While he passed on playing the character years previously, The Eiger Sanction was Clint Eastwood’s swing at making a James Bond movie. Dr. No was the first entry in the James Bond movie franchise, which adapted the hugely popular novels by Ian Fleming. The film rocketed star Sean Connery to stardom worldwide, and the series became one of the first blockbuster franchises. However, Connery walked away following 1967’s You Only Live Twice, due to growing dissatisfaction with playing the role and the financial compensation he received for it. Various actors were considered as his replacement for On Her Majesty’s Secret Service, including Burt Reynolds and Clint Eastwood.
George Lazenby, a model with little prior acting experience, eventually landed the role. Both Lazenby and On Her Majesty’s Secret Service received lukewarm reviews at the time, but it’s now considered a classic and is one of Christopher Nolan’s favorite James Bond movies. Despite Bond being considered a fundamentally British franchise, quite a few American actors have been eyed for the role over the decades. In addition to the aforementioned Reynolds and Clint Eastwood, Cary Grant, John Gavin, and James Brolin were all approached at various points.
In fact, Brolin very nearly played the part in Octopussy, and even screen-tested as Bond for the film. Since the movie was going to compete with the non-EON-produced 007 adventure Never Say Never Again – fronted by a returning Sean Connery – producers decided to lure Roger Moore back to the part instead. In Clint Eastwood’s case, the actor has professed he’s not a big fan of the spy genre, and he turned down future fan favorite On Her Majesty’s Secret Service as he felt the part belonged to Connery. He did offer his own take on a James Bond-inspired espionage thriller with The Eiger Sanction, however.
This 1975 thriller was based on the novel The Eiger Sanction by Trevanian – the pen name of author Rodney William Whitaker – with Eastwood himself directing. In the story, Eastwood plays Hemlock, a former assassin working as an art history professor who is lured out of retirement to avenge the murder of an old friend. Hemlock is “sanctioned” by his old agency to pursue the mysterious killer to Switzerland, where he or she is supposedly part of a team climbing the Eiger mountain. Hemlock undergoes strenuous training for the climb while romancing various women and dodging assassination attempts.
The Eiger Sanction novel was penned as a straight-faced James Bond parody, and the movie carries over many of the 007 movies’ biggest tropes. There are impressively mounted action sequences – made all the more impressive for Eastwood himself performing all his mountain climbing stunts – cartoonish villains, dry one-liners, filming in unique locations and more. While Eastwood is playing a more lighthearted character than most of his most famous roles, the movie lacks the wryness of touch that defined the earlier James Bond adventures.
It’s also fair to say The Eiger Sanction’s sense of humor hasn’t aged very well, and modern viewers may find many of its gags outdated at best or problematic at worst. The Eiger Sanction isn’t without its charms, including the action scenes and seeing Clint Eastwood’s James Bond impression, but it isn’t one of his better projects overall. Eastwood – who also turned down 1978’s Superman – largely steered clear of the spy genre following The Eiger Sanction, though he did star and direct the more grounded Cold War action-thriller Firefox in 1982.