Iron Eagle (1986)

2010 #122
Sidney J. Furie | 112 mins | TV | 15 / PG-13

You know how sometimes you see a bit of a movie on TV and you end up watching just long enough to get caught up so much you’re in for the long haul, no matter what the quality? No? Maybe it’s just me (usually around this time of year, it seems). Iron Eagle is, naturally, my latest example of this phenomena.

Quite what drew me to Iron Eagle I’m not sure. Perhaps it was seeing a young David Suchet. Perhaps it was the ludicrous ease with which a bunch of teenagers pilfered a variety of highly sensitive materials from an airforce base in the sequence I happened to catch upon ending a recording I’d been watching. Whatever it was, after being suckered for ten minutes I had to rewind and give it a full go. (Sadly my digibox’s rewind didn’t quite get back to the beginning of the film, but I don’t think it’s likely to change my opinion.)

The whole of Iron Eagle is like the sequence I mentioned: daft and implausible. The plot, for those unaware of the film (which included me), is that an American pilot is captured by Qatar due to flying into their airspace, even though he was hundreds of miles outside it. When he’s sentenced to execution and the US Government refuses to do anything practical to get him back, his teenage son — who he’s been illicitly teaching to fly fighter jets — resolves to steal one and go get his dad. Hells yeah! Or something.

Like I said, daft and implausible. And that isn’t necessarily a problem, but as you watch Iron Eagle you can’t help but wonder if the filmmakers are trying to convince viewers it could be plausible. And it isn’t. Not in the slightest.

Suchet would make an excellent villain — the role he’s cast in — but he’s criminally underused. He’s even dispatched out of hand at the end. None of the other performances are really worth noting. Jason Gedrick, as the son, may look the part — in an ’80s kinda way — of the kid who’s actually a hot-shot pilot, but his acting chops are choppy. He went on to be in Boomtown, incidentally, a much underrated cop show that I really rather liked. I don’t really recall him in it.

Talking of Other Things People Have Done, did you recognise the director’s name? Furie helmed not only the risible Superman IV (I’m not sure I’ve seen all of that, but I’ve seen enough to know it’s risible) and… The Ipcress File. The Ipcress File! I’ve not seen that either, but I think we all know this is a serious step down. Poor man. His career went on to include Iron Eagle II and the direct-to-video Iron Eagle IV. Yes, there are four of them, and apparently they’re even worse and not in keeping with the spirit of this first. Poor man.

On the bright side, the son likes to listen to music while flying his fighter jet (as you can see, the plausibility just goes on and on), one of his choice tracks being Queen’s One Vision. Anything featuring a Queen song multiple times can’t be all bad.

2 out of 5

Murder on the Orient Express (1974)

2009 #94
Sidney Lumet | 122 mins | TV | PG / PG

Murder on the Orient ExpressMurder on the Orient Express is arguably Agatha Christie’s most famous novel, perhaps because of its widely-known twist ending, or perhaps because it’s inspired in part by a high-profile true story, or perhaps because of this multi-Oscar-nominated all-star adaptation.

The plot is the stereotypical Christie set up: a group of fairly well-off people find themselves in a confined setting, one is killed, a sleuth works out who. This time it’s a train rather than a luxurious mansion, but the basics are there. This isn’t a criticism — I enjoy a good Christie adaptation as much as everyone else who’s kept the current TV incarnation on air for 21 years (and counting) — and here at least Christie has a number of twists to her usual style. As mentioned its launching point is a true story, the Armstrong kidnapping and murder being based on the Lindbergh kidnap of 1932 (just a couple of years before the book was written); the snow-bound train’s location (very apt after our recent weather) is certainly different to a stereotypical country estate setting; and then there’s the infamous ending.

I won’t spoil it here, just in case anyone doesn’t know it. Some are very critical of this particular denouement, labeling it an unsatisfactory cop-out that doesn’t make sense. Neither of these things are true. It is not reliant on an extraordinary coincidence — it might look that way at first, but the full explanation reveals it to be anything but — and there are numerous clues along the way as to what it might be, even if some are more thematic than the actual red herrings that almost lead Poirot astray. It’s a shame that knowledge of the ending is quite widespread these days, though that’s perhaps inevitable for a 76-year-old story. Still, I’ve done my bit.

In the lead role, Albert Finney’s Poirot may have received an Oscar nomination and, more importantly, been approved by Christie herself (according to some; according to others, she wasn’t impressed), but he now pales in the inevitable comparison with David Suchet’s definitive portrayal of the Belgian detective. Suchet has defined Poirot in a way few other major franchisable characters have been (Connery may be widely accepted as the best Bond, but there are plenty who’d choose Moore, Craig, Dalton and Brosnan, and you may even find someone who likes Lazenby; equally, Sherlockians may divide themselves between Rathbone and Brett, not to mention Cushing and hundreds of others). He has the advantage of being able to perfect the role across hundreds of hours of television, but nonetheless stands proud as the high-watermark that others can only try to reach (even those who played the role 15 years earlier).

Finney’s version is more obviously comical than Suchet’s. Where humour in the latter is derived from his serious fastidiousness, Finney plays it more for laughs; where Suchet seems almost solemn in his investigations Finney frequently bursts into laughter. It’s a broader interpretation of the character, one that ultimately lacks subtlety. At least Finney is thoroughly subsumed in the role, which means that after a while one does become accustomed to it.

The rest of the cast are well suited to their roles. Ingrid Bergman won the Best Supporting Actress Oscar for her role, though one wonders if it was a weak year for the category as her part is miniscule and not particularly memorable. Elsewhere, famous names such as Lauren Bacall, Sean Connery, John Gielgud, Michael York, and many more, round out a truly star-studded ensemble where each has but a small part to play. It must be relatively easy to attract big names to Christie adaptations — as the TV series still do — when the author is so beloved and the amount of time required to shoot is (for a guest star) so small. Best here, perhaps, is Martin Balsam as Poirot’s friend Bianchi, who’s treated to several good scenes, not least the series of interviews where after each he confidently declares “it was them!”

As a standalone film, Murder on the Orient Express is a skilled effort (I can’t comment on its quality as an adaptation because I’ve never read the book). For a viewer so familiar with Suchet’s interpretation of the character, however, even an all-star cast can’t quite remove the feeling that it’s not quite right. The Suchet-starring adaptation of this particular case has been filming recently, hopefully for broadcast later in 2010 (though knowing ITV we could have to wait as long as 2012), but even though it’ll have the definitive Poirot leading its cast, this film leaves a lot to live up to.

4 out of 5

(Originally posted on 15th January 2010.)