was unnecessary.[9] According to cameraman Rexford Metz, it was a boyhood fantasy of Eastwood's to climb such a mountain, and he enjoyed displaying heroic machismo.[10]

A number of accidents occurred during filming. A 27-year-old Scottish climber, David Knowles, who was a body double and photographer, was killed during a rock fall, and Hoover narrowly escaped with his life.[11] Eastwood almost abandoned the project but proceeded because he did not want Knowles to have died in vain.[12] Eastwood insisted on doing all his own climbing and stunts. Stanley also fell but survived and used a wheelchair for some time.[13] Stanley, who completed filming under pressure from Eastwood, blamed Eastwood for the accident because of lack of preparation, describing him as a director and actor as a "very impatient man who doesn't really plan his pictures or do any homework. He figures he can go right in and sail through these things."[14] Stanley was never hired by Eastwood or Malpaso Productions again. Several other accidents and events apparently took place during the filming, but the producers hid them from the public.[12]

Speaking with Roger Ebert of the Chicago Sun-Times, Eastwood discussed the stunt in which he dangled from a mountain on the end of a cable:

I didn't want to use a stunt man, because I wanted to use a telephoto lens and zoom in slowly all the way to my face—so you could see it was really me. I put on a little disguise and slipped into a sneak preview of the film to see how people liked it. When I was hanging up there in the air, the woman in front of me said to her friend, 'Gee, I wonder how they did that?' and her friend said, 'Special effects.'[15]

Filming locations[edit]


The Eiger Sanction
The Eiger Sanction Soundtrack.jpg
Film score by John Williams
Released 1975
Recorded 1975
Genre Orchestral
Length 34:38
Label MCA
Varèse Sarabande
Producer John Williams
John Williams chronology
The Towering Inferno The Eiger Sanction Jaws

Eastwood chose John Williams to compose the original music soundtrack for The Eiger Sanction—his only score in the spy genre. A main theme is presented initially on piano evoking a sense of sophistication and mystery, then given a much jazzier or pop rendition reminiscent of Lalo Schifrin's material.[17]

The most impressive sections of the score are the grand orchestral cues composed for the mountain scenes. Pieces such as "The Icy Ascent" and "The Top of the World" capture both the beauty of the alpine surroundings and the inherent dangers. The latter title presents the kind of rapturous orchestral celebration now commonly associated with Williams' music.[17] The pseudo-baroque piece "Training with George" presents a lovely string arrangement "demonstrating Williams's remarkable versatility while retaining that musical signature that makes all of his scores so recognisably his." The main theme is reprised in "George Sets the Pace" as a guitar solo with flute harmony. "Microfilm" is a low key action piece, and "Up the Drainpipe" is pure suspense music, different in tone from the rest of the album. The album concludes with "The Eiger", a triumphant and beautiful finale.

Although not considered among Williams' finest scores, The Eiger Sanction soundtrack has a certain stylish allure different from anything else he's done, and is "memorable in some places, beautiful and orchestral in others."[17] The original soundtrack album was released in 1975 on the MCA label, and in 1991 it was issued as a CD on the Varèse Sarabande label.[18]

  1. "Main Title" – 2:24
  2. "Theme from The Eiger Sanction" – 2:53
  3. "Fifty Miles of Desert" – 2:50
  4. "The Icy Ascent" – 3:41
  5. "Friends And Enemies" – 3:01
  6. "The Top of the World" – 3:05
  7. "Theme from The Eiger Sanction" – 2:09
  8. "Training With George" – 2:13
  9. "Theme from The Eiger Sanction" – 2:07
  10. "George Sets The Pace" – 2:39
  11. "The Microfilm Killing" – 2:04
  12. "Up The Drainpipe" – 3:18
  13. "The Eiger" – 2:14


The Eiger Sanction received varying reviews on its release in May 1975. The New York Times said, ""The Eiger Sanction" is a long, foolish but never boring suspense melodrama."[19] Playboy magazine described the film as "a James Bond reject."[20] Joy Gould Boyum of the The Wall Street Journal remarked, "The film situates villainy in homosexuals and physically disabled men."[20] Pauline Kael of New York magazine described the film as "a total travesty".[20]

The film was a commercial failure, taking $23.8 million at the box office.[20] Eastwood blamed the production company for poor earnings and publicly left Universal Studios.[21]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Trevanian is a pseudonym used by the American author Dr. Rodney William Whitaker.
  1. ^ Box Office Information for The Eiger Sanction. The Wrap. Retrieved April 4, 2013.
  2. ^ Hughes (2009), p.174
  3. ^ "The Eiger Sanction, Box Office Information". The Numbers. Retrieved July 7, 2012. 
  4. ^ "Eiger Sanction". Internet Movie Database. Retrieved March 12, 2012. 
  5. ^ McGilligan (1999), p.241
  6. ^ a b McGilligan (1999), p.242
  7. ^ McGilligan (1999), p.243
  8. ^ McGilligan (1999), p.244
  9. ^ a b c McGilligan (1999), p.245
  10. ^ McGilligan (1999), p.248
  11. ^ Eliot (2009), p.161
  12. ^ a b McGilligan (1999), p.247
  13. ^ McGilligan (1999), p.249
  14. ^ McGilligan (1999), p.250
  15. ^ Ebert, Roger (December 14, 2011). "Mission: Impossible—Ghost Protocol". Chicago Sun-Times. Retrieved March 12, 2012. 
  16. ^ "Filming locations for The Eiger Sanction". Internet Movie Database. Retrieved March 12, 2012. 
  17. ^ a b c Southall, James. "The Eiger Sanction: Climb every mountain". Movie Wave. Retrieved March 13, 2012. 
  18. ^ "The Eiger Sanction". Allmusic. Retrieved March 13, 2012. 
  19. ^ "Movie Review 'Eiger Sanction,' Film of Climbing Spies". The New York Times. May 22, 1975. 
  20. ^ a b c d McGilligan (1999), p.253
  21. ^ McGilligan (1999), p.256

External links[edit]