Guilty Pleasures: Escape To Athena

escape to athena moore

USOnly Live Twice

Yes I know Roger Moore wasn’t in the James Bond film whose title I’m playing on here, but the bad joke fits the melting pot of moussaka that is Lew Grade’s Escape To Athena, a comedic WWII caper in the Greek islands, with a cavalcade of slumming B-list stars, clearly only in it for the free tan and a paycheque. Yet I can’t help warming to the film’s daffy carry-ons. Ah-hoey, ah hoey! (More on that later).

The USO of the Bond pun relates to the two big-ish name American stars airlifted in for that important US market, a still glamorous Stephanie Powers and limelight hogging impresario, Elliott Gould, who for some reason gets a special guest star billing, complete with his character’s name (Charlie). Perhaps Lew Grade foresaw a spin-off? They are entertainers stranded in the German held Greek islands, brought to commandant Roger Moore’s POW camp, where he drowsily oversees Brit ex-archeologist David Niven and his gang of rogues excavate ancient treasures, whilst lining his own pockets (Rog’s Otto was an antiques dealer in Austria before the war interrupted his career). The arrival of Powers brings a little sparkle into his life, signalling the raising of the Rog eyebrow a notch or two.

With the average age of the cast, this is like a Saga holidays promo with guns. On top of Hogarth’s heroes creakily attempting escape, cuddly Greek resistance stud Telly Savalas (dressed like Shaft, or co-opting Rog’s Live And Let Die black rollneck) and his squeeze Claudia Cardinale are intent on penetrating the Orthodox monastery atop the local mountain. They string Niven’s gang and the yanks along with the promise of treasure, in reality to blow up a secret rocket base within, straight out of Thunderbirds, manned by stormtroopers dressed just like the silent security droids from Disney’s The Black Hole. George P. Cosmatos’s direction gets into menace-y overdrive here, as the massive rocket (black, of course, like a giant dildo) is slowly wheeled out, its reflection distorted in a guard’s visor.

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But before that, we have the most incredible scene in the film, when Stephanie Powers distracts the guards with a striptease to Blues In The Night (My Momma Done Tol’ Me), egged on stage right by a straw hat mugging Charlie, whilst Grange Hill’s Mr Bronson as a grinning German goon rocks back and forth like a dog dragging its arse along the rug. Ah-hoey, ah-hoey, indeed. Meantime, every other guard is rushing to the bog, due to Sonny Bono (he plays an Italian-American “chef” with an anachronistic shaggy haircut) and his tainted bolognese.

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Naturally, once the camp is secured, Moore throws his lot in with the heroes, as that nasty Anthony Valentine is the real Nazi of the piece. Rog just wants a quiet life, smoking cigars, smoothing his immaculate leather bomber jacket and sidling up to Powers with “Some more champagne?” smarm.

The best action sequence of the film (yes, there actually is quite a bit of it!) occurs as Gould pursues Valentine (or rather their stunt doubles do) on motorbikes through the narrow cobbled streets, handlebars sparking off alley walls. Stunt legend Vic Armstrong oversaw the action. A camera affixed to the front of the bike gave a “first person shooter” feel to the chase. Another first was Valentine’s double’s bike leaping over the other bike’s sidecar, via a ramp attached to the front.

The film makes great use of the spectacular surroundings, often shown up in ridiculously extravagant helicopter shots, showcasing the island of Rhodes in its golden glory. A special shout out should go to legendary D.P Gilbert Taylor. Several high falls are showcased from the cliff face and high ceilings in the monastery. One stuntman who broke an arm had his cast painted black to match his frogman outfit, to avoid being laid off the production.

One does wonder though where Powers manages to obtain a sexy cut-off frog suit to reveal her pins when occasion calls for removing mines from the bay (or something) and they have to fight off Nazi frogmen. I know, I kind of lose track of what’s going on at this point myself. Did she whip a pair of seamstresses scissors out of her travel bag? A blink and you’ll miss it gag occurs when the camp is liberated and Gould double takes at William Holden (who was then dating Stephanie Powers), quipping “Are you still here?” in a nod to his role in Billy Wilder’s Stalag 17.

An un-Orthodox escape, geddit?

An un-Orthodox escape, geddit?

During the climb up the cliff, the talent were required for close-ups. When the time came for Vic Armstrong’s stunt team to fit their safety harness beneath their clothing, joker Telly Savalas dropped his trousers to reveal he wasn’t wearing any underwear.

I would far rather watch this than Enzo Castellari’s Inglorious Bastards, a similarily cock-eyed WWII caper that inspired Quentin Tarantino, and throws everything but the kitchen sink on screen. Far more entertaining than it has any right to be , Escape To Athena jogs along quite nicely, moussaka very much (I’ll get me coat).


Originally posted 2015-03-18 22:28:31. Republished by Blog Post Promoter

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