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Eye of the Needle

A movie directed by Richard Marquand

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"I did what I had to do. It can't be undone. I'm sorry."

  • Nov 29, 2011
Eye of the Needle is part-espionage, part psychological thriller, part repressed love story. It's as gloomy as a rainy day. The film also is exciting, well acted and engrossing. Henry Faber (Donald Sutherland) is a ruthless, extremely competent German spy in England during WWII masquerading as an Englishman. When threatened, he's as quick to kill his landlady who discovers him at a clandestine radio as he is a fellow spy who might be captured. His preferred method is a quick, deep stiletto thrust to the heart. Be careful. There are equally sharp spoilers ahead.
Faber discovers that Patton's Third Army is a sham and that the invasion of Europe will take place at Normandy, not the Pas de Calais. Before he can transmit the information, he's shipwrecked on isolated Storm Island off the coast of Scotland. The only inhabitants are David (Christopher Cazenove), a former fighter pilot who lost the use of his legs on the day of his marriage four years ago, his wife, Lucy (Kate Nelligan), their four-year-old son, Joe, and Tom, an elderly man, often drunk, who looks after the lighthouse and takes care of the couple's sheep. David is deeply embittered, full of self-pity and suspicious. He's either unable or unwilling to be intimate with his wife. Lucy is loyal, but so lonely for affection she is drawn to the ship-wrecked, charming man in her midst. In some strange way, Faber also is drawn to Lucy...perhaps not by love, exactly, but toward a kind of closeness he has never permitted himself before.
One night, when David has taken a sleeping pill and gone to bed, Faber and Lucy are talking in front of the fire. Faber tells Lucy that her little boy is lucky to be so obviously loved. "I'm his mother," Lucy says with a smile, "and parents love their children."
"No, no, not all," Faber says. "Some parents use their children...set goals for them...goals they weren't able to attain in their lives. Hardly love, do you think?"
They make love that night. Later, in his need to contact a German submarine which will take him back to Germany with the invasion information, Faber will kill her husband, kill Tom, threaten Lucy...and when it would have been easy to kill Lucy, choose not to.
"The war has come down to the two of us," he tells her. "I did what I had to do. It can't be undone. I'm sorry." The ending is, I suppose, inevitable.
The first half of Eye of the Needle is an exciting espionage story. We learn who the Needle is, how he works, how resourceful and how deadly he can be. The second half of the movie takes place on Storm Island. Slowly we see this strange relationship between two needy people evolve, one of whom, the Needle, has shown himself to be coldly ruthless. At the same time, we're drawn to Lucy as she realizes that the man she has given herself to has killed her husband and may be a threat to her son and herself. The climax of the movie, a bloody showdown in the decrepit lighthouse and then on the wet, stoney beach where Faber has discovered a small row boat he can use to get to the waiting sub, is harrowing. It's melodramatic and it packs a punch.
Donald Sutherland and Kate Nelligan are both superb actors, and they were never better than in this movie.

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January 01, 2012
Great comments, C.O. I thought this movie was very well-made and very scary.
November 29, 2011
I remember seeing this around the late 80's; I believe this received acclaim over its score also, (I cannot remember the composer) as well as the way it was shot. Didn't this have some exquitely shot love scenes? Thanks for the write up!
More Eye of the Needle reviews
review by . December 11, 2010
posted in Movie Hype
Well-made spy thriller
The year is 1944, and a German spy (code-name: "the Needle") has photos that could damage the Allies' plans for D-Day. While trying to get the photos to a U-boat, he is shipwrecked on a remote island off the coast of Scotland, which is home to a disabled man and his very lonely wife.      This movie is very intense and scary, thanks to Donald Sutherland who plays the Needle, a cold and calculating killing machine who racks up quite a body count. He's …
About the reviewer
C. O. DeRiemer ()
Ranked #32
Since I retired in 1995 I have tried to hone skills in muttering to myself, writing and napping. At 75, I live in one of those places where one moves from independent living to hospice. I expect to begin … more
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About this movie


A German spy washes up on a small island off the British coast and is taken in by a lonely woman whose husband was paralyzed years ago and hardly speaks to her. Her desire for sex is immediately apparent to the equally lonely spy (Sutherland), who quickly seduces the wife and begins to plot his escape from the island so that he can report back to Germany with news about the impending D-Day invasion. Based on the best seller by Ken Follett, EYE OF THE NEEDLE was helmed by the director of RETURN OF THE JEDI and features an incredibly icy performance by Sutherland.
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Director: Richard Marquand
Release Date: 1981
MPAA Rating: R
DVD Release Date: 20th Century Fox Home Entertainment (January 18, 2000)
Runtime: 1hr 52min
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