Spy Games: Eye of the Needle

D-Day was the ultimate beginning of the end of World War II on the German front. It was also the end of Operation Fortitude, which involved a intricate plan to convince the Germans that the actual invasion would occur not in Normandy, as the Operation Overlord plans for the D-Day invasion called for, but farther down the coast in Calais.

To the effort of Operation Fortitude, the Allied forces had installed a vast array of plywood planes and various other war accoutrements that were designed to convince aerial recon planes by the Germans that the invasion was set for Calais. Close inspection of he force would have revealed the subterfuge, but from a height of a few thousand feet in the air, the planes and other war material would look like a full scale force.

But what if the Germans had discovered the ruse? You think the D-Day invasion was bloody? It might have been even bloodier or perhaps have even failed had some enterprising German spy stumbled across the ruse. This was the plot of Ken Follett‘s extremely entertaining novel The Eye of the Needle in 1978. The novel was made into a major theatrical release in 1981 featuring Donald Sutherland in the role of the German spy, Henry Faber.

Eye of the Needle (1981):

Henry Faber (Donald Sutherland) is an inconspicuous government employee. He has established himself as a friend and confidant to those that surround him and appears to all extents and purposes to just be a regular guy. But in fact Faber is a spy for the German High Command, one known as “the Needle.” (So called because of his preference to dispatch his enemies with a knife).

When he is caught by his landlady using a transmitter in his room, he kills her and takes off, leaving behind some evidence that he was the culprit, but that doesn’t faze him in the least. He still has his mission, that of letting the Germans know of whatever secrets he has attained.

While scouting near an Allied command post, Faber discovers that the planes that are parked there are all fake. He immediately figures out the subterfuge and heads toward the coast where he can connect with a U-boat and head back to Berlin with his information.

Unfortunately for Faber he chooses the wrong time to try to hijack a boat. Although he is successful at commandeering the boat, a storm hits the coast. Floundering at sea with the boat that is ill-prepared to sail under such conditions, he ends up crashing on Storm Island.

There he encounters two of the residents, Lucy and David Rose (Kate Nelligan and Christopher Cazenove). He manages to convince the two that he is the unfortunate survivor from an ill-advised boating excursion and that he is just a regular guy. But David is rather suspicious.

David had been scheduled to be an RAF pilot back in 1940, but on his wedding night he and Lucy were involved in a car accident and David was crippled. He has been relegated to Storm Island where he has become rather standoffish to his wife, as a result of his inability to come to terms with his condition. Although the two did manage to give birth to a son, David has since been rather cold and their romance has suffered.

As a result, Lucy finds herself attracted to their new visitor. And Faber himself, although initially seeming to use the attraction to benefit his own nefarious purposes eventually finds himself falling in love with Lucy. Thus setting up the denouement. Because, although he has killed David with the same dispatch as he has with others who stood in his way, when Lucy discovers his true identity he cannot bring himself to kill her.

The movie was fairly successful, making $17,000,000 in it’s initial release. Sutherland shines as the extremely cold Faber. Although the plot is pretty much the same as any number of other novels and movies that surround the subterfuge during the war, the film has you hanging on until the very end. One little complaint, however. A great scene in the book did not make the movie, but in the book it further enhances the cold-bloodedness of Faber.

In the novel there is a scene where Faber has to meet a confidante who has information to pass on to Faber. Meeting in the dark, the confidante insists that Faber turn on a light so he can be sure that he is talking to the real Faber. Faber complies, but after receiving said information, Faber dispatches the fellow spy with his knife, claiming “you saw my face.”

Jim Brymer, AKA Quiggy, runs the movie blog The Midnite Drive-In, check it out for more insights on other classic films.