On Wings of Eagles (1986)
Let’s start by pointing out this two part TV movie is not to be confused with The Wings of Eagles, the 1957 John Ford-John Wayne biopic of Frank Wead. No, this time it’s a fact based retelling of two American businessman in 1978 being held in Iran for crimes against the state. The bail is set at a paltry 13 million dollars. The company they work for belongs to Ross Perot as played by Richard Crenna. By the way, Crenna makes for a better Perot on camera than the real Perot ever did though Dana Carvey always kept me in stitches doing his Perot shtick on comedy shows. Crenna wants his employees evacuated from the volatile situation erupting within the borders of the Iranian nation but is finding very little help through political channels.
“Whatever it takes. Whoever it takes.” Crenna is determined to get his men out of harm’s way. Even if that includes putting himself in the same situation his employees/friends are in. The incarcerated pair are played by Jim Metzler and Louis Giambalvo. Based on historical fact, we’ll hear names like Kissinger tossed about to no avail leaving Crenna no choice but to call an old associate. The retired Col. “Bull” Simons masterfully played by the legendary Burt Lancaster.
If this story hadn’t been a true tale, then we could have veered off into the territory of The Wild Geese. I say this due to the fact that both Geese and Eagles were directed by the same man. Mr. Andrew V. McLaglen. An old pro at action oriented adventures from the 1960’s onward and a graduate of the John Ford stock company. So in theory this film could be stretched to connect to that other Wings of Eagles flick if your into those six degree games.
Both Burt’s commanding on screen presence and calm demeanor add to this story’s strengths. He has a less than perfect squad of fighting men/business associates of Crenna’s under his command and they’ll all have to do some condition training before slowly making there way individually into Iran where they’ll be watched from the moment they enter the country. Burt will play his hand out as if this is a chess match. There will be plenty of setbacks on the road to freeing the two men from jail ranging from political upheaval when the Shah of Iran flees the country to the two men being moved to a far more secure prison fortress.
“Know this, we will not stop till we bring you home.”
Burt is a great improviser and will adapt to each situation through careful studying and street smarts. He reads people very well when it comes to who he places his trust in which includes a young Iranian played by Esai Morales. With the young man’s help, the escape plan goes into action but this is only the beginning of the journey. Once freed, Burt must lead his men and the escaped convicts across the Iranian borders into the relatively safe country of Turkey. No easy feat as Burt points out, “As long as you’re in Iran, you’re in jail”
Trivia time. I spotted the behemoth Miguel Angel Fuentes here as a Turkish freedom fighter. If you’re a fan of Charles Bronson then you’ll know him from a particular scene opposite Charlie in a dive bar in The Evil That Men Do and just how strong a set of hands our mustached hero possesses when forced to face off against Miguel.
This whole trek is going to result in a border crossing standoff and if it all went down in real life as it did here in the movie, it’s a harrowing escape. Crenna and Lancaster are the only real “name” actors involved here from my point of view and each is up to the task at hand. I know Crenna is no Ross Perot but as a film fan, I’m not making any comparisons. Crenna is a wealthy businessman who refuses to let his friends rot in jail and uses his money and connections to get them out and does a fine job on screen. Not unusual I should add. Crenna was always a favorite of mine who worked in a number of fine made for TV flicks. As for Burt, this is a real good role for the aging icon. He’s underplaying everything and with that in mind, brings a stoic, rock like presence to the story when things are crumbling around his unit. Burt was a busy man during this season having Tough Guys in the cinema, and another project on TV, Barnum. Sadly Burt’s health would decline fairly quickly in the next few years culminating in the stroke that left him incapacitated until his death in 1994.
Politically, I suppose we can look at this film from different sides depending on one’s viewpoint but looking at it as purely a dramatic story of men in peril and those that set out to rescue them, this makes for an above average viewing experience when the networks were in the business of producing the two part television event.