Valley of Eagles on DVD

Monday, 24 February 2014 15:15 Written by 

The hardly-seen Valley of Eagles out now on DVDA priceless piece of tech is stolen, the key to a new alternative form of power, and a Nobel Prize-winning scientist’s wife goes missing in this intriguing adventure film. John McCallum stars as Dr Nils Ahlen, the aforementioned boffin, who goes in search of parts of his radical energy-generating equipment which, in the wrong hands, could be used to propel a missile. He is joined by Inspector Peterson (Jack Warner, the legendary George Dixon of Dixon of Dock Green). They must chase after Ahlen’s high-maintenance wife Helga (Mary Laura Wood) and Ahlen’s assistant Strom (Anthony Dawson), as their journey takes them from the icy Swedish capital to a treacherous, wolf-riddled mountain valley in “Valley of Eagles”.

What begins as an urban detective story evolves into something quite different. As they journey towards the northern frontiers, Ahlen and Peterson come into contact with some Lapp reindeer herders, and ultimately encounter a tribe with a very unusual hunting technique (the clue is in the film's title!).

Nature and the inhospitable environment take over as their primary enemy in this thrilling escapade adapted and directed by Terence Young of “Dr No”, “From Russia with Love” and “Thunderball” fame.

Made in 1951, this black and white yarn moves along briskly and leaves a lasting impression on the viewer, especially if they happen to be an animal lover. How much suffering was endured, in particular by the dozens of reindeer in the movie, may well be something to gloss over. The level of realism which we see on-screen we can only hope was down to good direction, rather than something animal humane societies would be in up-in-arms with if this was a 21st Century production. The setting is quite bleak to begin with, but the plot developments lead it into very dark and unexpected territory indeed.

There is some respite to the doom and gloom, however, primarily in the amusing interplay between Ahlen and Peterson, who are only too happy to trade wry insults, not least about what they describe as their ‘silly hats’ and also their sledging prowess. Ahlen also gets distracted by the attentions of Kara (Nadia Gray), one of the Lapp tribe, who doesn’t have a good word for his wandering wife!

As noted, it is a very strange about-turn to see the whole concept of energy created from sound being little more than a Hitchcockian McGuffin to ignite the cross country chase that follows. For decades there have been many stories of different forms of suppression of alternative energies, mainly by the confiscation of patents. Certainly the concept at the heart of the film’s beginning is actually being pitched by a real-life company called Sonic Dynamics, which has developed a unique technology that uses sound waves as a catalyst for converting ambient heat energy into kinetic and/or electrical energy. They have announced that their ‘Acoustic Turbine’ enables the generation of power with a minimal carbon footprint, and have a wide range of applications for it, including on-site and portable power generation.

The research came from a mathematician called Dr James K Thurber, an inventor of numerous technologies and a professor emeritus at Purdue University. In early experiments, a high frequency siren was used to generate chamber pressures of about two atmospheres, an output energy of approximately two kilowatts which could be used for heating purposes. However, this high frequency siren found little use in most environments, where such a sound output would be unacceptable or dangerous. Other interesting breakthroughs have seen sound fields used to levitate objects. So, the science of “Valley of Eagles” may not be far-fetched as you might think.

And so to the cast and their backgrounds. Cult TV Festival fans might like to know that John McCallum, who moved away from acting in 1957, was executive producer on 86 episodes of kangaroo-starring Skippy (1968-1970), a position he also filled on Barrier Reef (1971-72), and was the producer of the James Laurenson 1972-73 vehicle Boney!

At the time, Jack Warner had only just played jinxed copper PC George Dixon in the 1950 film “The Blue Lamp”, and ultimately the appeal of that character saw him reprieve the role as Dixon of Dock Green for a huge stint on BBC1, 432 episodes from 1955 to 1976. His portrayal of Dixon was held in such high regard by the officers of Paddington Green Police Station that they bore the coffin at Warner’s funeral.

Mary Laura Wood had “Valley of Eagles” as her first major role. She went on to guest on episodes of The Count of Monte Cristo, The Adventures of Sir Lancelot, The New Adventures of Charlie Chan, White Hunter, The Flying Doctor, The Vise, International Detective and Interpol Calling. She played a ‘Blonde’ in “Doctor at Sea” (1955), and starred alongside Denholm Elliott, Peter Lorre, Diana Dors and Leo McKern in “Scent of Mystery” (1960). Her last screen role was in the Brian Clemens-scripted Danziger production “Fate Takes a Hand” in 1962.

Nadia Gray (who played the role of Nadia in The Prisoner “The Chimes of Big Ben”) went on to be one of the stars of 1960’s Fellini version of “La Dolce Vita”. Other films of note in the English language include “The Captain’s Table” (1959) with Donald Sinden and John Gregson, “I Like Money” (1961) with Peter Sellers, Herbert Lom and Leo McKern, and “The Naked Runner” (1967) with Frank Sinatra.

Blink and you may miss a very early speaking role for Christopher Lee, as an uncredited member of the Special Department of the Police, Detective Holt – tall, dark and slender, you may well have to do a double-take to actually be sure it is him.

Anthony Dawson played Professor Dent in “Dr No” before becoming notable as the first screen incarnation of Bond villain Ernst Stavro Blofeld in “From Russia With Love” and “Thunderball” (although only his cat-filled lap was seen). Needless to say, Dawson worked with director Terence Young on all three of those Bond films. Dawson also had guest roles in a quartet of episodes of Danger Man, as well as the likes of The Saint, Interpol Calling, International Detective and Cool Million.

As an aside, it has long been speculated that Blofeld (seen in his entirety when played by Donald Pleasence in “You Only Live Twice”) and his evil organization SPECTRE will be returning in Bond 24. That now may happen, as MGM has won a fifty year legal battle with the Kevin McClory estate, which saw the rights for these characters revert back to the studio. There has been no confirmation from the studio, but fans have hope.

“Valley of Eagles” Director Terence Young was a paratrooper in the British Army during World War II, and was wounded in the Battle of Arnhem. Whilst being nursed back to health in a Dutch hospital, he was taken care of by a 16-year-old volunteer nurse named Audrey Heenstra - who became better known as Audrey Hepburn. More than 20 years later, he directed her in “Wait Until Dark”.

It is difficult to compare “Valley...” to anything made in more recent times, but I would hazard a combination of the work of author Alistair MacLean, “Dances with Wolves”, “City Slickers” and “The Grey” may be near the mark.

This is apparently the first-ever DVD release of the movie and the audio-visual quality is not too bad. There is some crackle in both respects but if anything it enhances the ‘boys-own’ feel of the piece.

DVD extras on this release include:

  • Poster gallery
  • Lobby card gallery
  • Stills gallery
  • Original cast and crew biographies
  • Original press stories

These are very slim pickings to be had, but the press stories at least have some interesting information about the making of the film, and are only too keen to point out that the temperature was 30 below on location in Norway!

All in all, for a movie of its age, the intriguing narrative style delivers plenty of emotions – high drama, peril, humour, scientific speculation, and times when you may just have to watch between knotted fingers. For a film to still make an impact with an audience on that many levels, it’s definitely one for more than just the buffs!

“Valley of Eagles” (1951) is out now on DVD, courtesy of Fabulous Films / Fremantle Media Enterprises. The main feature has a running time of 79 minutes approx, carries a ‘PG’ certificate, and has a RPP for £14.99, or get it for less at www.culttvstore.com

 

Additional reporting by Alex J Geairns.

 

 

Last modified on Monday, 24 February 2014 15:24

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