Movie Review!: The Eiger Sanction

If there’s one thing we as climbers lack, it’s Hollywood films about rock climbing. Sure, we have the classics, Vertical Limit, Cliffhanger, and even Mission: Impossible 2, but other than that, I thought we were out of luck. That is, until someone recommended to me, The Eiger Sanction.

Yes, this movie came out in 1975, and yes, it is AMAZING!

The plot?

A classical art professor and collector (and former badass climber), who doubles as a professional assassin, is coerced out of retirement to avenge the murder of an old friend (on the Eiger North Face).

If that doesn’t have you running for the DVD bargain bin at Walmart, I don’t know what will. First off, I was confused at the title. I didn’t even know until some googling after I watched the movie that the “Eiger” is actually a real mountain! Eiger

I would love to go there someday and climb it! Who wants to plan an expedition next year??

Anyway, the movie begins with someone getting killed by an assassin. At least I think so.. the fighting is really awful, and if I’m to believe these are highly trained killers, then I’m a 5.14 climber (not yet, but soon). After that, we meet Clint Eastwood, the epitome of cool-as-shit professor. When a cute, young, blonde student shows up at his office asking if there’s “anything she can do” to maintain her B average, I was hoping Clint would do the right thing and say something like, “close the door and lets find out.” Instead, he tells her to study her little ass off… and sends her on her way. What a gentleman… Although he does slap her on her ass as he says it.


The next scene we meet another assassin, who looks like one of my dad’s bowling buddies, mind you, and he tells Eastwood that his old boss “Dragon” needs him for another hit. They get into a bit of a scuffle after Eastwood says “Don’t call me buddy, pal, or sweetheart!”, and Eastwood throws the guy out of his office.

But alas, Hemlock (Clint Eastwood) shows up at the secret assassin killing organization, run by the albino, blind, cold blooded lizard man named ‘Dragon’. He tells Hemlock that another agent was murdered, and the killer is a climber, so now Hemlock has to head to the Eiger to find him, and take him out. Obviously…

Hemlock takes the job, or “sanction”, and flies down to Utah to begin his training for the Eiger. This is where the movie goes from cheesy 70’s blacksploitation theatre, to legitimate Reel Rock Tour worthy badassery.

clint eastwood climbingI dont know how they filmed this… But I’ve got a $2000 DSLR camera, and a hell of a lot more climbing experience than Clint Eastwood, and yet when I try to film climbing, it never looks like this.

Hemlock trains for about half the movie with his old mentor, and a native american climber girl who doesn’t talk, but makes Hemlock run on 4th class terrain with jeans and a denim shirt on, after which she sheds her top and reveals her breasts to him, either for motivation, or because… well, it’s Clint freakin’ Eastwood.

After some more fights, more ass grabbing, and more offensive 70’s characters (Hemlocks old arch nemisis is so gay, he named his dog, “faggot”), Hemlock and his old mentor climb an unclimbed tower, and marvel at how well Hemlock is climbing.

the eiger sanction beerThe best part of the movie is when Hemlocks buddy says, “How about a beer?”. Then Eastwood replies, “If you brought beer up here, you’re even crazier than I thought!” To which buddy replies, “I may be crazy, but I’m not stupid. I didn’t carry it, you did. It’s in your pack!”.

That line alone… is worth watching this film.

Anyway…. after that, they go to the Eiger. A bunch of stuff happens, he tries to find the killer, people die… but it’s mostly mountaineering, and nobody likes to watch mountaineering.

5/5 Stars! * * * * *

What do you guys think?




9 thoughts on “Movie Review!: The Eiger Sanction

  1. Nice find Wes!

    I watched this film for the first time last night and all I can say is….WOW!!!

    I remember a “non-climbing” friend of mine mentioned this film years ago. However, I quickly dismissed him as most recommendations I get from “non-climbers” tend to be for ridiculous films such as Vertical Limit or Cliffhanger 😦 This film however is R-A-D…RAAADDDD!

    The 5 things I learned/loved most about this film are:

    1) Mountaineers are BADASS!!!…at least those who survive (most don’t) 😦

    2) Mountaineers are promiscuous babe-magnets who routinely enjoy the great ethnic diversity that comes with climbing at exotic locations (sign me up!) :)

    3) Mountaineers don’t need all that fancy gear that Trad and Sport climbers need. The just need a rope, rucksack, possibly a harness, and a few pitons and ice screws to “crush it” in the mountains. Mostly, it’s the ability to climb STRONG and survive rock/ice fall that guarantees success in the mountains!

    4) You’re right!…watching mountaineering is positively BOOOORRRRING!!! The director really should have just done a hard edit from the opening scene where the climbers are heading up the lower slopes of the Eiger to the final scene where Clint is hanging at the tunnel window. All the slow “climbing” footage was a missed opportunity for more character development of Clint Eastwood’s Dr. Jonathan Hemlock. May be they could have inserted a quick reflection back to how Clint developed his technical climbing abilities sport climbing and bouldering in his youth, or more scences on past sex/love relationships in the mountains, etc…

    5) Finally, this is not some cheesy Hollywood treatment of our glorious sport but actually a historical documentary on the first ascent of the Eiger! (for those newbies out there, the Eiger Sanction is NOT a mountain. The Eiger IS a mountain!)

    Oh, and sorry Wes but mountaineers don’t really do expeditions anymore. “Alpine” ascents are the new method of conquering mountains today! 🙂 

    Thanks for keeping it real Wes!


      • Think so? I think he sounds like a dick who’s picked up a few climbing terms and is making out he hangs out with Messner. Yes – Cliffhanger is poor and Vertical Limit is one impossibility after another. Doesn’t take a genius to figure that out. But they’re ACTION movies where the viewers want to be wowed. If this clown really thinks actual mountaineering movies are BOOOORRRRING then he obviously has no idea about what he’s watching. Babe magnets – that’s the sort of thing a REAL dickhead would say. People like this fool make me want to pewk.


  2. I thought you normally started the Eiger by going half way up in that train thing first? The instructors at my local gym say it’s better like that, because then you can focus on the really hard climbing, which is right up the top!


  3. I hear that Chris Sharma is Clint Eastwood’s grand nephew. The side burns alone are proof enough, no need to research that further in any way.


  4. +1 to realclimbersrock: this “movie” was in fact a documentary.

    Side note: Mr. Eastwood didn’t tell the old man he was crazy for bringing beer because he thinks it’s stupid to drink alcohol on top of a desert tower with no fixed rappel anchors; rather, a fine reposado tequila is clearly the only appropriate libation for the moment. I mean, really, beer? What a rube!

    It’s funny to watch Mr. Eastwood’s face through the rest of that scene as he tries to conceal a volatile mix of disappointment and rage.


    • These 2 photos, with George Kennedy, my fave bad guy! look more like Monument Valley than Utah. Wonder how they got permission from the tribe to film there.

      From Google: “Who was the first man to solo climb the North Face of the Eiger, a 13,025 ft. mountain in the Swiss Alps? Michel Darbellay. In 1963, Darbellay performed this audacious solo climb of one the most formidable peaks. Considering the standard of equipment used then compared to that available today, it was an outstanding achievement. Since 1935, over fifty climbers have died attempting the north face.”

      Joe Brown also soloed it in the winter, riding to and from the climb on a bicycle…


  5. You apparently missed the best line in the movie. When the George Kennedy character tells Hemlock he’d do the sanction himself, Eastwood scoffs.

    Kennedy: don’t you think I can handl…handle it?

    Eastwood: in a locked closet with a grenade, maybe.


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