Moore Not Less - Escape to Athena
Another war picture for Roger
during his stint as James Bond - this time a 1979 World War 2 adventure
that makes a vague attempt to be The Great Escape but ends up playing
more like Hogan's Heroes on a bigger budget.
Producer Lew Grade assembled an
enviable cast for the film besides Roger. David Niven, Richard
Roundtree, Telly Savalas, Claudia Cardinale, Elliott Gould etc. Grade
felt the film was ultimately too much of a mish-mash that couldn't
decide if it was a comedy or an action film. He felt it should have
concentrated on the action. Despite bad reviews it didn't lose as much
money as he'd feared.
Roger plays (don't laugh) Major
Otto Hecht, the commandant of a POW camp for Allied soldiers in the
Mediterranean. He felt (as he usually did) that he was miscast and this
time he may have been right. Call me cynical but I think the location
shoot on the Greek island of Rhodes might have had something to do with
his decision to make the film. If nothing else it was probably a nice
In Escape to Athena, the setting
is an island in the Mediterranean where Allied POWS are ordered to
evacuate Greek artifacts by Roger's Major Otto Hecht. Hecht is an
Austrian who was an antiques dealer before the war and he's sending the
valueables to his sister in neutral Switzerland. Hecht is fairly normal
as far as German commandants go. He's no Nazi but rather someone who
just wants the war to end. He intends to feather his nest for the time
when this day arrives.
Nearby SS Commandant Major
Volkmann (Anthony Valentine) is another matter entirely. He's more your
stereotypical Nazi villain and a bit of a sadist. Hecht dislikes
Volkmann. Meanwhile, Zeno (Telly Savalas) is the head of the Greek
resistance and is asked to help spring the Allied prisoners so they can
secure a U-Boat fuel depot.
The Allied prisoners include
Professor Blake (David Niven), the main British officer amongst the
prisoners and an archaeologist, Richard Roundtree's American Sgt Nat
Judson, and Sonny Bono as Bruno Rotelli, an Italian POW and chef.
Elliott Gould and Stefanie Powers also feature as comedian Charlie and
stripper Dottie, two USO performers/prisoners who will stage a show as
Hecht throws his lot in with the
Allied POWs and if you think that's the whole shebang you're wrong.
There are a few twists and turns and the gang end up climbing Mount
Athena to disable a V-2 site and liberate some monks or something.
One can see what Lew Grade was
driving at when he lamented the lack of a consistent tone in Escape to
Athena. This film is all over the place and around the houses. The
action is solid enough when it arrives and perhaps this could have
worked better as a more straight ahead actioner. The director George
Pan Cosmatos later helmed Rambo: First Blood Part 2 and Cobra so he
knew a bit about action. Ok, we'll give him Rambo and forget Cobra.
The location is nicely shot at
times with some good aeriel footage. The photography is the main reason
to watch the film but after numerous sunny pans of the island even this
starts to get slightly dull.
The early parts of the film too
often feel like a comedy and not all of this is intentional. Let's get
Roger out of the way first. He can't do a German, or Austrian in this
case, accent. He sort of tries in a half-hearted way. Sometimes he
sounds like normal Rog and other times he sounds like he's in Allo
'Allo! Roger's approach to the film can be described as something like
this: Who cares? I'm in Rhodes. The sun is shining. I'm about to have a
slap up lunch with David Niven. And I'm getting paid for all of this.
Major Hecht's decision to throw
his lot in with the Allies is explained by him being Austrian. That
doesn't completely work. Hitler was Austrian. Generaloberst Lothar
Rendulic was Austrian. I could go on but you get the general idea.
Roger can never quite work out if he is supposed to play Hecht as cold
and calculating or sympathetic and so he ends up falling through the
gap and doing neither.
Elliott Gould is not a great
help as the wisecracking comic Charlie. Gould feels far too
contemporary for the World War 2 era and it always seems like he's
wandered into the wrong film by mistake. He quickly grows tiresome.
When Gould and Sir Rog (in his
German uniform) are onscreen together at the start it's hard to take
the film seriously. And did the Nazis use to let USO performers walk
around their POW camps cracking gags at their officers? It's probably
not best to look for realism in Escape to Athena.
The anachronistic nature of
Escape to Athena is cemented even further by Sonny Bono looking like
Cedric Kushner and Richard Roundtree playing Shaft again. Telly Savalas
plays Telly Savalas (in some nice knitwear) while Claudia Cardinale
vamps it up as a Greek resistance brothel madam.
The best performance in the film
is supplied by David Niven but he's not really given enough to do.
While everyone is flailing away in paddle boats trying to make sense of
the film or their characters Niven is gliding along in a punt having a
Escape to Athena is not a total
loss and it is competently made and directed but with that cast you
feel like the foundations for a minor cult classic were in place. Sadly
though it's never as funny nor as exciting as it should have been.