Valley of Eagles, 1951.
Directed by Terence Young.
Starring Jack Warner, John McCallum, Anthony Dawson, Nadia Gray and Mary Laura Wood.
Nils Ahlen (John McCallum), a Swedish scientist discovers a sensational method to transform sound into electricity. The potential of this discovery is enormous. His neglected wife Helga (Mary Laura Wood) mysteriously disappears with his assistant Sven Nystrom (Anthony Dawson) and secret, vital parts to his invention. Having discovered the couple’s route towards the Northern frontiers, Police Inspector Peterson (Jack Warner) together with his force and Ahlen, give chase on the roads and bitter trackless wastes in an effort to catch them.
To begin with I thought that I was in for a classic 1950’s espionage thriller; the dark shadows, a mysterious figure who clearly is hiding something, a stolen piece of scientific equipment that has the potential to help or destroy the world, and the chase that will ensue to catch the villains. What actually happens is a little strange. For the opening ten or fifteen minutes all of the signs are good. Then the fact that this potential weapon could fall into evil hands becomes secondary to a seemingly more important theme of how and where the pursuit takes the characters. The stiff acting doesn’t help this either with everyone seemingly unfettered by the fact this potentially huge weapon has been stolen, in addition Ahlen is only mildly flustered at the fact it appears his wife Helga is one of the thieves and Inspector Peterson seems more aggrieved that he hasn’t eaten for some time while searching Ahlen’s flat for clues!
The Inspector and his team scramble across the northern wastes, venturing into snowy mountains and gaining assistance from Laplanders on their mission. This is where the film throws off its apparently unwanted espionage shawl and dons a docu-drama style coat. The narrative almost becomes a lesson in the lifestyle of the Laplanders and their struggle for survival; desperately protecting their reindeer from the threat of wolves as they journey through the bitter weather. The title of the film takes its name from a particular segment during which trained eagles are used to fight off a deadly pack of wolves; this is because the use of rifles would set of an avalanche, risking the “Lapps” homes.
The training of the animals involved and the majority of the photography is excellent and is a good demonstration of pre-cgi efforts, although some of the animal deaths are perhaps over-saturated and only add more weight to the “documentary” tendencies.
The visuals of the chase and the “eagles” incident clearly justify the title of the film, but I felt that the tale of the scientific discovery and noir elements could have been emphasised more. In contrast the displays of the Laplander’s lifestyle could have been reduced.
However, the film’s deviations from the conventional “thriller based, wet Sunday afternoon entertainment fodder,” provided a slightly different option, and it was engaging and enjoyable. Director Terence Young of course went on to direct some of the best Bond movies and Valley of Eagles displays traits that would become familiar.
Flickering Myth Rating – Film: ★ ★ / Movie: ★ ★ ★
J-P Wooding – Follow me on Twitter.