Escape to Athena
Escape to Athena is a 1979 British war adventure film directed by George P. Cosmatos. It starred Roger Moore, Telly Savalas, David Niven, Stefanie Powers, Claudia Cardinale, Richard Roundtree, Sonny Bono and Elliott Gould. The film is set during the Second World War on a German-occupied Greek island. The music was composed by Lalo Schifrin. According to the credits, it was filmed on the island of Rhodes.
|Escape to Athena|
Escape to Athena release poster
|Directed by||George P. Cosmatos|
|Produced by||David Niven Jr.
|Screenplay by||Edward Anhalt
Richard S. Lochte
|Story by||Richard S. Lochte
George P. Cosmatos
|Music by||Lalo Schifrin|
|Edited by||Ralph Kemplen|
|Distributed by||Associated Film Distribution|
|6 June 1979|
(Sweden: 119 min.)
(Argentina: 120 min.)
(United States: 101 minutes)
In 1944, Allied prisoners at a POW camp on an unnamed Greek island are forced to excavate ancient artefacts. The camp Commandant, Major Otto Hecht, a former Austrian antiques dealer, is sending some of the valuable pieces to his sister living in Switzerland. However the prisoners have discovered that they will be sent to other camps once the finds run out, so they arrange to keep ‘discovering’ the same pieces. While Hecht is content to sit out the war, the SS Commandant of the nearby town, Major Volkmann, brutally enforces discipline, including reprisal executions of civilians.
Resistance to the Germans is led by Zeno, a former monk, and his few fighters. They use the local brothel, run by his girlfriend, as an undercover headquarters. Zeno, who is in contact with Allied Headquarters, is ordered to break the prisoners out of their camp and use them to help liberate the town and capture the nearby U-Boat refuelling depot.
Two captured USO artists, Charlie and Dottie, perform a concert as cover, while the Resistance takes over the camp. With the choice of being killed by Zeno or helping them, Hecht joins forces with the Allies, helping them eradicate Volkmann's troops as well as capturing the fuel depot. After completing the mission, Charlie asks Zeno to lead him and two other prisoners, Judson and Rotelli, up to the monastery on Mount Athena to steal Byzantine treasures kept there by the monks. However Zeno tells Charlie that the treasures belong to the Greek people.
Zeno now receives word from Allied intelligence that the planned invasion of the islands has been brought forward, and so the German garrison in the monastery atop Mount Athena must be neutralised. Without revealing the whole truth, Zeno tells Charlie, Rotelli and Judson that in return for helping liberate the monks from the Germans, whatever they find there would be theirs.
However, on climbing to the monastery, the group discover a heavily armed garrison. Zeno uses gas to knock out most of the soldiers, but not before their commander orders a V-2 launch to destroy the invasion fleet. Judson knocks out the control room with grenades, but one of the Germans survives long enough to activate the base's self-destruct mechanism. Not realising the danger immediately, Charlie and Rotelli scour the monastery for the treasure, while Judson frees the monks. Zeno finds the self-destruct clock, but he cannot deactivate it. Zeno, the monks and the Americans escape the monastery before it explodes. Searching for treasure until the last minute, Charlie escapes the explosion with the only treasure the Germans left behind - tin plates adorned with Hitler's face.
During the victory celebration in the village, Hecht, Charlie, and Dottie plan after the war to capitalise on treasures Hecht has already looted, by making copies to sell to Americans. Professor Blake learns from one of the freed monks that their treasure - Byzantine plates made of gold - is safe, having been hidden in the brothel the entire time.
The final scene cuts to the modern day, by which time Zeno's former headquarters have been turned into a state museum housing the treasures of Mount Athena.
- Roger Moore as Major Otto Hecht: an Austrian who is the Wehrmacht commandant of the POW camp, a former antiques dealer
- Telly Savalas as Zeno: the head of the Greek island's resistance movement
- David Niven as Professor Blake: senior British officer amongst the prisoners and a well-known archaeologist
- Stefanie Powers as Dottie Del Mar: an American USO artist (in fact, stripper), who was shot down with Charlie and detained in the POW camp
- Elliott Gould as Charlie Dane: an American comedian, USO performer and professional partner of Dottie
- Claudia Cardinale as Eleana: a local madame, girlfriend of Zeno
- Richard Roundtree as Sgt. Nat Judson: African-American POW and amateur magician
- Sonny Bono as Bruno Rotelli: an Italian POW, professional chef
- Anthony Valentine as Maj. Volkmann: SS officer, town commandant and Hecht's rival
- Siegfried Rauch as Lt. Braun: SS officer under Volkmann's command
- Richard Wren as Capt. Reistoffer: Volkmann's adjutant
- Michael Sheard as Sgt. Mann: Hecht's senior camp NCO
- Philip Locke as Major Vogel
- Steve Ubels as Capt. Lantz
- Paul Picerni as Zeno's Man
- Paul Stassino as Zeno's Man
William Holden, who was in a relationship with Stefanie Powers at the time of filming, makes a cameo in the film as a POW. Elliott Gould's character passes by Holden leaning against the POW barracks, looks at him and asks, "Are you still here?" This is in reference to Holden's Oscar-winning performance in Billy Wilder's World War II/POW film Stalag 17 as Sgt. J.J. Sefton, who actually escapes at the end of that film.
The film was partly financed and produced by Lew Grade's ITC Entertainment. Grade had wanted an action movie and felt it did not live up to the script, partly because the first eighty minutes mixed comedy with action and, as he recalled: "the combination just didn't work... but the last forty, action-packed minutes were wonderful. If only the emphasis had been on action throughout the film would have been a hit. Unfortunately it wasn't. Still, with the pre-sales I'd made we didn't lose nearly as much as we might have". According to a number of sources, this movie's motorcycle chase scene is, as one critic said, "one of the most memorable motorcycle chase scenes in cinematic history". Another says: "Film is an uneven mix of comedy and military action, but includes a stand out motorcycle chase. During a battle with the resistance, SS Major Volkmann escapes on a motorcycle with Charlie (played by Elliott Gould) chasing after him on a motorcycle with sidecar down narrow village streets. Impressive motorcycle stuntwork featuring some excellent jumps". Author Mark Hinchliff of Motorbike Writer ranks the chase in Escape to Athena as 3rd, only after those in The Great Escape (1st) and Skyfall (2nd).
- Grade, Lew (1987). Still Dancing: My Story. William Collins & Sons. pp. 250–251.
- Rowan, Terry (2012). World War II Goes to the Movies & Television Guide. Lulu.com. p. 144.
- "Escape to Athena". VARaces. Retrieved 12 July 2017.
- "Top 10 movie motorcycle chases". Motorbike Writer. Retrieved 12 July 2017.