A Movie A Day #340: Eye of the Needle (1981, directed by Richard Marquand)


The time is World War II, shortly before D-Day.  Lucy Rose (Kate Nelligan) lives on an isolated island with her crippled husband, David (Christopher Cazenove), their young son, and a sheep herder named Tom (Alex McCrindle).  Embittered by the accident that left him in a wheelchair, David is abusively violent and emotionally shut off.  One night, during a sudden storm, a man who says his name is Henry Faber (Donald Sutherland) turns up on the island.  Henry claims that the storm caught him by surprise and left him stranded.  David doesn’t trust him and it turns out that, for once, David is right.  Faber is actually a semi-legendary German spy, code-named The Needle because his preferred instrument of murder is a stiletto.  Faber has discovered the plans for the Allied Invasion of Normandy.  He’s only on the island because he is waiting for a German u-boat to arrive and take him back to Berlin.  Complicating matters is that a romance has developed between Faber and Lucy.

Based on a novel by Ken Follett, Eye of the Needle is an old-fashioned spy thriller, distinguished by Kate Nelligan’s sensual turn as Lucy and Donald Sutherland giving what might be his career best performance in the role of Henry Faber.  Until he meets Lucy, Faber is a remorseless sociopath who is willing to kill anyone who discovers the truth about his identity.  For the majority of the film, it is left ambiguous whether Faber loves Lucy or if he’s just using her and Sutherland plays the role as if Faber himself is not really sure.  The final confrontation between Faber and Lucy is both suspenseful and exciting and will convince you to never stick your hand through a window unless you’re sure about what’s on the other side.  Eye of the Needle is a World War II thriller that deserves to be better known.

Following the success of this film, Richard Marquand was hired to direct Return of the Jedi.a film that is light years away from the gloomy world portrayed in Eye of the Needle.  He later directed another well-regarded thriller, Jagged Edge, before passing away from a stroke in 1987 at the age of 49.

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A Movie A Day #312: Mata Hari (1985, directed by Curtis Harrington)


Europe, during World War I.  The beautiful dancer, Mata Hari (Sylvia Kristel), is in love with two different soldiers, one German and one French.  (The soldiers, played by Olivier Tobias and Christopher Cazenove, are also friends though they are now on opposite sides of the Great War.)  Forced into the world of decadent, high class espionage by Frau Doktor (Gaye Brown), Mata Hari sleeps with everyone, shares information with both the Germans and the French, and tries to prevent more people from dying.  Just as in history, Mata Hari ultimately has to face a firing squad but not before taking part in threesomes, voyeurism, and a topless sword fight.

The original Emmanuelle in a Cannon Film based on the life of the famed seductress Mata Hari?  It sounds like it should be great but Mata Hari is mostly dull.  I’ve read that Mata Hari was heavily edited before it was released in the United States so maybe that explains why the film is so choppy and nearly impossible to follow.  I was never sure who Mata Hari was spying for and, after a while, I no longer cared.  Sylvia Kristel is frequently naked, which explains why Mata Hari was once a Skinemax staple, but Kirstel later wrote that she was addicted to both cocaine and alcohol while making Mata Hari and maybe that partially explains why she seems to be so mentally checked out through the entire film.  I don’t blame her.  I checked out too.

One final note: About that topless sword fight, it sounds cooler than it actually is.