Sunday, September 25, 2011

Stubs - Eye of the Needle

EYE OF THE NEEDLE (1981) Starring: Donald Sutherland, Kate Nelligan, Christopher Cazenove. Directed by Richard Marquand. Screenplay by Stanley Mann. Based on the book by Ken Follett. Produced by Stephen Friedman. Run Time 118 minutes, Color. U.K. World War II, Drama, Thriller, Romance

Set during World War II, EYE OF THE NEEDLE follows two storylines. First it is the story of Henry Faber (Donald Sutherland), whose important position at the railway keeps him from national service. He seems like an affable, though lonely man, who lives in a boarding house and goes for a pint down at the local pub. But in reality, Faber is a Nazi spy. A German military officer, Faber is also known as the Needle. One is given to believe he got that name because of his favorite weapon, the stiletto, which we see him use over and over throughout the film.

Juxtaposed to Faber’s story is that of David (Christopher Cazenove) and Lucy Rose (Kate Nelligan). Newlyweds, married on the eve of David’s assignment, they have a terrible accident on the way to their honeymoon. Drunk and driving too fast, David drives off the road and crashes the car. The result is his paralysis from the waist down. He exchanges flying in the air force for tending sheep on Storm Island off the English coast. There they live a Spartan life with only their young son Jo (Jonathan Nicholas Haley) and the lighthouse keeper and helper Tom (Alex McCrindle) for company. While Lucy keeps a brave face, she is in fact miserable. David drinks too much with Tom and David and Lucy’s romantic life is down to zilch.

Faber, meanwhile, has been given the very important assignment of spying on General Patton’s Army, which the German military is convinced will be the lead force when the Allies invade Europe. Faber is told to find out what he can and to report back to the Fuhrer in person. A German U-boat will pick him up off the shore when he relays to them he is ready to be picked up. He is given two weeks to report back.

The truth is that Patton’s Army was a decoy and Faber takes photographs to prove the point and even with the authorities chasing him, manages to escape to Storm Island where his canal boat crashes in a storm. There he is rescued by the Roses. While Lucy nurtures him back to health, she also falls in love with him. And with her husband sleeping one of upstairs or at Tom’s, Lucy and Faber become lovers.

When David discovers the canister of photographs, he confronts Faber. And even though David puts up a heroic fight, he is no match for the stronger Faber, who throws him over one of the many cliffs on the island. Next Tom is also killed and Faber must wait for his next window to contact the U-boat, which waits for his signal between 6 pm to 6 am every day.

Faber tells Lucy that David is too drunk to come home, giving the two lovers another night together. The next day, when Faber goes to retrieve David, Lucy and Jo go for a walk on the island and Lucy discovers her husband’s dead body in the water. She is very upset, but when Faber gets back, he tells her that David is still too drunk to come home. Lucy knows something is up and bides her time to escape, even going so far as to have sex with Faber one more time, as if nothing is wrong.

When she gets her chance, Lucy grabs Jo and takes off towards Tom’s lighthouse, where there is the only radio on the island. Faber takes chase and even though her car gets stuck, Lucy manages to barricade her and Jo in the lighthouse. This is when she finds Tom dead as well.

Faber arrives and tries to gain entrance. Lucy does her best to stop him, even hacking his hand with an axe as he reaches in to undo one of the locks on the door. But Faber still gets in and while holding Jo hostage manages to contact the U-boat just before Lucy manages to short out the electricity. Faber must have feelings for Lucy, because he lets her live. And it is this act of “kindness” on his part that will lead to his own death.

Faber leaves the lighthouse and heads down to a row boat on the beach to get to the waiting U-boat. Lucy finds a handgun she had misplaced and takes chase. She shoots at Faber, but doesn’t stop him until he is in the row boat. With her last bullet, Lucy kills Faber and unknowingly saves the Normandy invasion.

A taught thriller, EYE OF THE NEEDLE has held up very well in the thirty years since its original theatrical release. While Donald Sutherland is great as Faber, it is really Kate Nelligan’s Lucy that holds the film together. She is the pivotal character, torn between the love for her impudent husband and the strong embrace from a virile stranger. A lonely young woman, who has never really been given a chance to enjoy life, Lucy rises to the challenge and single-handedly saves the world.

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