Eye of the Needle Blu-ray Review

Terrific, stylish war-themed thriller with two great central performances 4 Stars

Richard Marquand’s Eye of the Needle is such a masterfully layered thriller, slow in its exposition and rising ever more gradually to its pulse-pounding conclusion that it deserves to be far more well known than it is.

Eye of the Needle (1981)
Released: 24 Jul 1981
Rated: R
Runtime: 112 min
Director: Richard Marquand
Genre: Romance, Thriller, War
Cast: Donald Sutherland, Stephen MacKenna, Philip Martin Brown, Kate Nelligan
Writer(s): Ken Follett (based on the novel by), Stanley Mann (screenplay)
Plot: A ruthless German spy, trying to get out of Britain with vital information about D-Day, must spend time with a young woman and her crippled husband.
IMDB rating: 7.1
MetaScore: N/A

Disc Information
Studio: MGM
Distributed By: Twilight Time
Video Resolution: 1080P/AVC
Aspect Ratio: 1.85:1
Audio: English 2.0 DTS-HDMA
Subtitles: English SDH
Rating: R
Run Time: 1 Hr. 51 Min.
Package Includes: Blu-ray
Case Type: clear keep case
Disc Type: BD50 (dual layer)
Region: All
Release Date: 09/13/2016
MSRP: $29.95

The Production: 4.5/5

Richard Marquand’s Eye of the Needle is such a masterfully layered thriller, slow in its exposition and rising ever more gradually to its pulse-pounding conclusion that it deserves to be far more well known than it is. Based on a best-selling novel and featuring two wonderfully astute actors in galvanizing performances, Eye of the Needle is a great World War II-set film with none of its action coming anywhere near the battlefield.

For four years since the start of World War II, Heinrich/Henry Faber (Donald Sutherland) has been supplying to the Germans Allied war secrets and plans from within Britain as an American-educated radio operator. When people have gotten too close his secret, his murderous stiletto puts an end to any threat, acts which have earned him his code name “The Needle.” Learning of the proposed European landing site for the final invasion, Faber attempts to sail a small craft to his German U-boat rendezvous in a driving storm that smashes his boat and washes him up on Storm Island where embittered, drunken ex-RAF pilot (Christopher Cazenove) crippled on his honeymoon has retreated to tend sheep with his unhappy, frustrated wife Lucy (Kate Nelligan) and their son. For the first time in his life, the robotic Faber lets his guard down with this charming woman so hungry for affection, and she responds to his attentions in kind, but Faber still has a job to do, and alerting the U-boat should be easy with a shortwave radio set on the small island’s lighthouse with only an old keeper to get out of the way.

Stanley Mann’s screenplay based on the best seller by Ken Follett does a terrific job establishing the identities of the story’s three main characters, “The Needle,” Lucy, and her husband David, in scenes which show many facets of their personalities which ebb and flow as events transpire which will bring them into a life-threatening triangle before the film ends. Director Richard Marquand doesn’t go out of his way to keep the audience informed of his every movement in the early going trusting that the script will tie things together beautifully once the focus of the story narrows. There’s a craftily executed sequence where Faber sneaks onto an Army base: is it sabotage? is it reconnaissance? The answer is more surprising than that, and the film is filled with similar surprises that might not rock a viewer back in his seat but definitely give the film a unique flavor and texture. The Needle’s kills aren’t necessarily graphic but are violent enough and yet lacking in vehemence that they stick with you: when he murders a long-time friend (Philip Martin Brown) halfway through the movie, we’re made to see how much the Needle lacks a conscience or a trace of sentiment, and yet because there’s nothing remotely fiendish in his kills, he never quite loses a bit of audience attraction, lucky since he brings a bloom to the cheeks of the miserable Lucy and seems to momentarily gain some humanity himself in several lovemaking scenes which are tantalizingly erotic without any graphic excesses. The final face-off between Lucy and Henry is enormously tense and superbly directed to keep anxiety levels at a fever pitch. The film ends abruptly, however, without providing a neat, satisfactory button to close out the show for the audience.

Both Kate Nelligan and Donald Sutherland reach career peaks in these roles. She’s luminously beautiful and tragic at the same time, hungry for affection and desperate for human contact so that her succumbing to a spy’s advances are completely understandable. His role has enormous range, from miming pleasantries early on when he’s really an emotionless automaton to showing genuine tenderness and desire for this beautiful, needful woman only to return to his robotic posture for the film’s ending sequences. Christopher Cazenove displays engaging joie de vivre in the early wedding sequence only to become a shell of his former self in all his remaining scenes as the angry, sullen sheepherder who blames the world for his own foolish mistake that brought him to his current plight. Philip Martin Brown is engaging as Henry’s friend Billy who wants to fight in the war more than anything, and Ian Bannen is excellent in sporadic appearances as an Army Intelligence officer on the trail of “The Needle.”

Video: 4.5/5

3D Rating: NA

The film’s theatrical aspect ratio of 1.85:1 is faithfully delivered in a 1080p transfer using the AVC codec. Apart from shifting levels of grain during the film and an occasional dust speck, the film looks wonderfully crisp with nice details in facial features and hair textures. Slightly brownish to give a sense of an earlier era, color is subdued but with very believable skin tones. Contrast is mostly consistent with occasional milkiness to suggest the mistiness of this remote island. Black levels are very good indeed. The movie has been divided into 24 chapters.

Audio: 4/5

The DTS-HD Master Audio 2.0 mono soundtrack is very typical of its era with the dialogue track, superb Miklos Rozsa music, and the atmospheric effects (buffeting wind and rain in several sequences) all nicely balanced together in a single track. Some post-dubbing of dialogue makes itself noticeable on several occasions, but otherwise, the track is first-rate with no age-related problems with hiss, crackle, thumps, or flutter to worry about.

Special Features: 3/5

Audio Commentary: producer Nick Redman welcomes film historians Julie Kirgo and Jon Burlingame to discuss the masterful film, its notable cast and crew members, and the wonderful music and career of Miklos Rozsa. It’s a very engaging discussion.

Isolated Score Track: Miklos Rozsa’s superb music is presented in DTS-HD Master Audio 2.0 stereo.

Theatrical Trailer (1:47, HD)

MGM 90th Anniversary Trailer (2:06, HD)

Six-Page Booklet: contains some color stills, original poster art on the back cover, and film historian Julie Kirgo’s detailed analysis of the movie.

Overall: 4/5

Eye of the Needle is one of those espionage films that deserves to be far better known, a wonderfully modulated thriller that takes its time revving up its suspense only to pay off for the audience in spades. There are only 3,000 copies of this Blu-ray available. Those interested in purchasing it should go to either www.twilighttimemovies.com or www.screenarchives.com to see if product is still in stock. Information about the movie can also be found via Facebook at www.facebook.com/twilighttimemovies.

Published by

Matt Hough

editor,member

9 Comments

  1. Thanks for your review.

    I’ll watch this disc tonight. I’ve always enjoyed Eye Of The Needle and saw it when it first came out but I’ve never read the novel. I certainly agree that this film deserves to be better known (and more highly regarded) I’ve just this morning received a Carole Lombard box-set, but the majestic Carole will have to wait. Eye Of The needle comes first.

  2. Quote “The film ends abruptly, however, without providing a neat, satisfactory button to close out the show for the audience.”

    It’s not surprising that it seems to end abruptly because the ending of the American theatrical version of the film (of which this is) was cut. The original theatrical version as seen in Europe had an extended ending in which Ian Bannen arrives on the island by helicopter. In the cut version we see him taking off for the island following Kate Nelligan’s SOS radio message but that’s the last we see of him! It also means that a substantial chunk of the end title music is missing from both audio tracks. It’s possible that the cuts were made due to a realisation that the helicopter seen in the film was not in use as early as 1944.

  3. Matt, did you notice something weird with the transfer during the night scene when the Needle was meeting with his contact? My copy was extremely grainy during this scene with almost a blown out look. Lasted about a minute then all was well

  4. Matt, did you notice something weird with the transfer during the night scene when the Needle was meeting with his contact? My copy was extremely grainy during this scene with almost a blown out look. Lasted about a minute then all was well

    Yes, that was what I referring to in my comment about inconsistent grain levels.

  5. Thank you for the as always excellent review Matt. I am looking forward to my copy arriving soon. I have seen this film a number of times over the years and always find it enthralling. Donald Sutherland is consistently excellent in his work and my limited exposure to the work of Kate Nelligan has been enjoyable (particularly this and Eleni).

    It is a great pity when films as strong as this aren't seen more widely; especially in light of some of the dross which calls itself cinema at the current time.

  6. I watched the new Twilight Time disc this weekend. I haven't yet had time to sample the commentary track, but the presentation of the film itself makes buying this disc worthwhile. My memory is not infallible but to me this disc recaptures the look of the film when It was new.

    As the DVD is non-anamorphic, I hadn't watched it for years, so I had forgotten many of the details of the narrative. I found the film superb and it reminded me of two other films I haven't thought about for a very long time, The Juror (the closing sequence) and The Spy In Black (the relationship between the woman and the spy). I'll have to watch those two films in the near future.

    The film also reminded me of why I don't much like James Bond films. I much prefer stories where a struggle to the death is gritty, dirty and unglamorous; where people get soaked in the rain and feel pain when they are shot; where people run out of energy and make mistakes. Anyone who shares my reservations about James Bond films should make a point of watching Eye Of The Needle.

  7. As Matt H. writes in his perceptive review: "Richard Marquand’s Eye of the Needle is such a masterfully layered thriller, slow in its exposition and rising ever more gradually to its pulse-pounding conclusion that it deserves to be far more well known than it is. Based on a best-selling novel and featuring two wonderfully astute actors in galvanizing performances, Eye of the Needle is a great World War II-set film with none of its action coming anywhere near the battlefield."

    I rate the movie itself a solid "B." The picture quality is probably an "A-."

    But there are two highlights that go all the way to "A" for me—the witty and insightful commentary by Julie Kirgo, Nick Redman, and music expert Jon Burlingame, and the wonderfully old-fashioned music score by the great Miklos Rozsa.

    Anyway, The Eye of the Needle is well worth buying. And for Donald Sutherland fans (like me) it's definitely recommended.

  8. benbess

    As Matt H. writes in his perceptive review: "Richard Marquand’s Eye of the Needle is such a masterfully layered thriller, slow in its exposition and rising ever more gradually to its pulse-pounding conclusion that it deserves to be far more well known than it is. Based on a best-selling novel and featuring two wonderfully astute actors in galvanizing performances, Eye of the Needle is a great World War II-set film with none of its action coming anywhere near the battlefield."

    I rate the movie itself a solid "B." The picture quality is probably an "A-."

    But there are two highlights that go all the way to "A" for me—the witty and insightful commentary by Julie Kirgo, Nick Redman, and music expert Jon Burlingame, and the wonderfully old-fashioned music score by the great Miklos Rozsa.

    Anyway, The Eye of the Needle is well worth buying. And for Donald Sutherland fans (like me) it's definitely recommended.

    I also like Eye of the Needle very much and agree that the Twilight Time Blu-ray is excellent.

    Interesting to read both your comments and those in Matt’s review, highlighting the score by Miklos Rózsa. I felt that this particular score was one of the film’s few weaknesses.

    It sounds overly melodramatic to me – almost soap opera – at certain critical points in proceedings, detracting from the finely escalating tension of the screenplay. I say this despite Mr Rózsa being among my favourite film composers.

    That aside, a riveting film with powerful central performances, and for me the TT Blu-ray was worth every penny.

  9. RMajidi

    I also like Eye of the Needle very much and agree that the Twilight Time Blu-ray is excellent.

    Interesting to read both your comments and those in Matt’s review, highlighting the score by Miklos Rózsa. I felt that this particular score was one of the film’s few weaknesses.

    It sounds overly melodramatic to me – almost soap opera – at certain critical points in proceedings, detracting from the finely escalating tension of the screenplay. I say this despite Mr Rózsa being among my favourite film composers.

    That aside, a riveting film with powerful central performances, and for me the TT Blu-ray was worth every penny.

    I've always thought EYE OF THE NEEDLE fairy mediocre in plot, conception, dialogue and direction. What elevates the film above the average is Miklos Rozsa's splendid music! 🙂

  10. Douglas R

    I've always thought EYE OF THE NEEDLE fairy mediocre in plot, conception, dialogue and direction. What elevates the film above the average is Miklos Rozsa's splendid music! 🙂

    Haha – well I think you stink!

    No, but seriously, it’s not the quality of the music that I’m questioning, but how the score’s dramatic ‘tada’ tendency gives away various key points without subtlety or understatement.

    This film is more thriller than war movie, and for me, the hair-raising moments in a thriller ought not to be sign-posted so clearly by the music.

  11. This may sound weird, but IMHO both RM and DR are right—"from a certain point of view" (as Ben Kenobi once said).

    I love composer Miklos Rozsa's music for the movies, but it is sometimes strong in its emphasis. That's one of the things I like about it, actually, but way back in 1945 with Spellbound—as wonderful as that score is—sometimes it's maybe a little over-the-top.

    The music for Eye of the Needle is in some ways sparingly used, in that sometimes there's no music at all for some long stretches of the movie. But when it comes in, it's sometimes strong—which, as mentioned, was something Rozsa was known for going back to the start of his amazing career. And the music here could almost have been from a 1940s movie (which as the audio commentary mentions may be the reason he was selected the score in the first place), but in a movie from 1981 it seems maybe a little bit jarring because it doesn't sound like most scores from the early 80s.

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