Thursday, February 25, 2016

Snack-sized Reviews: "Eye of the Needle" and "Used Cars"

Eye of the Needle (1981). I'm not sure why this well-made suspense picture isn't better known. In many ways, it reminds me of The Day of the Jackal (although it's not quite in that class).

Donald Sutherland stars as Henry Faber, a German spy operating in Great Britain during World War II. Faber learns that an airfield in East Anglia is an elaborate deception to fool the Germans into thinking that an Allied invasion is targeted at a location other than Normandy. For security purposes, Faber needs to personally deliver this vital information to Hitler. However, British Intelligence is closing in around him and he must survive long enough to rendezvous with a U-boat off the coast of Storm Island.

He washes ashore on the isolated island during a raging storm and is found by the Rose family. Lucy (Kate Nelligan) and her husband David, who is mostly confined to a wheelchair, run a sheep farm. David, who once flew airplanes for the RAF, is a bitter man who recoils from the touch of his attractive wife. While David distrusts Faber, Lucy finds herself attracted to the stranger--and the feeling is mutual.

Based on Ken Follett's novel, the first half of Eye of the Needle is a tightly paced thriller in which the ruthless Faber narrowly avoids escape on multiple occasions, leaving innocent victims in his path. The plot takes an intriguing turn when it shifts focus to the relationship between Faber and Lucy. Faber's feelings toward Lucy remain effectively ambiguous all the way through to the climax. Are his actions spurred by sexual gratification alone? Are they driven by years of loneliness created by living a lie? Or has he developed some kind of emotional attachment toward her (I don't think it's love)?

The Isle of Mull.
Donald Sutherland gives one of his best performances and Kate Nelligan, one of my favorite actresses of the 1980s, holds her own. The film also gets a huge boost from Miklos Rosza's lovely score (one of his last) and the stunning scenery. The ficticious Storm Island is "played" by the Isle of Mull. If those haunting seascapes look familiar, then you're probably a fan of Powell and Pressberger's I Know Where I'm Going (1945).

Used Cars (1980). What do Forrest Gump, Snake Plissken, and Laverne & Shirley have in common? If you answered the rowdy cult classic Used Cars, you'd be correct. It was the second film directed by Robert Zemeckis, starred Kurt Russell, and featured Lenny & Squiggy (Michael McKean and David L. Lander) in supporting roles. 

Wanna buy a car from this guy?
Russell plays Rudy Russo, an ultra ambitious used car salesman trying to save $60,000 so he can buy the nomination for a State Senate seat. Rudy will do anything to sell a car! In the hilarious opening montage, we see him rolling back an odometer, fastening a loose bumper with a wad of bubble gum, repairing a tire with "Fix Flat," and spraying "new car scent" into old cars. It's no surprise that the New Deal Car Lot is on probation for consumer fraud. Still, Rudy may be more ethical than Roy L. Fuchs (Jack Warden), who owns the competing Auto Emporium across the street.

Roy has paid off a local politician to learn that a new highway will be coming right through his lot. So, he hatches a scheme to take over the New Deal Car Lot, which, by the way, is owned by his nice-guy twin brother (Warden again, of course). And if it involves causing his brother to have a heart attack, well, that's just business.

Jack Warden as the villain.
If you're looking for subtle high-brow comedy, then avoid Used Cars like one of those car deals that sounds too good to be true. However, if you admire a movie that will do almost anything for a laugh, then you'll probably enjoy this broad farce. For example, when you see a pretty model's dress caught in the trunk of a car during a live commercial, you can guess what's going to happen to that dress. And, yes, that's just what happens. And, while it's a little rude, it is funny.

Kurt Russell and Jack Warden attack their roles with relish and seem to be having a grand time. Still, Gerrit Graham almost steals the film as Russell's fellow huckster and superstitious friend ("Red car is bad luck and trouble"). He and Toby the Beagle have the best scene in Used Cars. Click here to watch it.


  1. Eye of the Needle sounds like an engrossing movie. Donald Sutherland and Kate Nelligan?! Sign me up!

    As for Used Cars, I might not rush out to see it, but the premise sounds really fun and I like that Jack Warden is in a dual role. I saw the scene you linked to – how on earth did they film it without bursting out laughing?

  2. I had forgotten that "Eye of the Needle" had a Rosza score. Haven't seen it in years.

    I don't even recall the title "Used Cars". I can still be amazed by how many movies there are that I haven't seen. It sounds like fun.

  3. Toby the dog--what a scene stealer. "Used Cars" is a hilarious movie. I like the part where they do a live commercial and say the "F" word on tv.

  4. Used Cars is my favorite film of all time. If I've watched it once, I've watched it 50 times. Still hilarious. One of the all time quotable movies too; many of Jack Warden's profane remarks were improvised.

  5. I've heard of Eye of the Needle so many times and never bothered to look into what it was about.....but wow, now I certainly will watch it! Miklos Rozsa score, a great plot, AND the Isle of Mull? ( I'm a huge IKWIG fan )