Tuesday, 10 March 2015

That's Rogertainment! Rogisode 8:
Escape To Athena

"The patriot, the professor, the comic and the stripper," boasts Greece-based WWII romp Escape To Athena's poster of its lead characters. But which of those is played by our top-billed hero, Saint Roger of the Moore? Well, it is my sad duty to report that Rodge plays none of the above, despite the fact that he would probably be a great stripper. No, Moore does in fact play Otto Hecht, a Nazi Commandant with an Austrian accent straight out of Buckinghamshire, in what I can only hope he referred to on set as Führ Eyes Only.

So unconvincing are the sounds emanating from the Rogermouth that I naturally assumed his role as a top brass in the Third Reich was a disguise, and that he would at some point throw off his SS uniform to reveal an ivory tuxedo. Alas it was not to be: in his continued quest to be miscast wherever he appeared, Rodge - admittedly playing a charming, gentleman genocidal villain rather than the bad kind - fails to convince as one of Hitler's goons from word one of his performance.

Placing Roger Moore gently aside for a moment though, just have a boggle at the rest of Escape To Athena's cast. Savalas! Niven! Powers! Cardinale! Roundtree! Bono (the other one)! And, with perhaps one of the greatest credits ever seen on screen...
If the appearance of a fictional character's signature on the opening titles suggests to you that that character might be something of an annoying narcissist, then well done! You are correctly reading Escape To Athena.

Opening with the first of several absolutely phenomenal helicopter shots which swoop and dive around the film's island setting, Escape To Athena sets out its stall early: gorgeous locations, a galaxy of stars introduced one by one (David Niven in a false beard calling a Nazi an "ignorant bastard" in his first scene is a delicious moment) and more rambunctious wartime carryings-on than an 'Allo 'Allo Christmas special. Telly Savalas wearing a chunky knit sweater and more bling than Mr T, despite the temperature presumably nudging the high forties, is just one of its many treasures; another sees him dancing like a confused bear in a later scene, choreographed by Strictly's Arlene Phillips.

The film concerns an attempt by Savalas to break into a PoW camp, an attempt by Niven to break out of the same PoW camp, an attempt by Elliott Gould to break into a monastery to loot it and an attempt by Roger Moore to break into Stephanie Powers. It ambles along pleasantly enough, and there's a lot of fun to be had if you can bear Elliott Gould's wisecracking smartarse, but what we're dealing with here is a futile attempt to cover up a threadbare plot by plastering as many big names as possible over the cracks. Towards the end, Escape To Athena actually exhibits symptoms of mental illness, suddenly introducing an underground rocket base and Nazis dressed like Daft Punk for reasons never fully explored.
Random Anschluss Memories

As a hilariously misjudged present-day (i.e. 1979) epilogue ushers the film out, accompanied by third-rate disco act Heatwave funking off with Keep Tomorrow For Me, you wonder if director George P Cosmatos didn't just wander off in the middle of the edit, leaving Escape To Athena to be completed by a couple of kids high on Sherbert Dip Dabs and Top Of The Pops. But then you remember the scene in which Michael Sheard, who would one day play Hitler in Indiana Jones And The Last Crusade, almost ejaculates himself silly as a lower-level Nazi watching Stephanie Powers taking her jumper off in a comically unsexy strip show, and somehow you forgive it its problems.

And what of the mighty Moore? Well, as mentioned, he couldn't sound less German if he told a joke about how inefficient he was, and coming slap in the middle of his tenure as 007, it's almost impossible to see his performance as anything other than James Bond in jackboots. He is, of course, charming and sleazy, but because he's Roger Moore his character does get the chance to redeem himself; I don't think it's too much of an exaggeration to say that Major Otto Hecht is Rodge's Oskar Schindler.

Not for the first time, one suspects Moore took the part because it was being filmed somewhere sunny, and the chance to hang out in the casinos of Rhodes with his pal David Niven was too good to pass up. In many ways it's a classic Rogerformance: laid back to the point of lazy, unchallenging in any way but never remotely unwatchable. So three Rogers are awarded: I added one for Rodge not doing anything massively racist this time (kind of ironic when you consider his role), but immediately deducted it again because at no point did he unbutton his shirt to the waist.
Belated apologies for the lack of recent Rogertainment; I shall endeavour to try harder in my efforts to assess the works of The Greatest Living Englishman, even though that means watching A Christmas Princess at some point. Probably Christmas. If this entire exercise has flummoxed you, there may be some kind of an explanation in here, but it won't be a very good one.


  1. Führ your eyes only! Possibly the worst/best pun since the Deus Eagle Machina I read in a review of the last Hobbit movie!

    Surely the stunts were amazing in this! Another film to add to my letterbox list of Vic Armstrong associated films.

  2. Well, strictly it's "Führ eyes only", but thank you. I'm afraid no amazing stunts spring to mind, although there's a fun motorbike chase in the middle.