Cannon Film Review/Comment
A Continuing Retrospective of Important Cannon Films. Honest.
EAGLES ATTACK AT DAWN
“Israeli POWs who escape from a notorious Arab prison return for a dramatic rescue of their comrades”
Everything you need to know about Cannon is in this great review. This whole website could be condensed into it.
Eagles Attack at Dawn
by Nathan Decker
This is a Menahem Golan/Yorum Globus production, and that should tell you all you need to know. These two Israeli guys are action movie specialists, giving the world a series of overly-bloody, badly-acted, socially-irrelevant movies for the last 40 years. These gems include 1986's The Delta Force, 1981's Enter the Ninja, and the Missing In Action, Death Wish and the America Ninja series in the 1980s. Eagles Attack at Dawn is typical of their early efforts, long on action, short on plot, though strangely appealing and watchable.
Released in Israel in 1970, this movie made the rounds of late-night television and cheap-ass video rental stores for 30 years, variously titled Hostages in the Gulf, The Big Escape and From Hell to Victory, along with some totally unpronounceable Hebrew names. At some point in the early 2000s, it ended up in public domain status, and was picked up by Platinum Disc Corporation and released on DVD. This is what I will be reviewing today. The film quality is typical of a cheap digital transfer, with a lot of washed-out colors and overly dark tones. The sound is fair, but the music is often overwhelming. It clocks in at a full 96 minutes.
I must say that I was very impressed by the quality of the acting in this movie! Most of the characters were fleshed out well, and there was a lot of dialogue for us to get to know many of them. The action scenes are tight and fast paced, and more realistic than you might think. There was also a lot more humor in the script than I expected, both from the Israelis and the Egyptians, which was a pleasant change from these types of movies. If you can find this anywhere (good luck) I highly recommend it for a quality b-movie action flick.
And now on to our show...
A little historical perspective first. In 1970, Israel was engaged in a "war of attrition" of its own with its Arab neighbors. A nasty war had been fought three years previously, and simmering border conflicts were a constant threat. It was in this culture of fear and danger that this movie was made, and to Israeli audiences of 1970 it must have had a totally different effect than on me sitting in my living room in Indiana in 2005. To the Israelis, the Arabic bad guys were real, not just movie characters.
We open at the El' Muzzir prison, located near a town somewhere in the hinterlands of Egypt. This is the most notorious prison in the Middle East, we're told, a nasty place where captured soldiers and political prisoners alike are sent to be used and abused. We're not given any exact location, and certainly the actual building is an abandoned structure that was captured by Israel in the 1967 war. It's never explicitly stated to be in Egypt, and you have to look for clues to make a decision. I'm going with Egypt after watching the whole movie two times. Reasons why I'm sure (sort of...) the prison is in Egypt, probably in the Sinai...
The prison's commandant is Major Heikal, one of the most sadistic and reclusive men in Egypt. Major Heikal is played by thirty-something Joseph Shiloach, a popular Israeli actor with some memorable roles as Arab characters. He played a similar role as Egyptian Major Halil in 1968's Sinai Commandoes, and I'm not totally sure that our movie is not an informal sequal to that one. He was also in 1975's Moses with Burt Lancaster and as Joseph in 1979's Jesus. Unfortunately, later in his career he was reduced to roles in such losers as 1993's American Cyborg: Steel Warrior, ouch.
As our film opens, we see two United Nations observers arrive in a jeep. They're here to check on five Israeli commandoes that were recently captured sneaking around "the capitol" and brought here. They're led through the halls into the basement cells, where they see that the Israelis are alive, but clearly not well-treated. It's nice to see that the prison is OSHA approved, there are bright red fire extinguishers on the walls in about four places down in the cells.
When the UN guys ask for proof that these captives are indeed spies, Major Heikel says that in the morning he will give it to them. Since these two UN guys are pansy ascot-wearing Frenchies, you just know that they're not going to get the real story here.
We then see Major Heikel, perhaps later that day, beating and torturing one of the commandoes named Moishe. Heikel will break this young man and get him to lead them to a hidden cache placed somewhere in the area. Man, this dude is seriously evil-looking here, though a cartoonish cardboard cut-out of what Israelis thought of Arabs in 1970.
The next morning, the five commandoes, along with Major Heikel, the UN guys and about ten soldiers, all go out to the countryside. There, beneath a telephone pole, Moishe starts to dig out a shallow hole. The other commandoes protest, begging him to stop before he "gives them away". The man unearths a metal box with Hebrew writing on it, which I assume is a wire tap for the phone lines. Major Heikel smugly turns to the UN guys, and then orders the commando to open the box.
I guess that the box is booby trapped to explode (?), because Moishe suddenly yells for his fellow commandos to duck as he open the lid. But something goes wrong, and the box doesn't explode. Major Heikel, really mad now, shoots and injures poor Moishe with his revolver and all hell breaks loose.
In the confusion, one of the other commandoes clocks a guard with a rock and steals his submachinegun. He then runs off into the countryside, pursued by the guards. Running and dodging through the broken, rocky land, the Israeli manages to stay ahead of his pursuers. During his flight, he shoots down one Egyptian guard, but is hit by two 9mm bullets in the side. Badly wounded, the man crawls down a rocky slope and into a small stream. Ouch, that had to be a painful scene for the actor, who really sold out his body to make it seem real. His pilfered gun jammed with mud (bad commando, not sure he would have allowed that), he can only hide in a small cave and hope that they miss him.
And miss him they do, and sometime later we see him in a hospital back in Israel. Doctors tend to his bullet wounds and pull him through. He's in a coma, though, for two weeks before awaking. This man is named Eli, and he's played by 31-year old Yehoram Gaon, who would also star in the excellent 1977 Globus/Golan thriller Entebbe: Operation Thunderbolt.
When Eli awakes from his two-week coma, the first person he sees is an Exceedingly Hot Nurse. Not a bad way to open your eyes, I say. This girl is actually an unaccredited Michal Bat-Adams, who has in the last 20 years become one of Israel's most distinguished female directors and screen writers.
Soon after he wakes up, a pair of Israeli Army officers comes to see Eli in the hospital. Eli is enraged that the Israeli government is doing nothing for the men. They say that the matter is being handled by the UN, which just sets Eli off in a tizzy. "They will hang them!" cries Eli over and over, gesturing wildly with his hands. This scene is one of the better acted crazy-man-rants you will see, with Eli really pouring on the emotion and the rambling diatribes. Well done! In the end, the officers leave and Eli steams and stews in helplessness.
So, some time later, Eli sneaks out of his room, running into the Exceedingly Hot Nurse in the hallway (Wow, that's a great little short nurse's dress, I want to get sick in Israel!). Apparently, Eli then either borrows or steals a hospital ambulance (!) because we next see him driving one all alone. This is a cool late 1960s Chevy Suburban, and written on the side is "American Red Mogen Dovid for Israel" in English.
Eli goes to see Beno, who used to lead his commando unit before it recently disbanded. Beno is now a civilian rancher at a kibbutz. Beno is played by 47-year old Rick Jason, best known for the 1960s television series Combat!, and for starring movie roles in a variety of forgettable films from Asia and Europe. He's a large man, about 6'4" tall, with a commanding presence and rugged leading-man looks.
Eli tells Beno about the mental games and torture Major Heikel forced upon them and how it affected him badly. The Major had them blindfolded and lined up against a wall, a firing squad before them. At his order, they opened fire, but the bullets were blanks. It's not clear from dialogue if this happened more than once, but probably so. That would make you kinda edgy, no? Eli also says that they have been "in there for three months", which tells us that probably nine or ten weeks passed between their capture and when Eli escaped. That's a long time in such a horrible prison.
Beno agrees to get together the old team ("Some of our friends") and try and rescue the captives outside of proper channels. We're never really told exactly what these "friends" use to be, but we can assume that they were commandoes, with a lot of experience in small unit actions and raids.
Now we go to a planning session for the raid, where a scale model of the El' Muzzir prison and the surrounding land has been built. Eli and Beno are here, along with four other commandoes. The meeting is led by one of the officers who came to see him earlier, who is clearly giving tacit approval to this unsanctioned raid. At no point in this movie does it seem like the Israeli government, or even the military hierarchy, is assisting with, or even aware of, this raid. This is essentially a private affair. I guess in real life things like this happen all the time, especially with highly trained commandoes in war zones.
They talk about the bridge over the creek surrounding the prison and the surrounding land. They point out a small abandoned pump house nearby, this is where they will head first, to wait out the day until night. It's said here that the prison is 30 miles from the border, which I assume to be 30 miles into the Sinai. The officer then says that he has someone else in mind to help them, using a different approach. We have to guess what he's talking about, but I assume that it involves the "American journalist" we meet later.
I might as well detail the commando team here, as they're about to leave for Egypt. The team consists of six men, all dressed in green desert-style Israeli camouflage BDUs. They're armed with one 3.5inch bazooka (!), one FN FAL assault rifle, and five Uzi submachineguns. Four of the Uzis have the wooden rifle stock and the last has the folding wire stock. I'm sure they all have pistols and knives as well. That bazooka must have been a bear to haul on foot all this distance, hope they shared the load.
Next we see the commando team working its way through the frontier, presumably along the DMZ in Sinai. The team cuts some barbed wire, scuttles underneath and sneaks past a border post. They filmed it in the daylight, but used a day-for-night filter and the foleyed in sounds of crickets to make it appear to be the dead of night.
Ok, now we leave our commandos for a bit. We see that in the town near the prison, an American magazine reporter from Life Magazine (really, he flashes one when talking about his employers!) is checking into the hotel. The reporter is named Abe Koleman, and he's played by 35-year old American actor Peter Brown. After this movie, he would go on to have some good roles over the years, including Steve in 1974's Foxy Brown with Pam Grier and Danny in 1982's The Concrete Jungle. He was also a regular on The Young and the Restless, Days of our Lives and Loving in the 1980s. In our movie, the reporter is a constant reminder that this is 1970. From the huge plastic-framed glasses, to the hip hugger polyester pants, to the floppy haircut, this man is so mired in the disco era that it hurts.
The reporter is here to tour the El' Muzzir prison and interview Major Heikel, both tasks which have been nearly impossible for anyone before. So, we go with the reporter as he meets the Major in a garden cafe. They talk about this and that, and the reporter shows him some photos of the inside of the prison. The Major is shocked and angry at these photos, which show him abusing some prisoners. He claims to have gotten them from an escaped prisoner who was with the Israeli intelligence service (but we find out later that they came from a traitor on the prison staff).
The Major is very, very reluctant to let the reporter into the prison, but he has papers from the Defense Ministry giving him permission and access, though in light of future knowledge, these are most likely fakes. If the Major seeks confirmation of the reporter's claims from his superiors, we never see it. We can only hope that he called the Defense Ministry on this one.
In a short interlude, after the cafe meeting, we see Major Heikel going to the hotel. He has the desk clerk let him into the reporter's room and he pokes around a bit. We see him open a suitcase and rifle around in the clothes. He finds a suit coat with a label that reads "Rafaeli, Made in Israel". Hmmm...what's this about?
Back to the commandos. Sometime later, don't know how long, but it's now fully light, the team reaches the abandoned pump house. It's currently the home of a local Arab herder, who is most surprised to see six heavily-armed commandoes burst into his house. They tie him up and Eli takes his clothes.
So, dressed as an Arab, Eli ventures into the village near to the prison. He locates a cafe full of off-duty guards from the prison. An older sergeant is here, and he recognizes Eli's secret wave from across the cafe. Clearly, the sergeant knows why Eli is here, perhaps they even planned on meeting here, it's never stated. Anyway, the sergeant says loud enough for Eli to hear that he's going to the mosque now. Eli waits a bit and then follows him.
Unfortunately, an Egyptian Army officer who is also in the cafe thinks that Eli is acting suspicious and orders a soldier to follow him. We see this soldier stop Eli and ask for his papers. With no recourse, Eli must kill the man with his knife and hide the body behind a wall. He then goes on to the mosque, where he and the sergeant talk while praying. Well, I'm sure the Jewish Eli is just play-acting like he's bowing to Allah.
It seems that this man was the one who sneaked the photos out earlier, and was paid handsomely for it. He claims to be a Druze, a religious minority persecuted by the Egyptian majority. He also claims to have been in the Egyptian Army during the 1967 war and to have killed Israelis in that war. He's worried that his past will not let him get asylum in Israel if he helps them. Eli, waves all that away, saying that they can overlook that and take him back with them if he helps them get the commandoes out of the prison.
Eli leads the sergeant back to the pump house, where he talks with Beno and the others about the prison and the security. Some of the commandos clearly are uncomfortable with this Egyptian in their midst, even if he's helping them, and treat him rudely.
Just then, they spy a jeep driving up to the prison gate. In it are Major Heikel and the American reporter, who seems to be deliberately waving a white hankercheif as he wipes his brow. Beno and Eli watch this through binoculars and Eli asks if that "was the signal". So, I'm guessing that the reporter is indeed part of the plan, the "special person" that the officer said was going to help them?
Inside the prison, we see the reporter wandering around taking photos. Major Heikel rightly suspects that he's an Israeli spy, and a quirky bit of interplay is seen as he acts nice to him, while plotting his death. The reporter is indeed an Israeli spy, but is aware that the Egyptians are on to him, so he's here feeding them false information. The Major correctly guesses that the reporter is with the commando team outside the prison that he knows is there. He's going to let him go back to the commandoes and let them attack, and then he's going to slaughter them. He knows that Eli is back in the area now, because the officer at the cafe identified him. He also just "feels" that Beno is near. Beno spent two years in El' Muzzir, and when he left he pledged to come back and kill Heikel one day.
Major Heikel has some really strong character scenes here, where the actor really shines in the role. He really is a fine actor and gives the Major a human side, as well as a distinct sense of humor. Most of the Evil Prison Commandants in these sort of low-budget action movies are single-note one-shot characters, but in many ways Major Heikel is much more interesting than any of the "heroes" we're compelled to root for.
The reporter meets with the four Israeli prisoners and tells them on the sly that the breakout is coming. They all know that the Egyptians are listening in, but seem to be planning on that. We will have to wait and see what becomes of all this double dealing. The Major seems to think he has it all figured out, that he knows they're coming in at 4am to attack the prison, probably concealed in the morning water truck. He refuses to contact the Army headquarters, as he wants to have all the glory and medals himself when the attack is repulsed.
So, the reporter now leaves the prison, being driven back to his hotel by an Egyptian soldier. They stop along the way, so that he can photograph the soldier looking all studly. He coldcocks the man and takes the truck back to the pump house. There he meets up with the commandoes hidden there and they introduce themselves. The reporter is indeed an Israeli agent, sent in to gather information and to spread some falsehoods around to make their raid easier.
Hmm...you know, I was going to detail every move of the coming attack on the prison. I was going to give you a blow-by-blow, firefight-by-firefight account of this exciting and deadly attack. However, I'm tired, it's late at night, I have to go to work in six hours, and I want this to end. Therefore, I'm just going to give you an overview with some body counts.
Suffice to say, the commandos assault the prison and successfully rescue the four Israeli hostages. In the action, one Israeli commando is wounded by gunfire and the Druze sergeant is killed helping them. The commandos wreak terrible carnage on the Egyptian guards, however, killing or mortally wounding a whopping 29 (!) of them in a variety of messy ways. As well, they blow up one water truck, one bridge, and one big door.
Some of the highlights of the raid include the realistic showing of the effects of grenade fragmentation in enclosed areas, the limitations of submachineguns in long-range shooting, a few Egyptian soldiers who are actually smarter than the Israelis, and the confusion caused by nighttime raids. However, it seems that substantial chunks were edited out for this cut, leaving some noticeable gaps in the action, especially near the end. I suspect that the original Israeli version lasted 30 minutes longer. The Israelis primarily use their Uzis and hand grenades, the Egyptians fight back with their Swedish-made Carl Gustov submachineguns, Soviet-made AK-47s rifles, and what looks like several Czech-made VZ-30 light machineguns.
Escaping through the countryside on foot, hotly pursued by the Egyptians, the wounded commando dies of his injuries, one of the freed hostages steps on a mine and is killed, and Major Heikel gets blown up by his own troops. Some mortar attacks, some minefields and some dramatic overacting later, they make it to Israeli territory. Everyone is happy and the credits roll.
Two days later, newly elected Egyptian President Sadat, enraged by this clear breach of the 1967 cease fire, ordered the military mobilized. Caught in a period of reorganization, the Israeli military was slow to both recognize the threat and to react to it. Egyptian planes and missiles struck first, followed by two prongs of a strong combined arms ground attack. Within 72 hours, Egyptian tanks were in the outskirts of Tel Aviv, and the Syrian and Jordanian armies were preparing their own invasions. Left with little alternative, Israel released the nuclear genie out of her bottle, obliterating Cairo with an air-launched cruise missile. Pulled into the conflict, the American Sixth Fleet rushed to contain the situation, but ran into a Soviet naval presence off Syria. Words were exchanged, shots were fired, nukes were tossed and the entire world was soon engulfed in a nuclear conflagration. 150 years later, the mutated descendents still poke through the charred and rusted ruins of man's former glory...
Bonus! Some handy statistics for you:
16: Number of cigarettes smoked by
Written in September 2005 by Nathan Decker.
This brilliant review was kindly provided by Million Monkey Theatre/Nathan Decker –thanks Nate!
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