Escape to Athena (1979)
It's a Greek Tragedy
Flummoxed, that is how I feel about "Escape to Athena" one of the most confused and misplaced movies I have forced myself to watch. On one hand it is a war movie with a mixed bag of prisoners in a Nazi PoW camp on a Greek Island who want to escape, but then it adds a heist layer as these prisoners along with a German officer are interested in treasure in a Greek monastery. If that was all there was then it would have been okay but then you have a story about Greek resistance thrown in who are also interested in the monastery because the Nazi's have a secret weapon there and just too make it more muddled we have a couple of entertainers also being kept at the PoW camp who add a layer of comedy to this war movie. Messy is how I would go about describing "Escape to Athena" and so messy that despite there being humour and action it ends up shockingly boring. Oh and I haven't even mentioned the cast yet which sees Roger Moore totally miscast as Major Otto Hecht a German.
Sometime in 1944 a group of prisoners in a Nazi PoW camp on a Greek island are trying to escape but as well as escaping they want to loot a Greek monastery of its artefacts. But they are not alone as the Greek resistance also are interested in the monastery but for entirely different reasons and so work together in order to wrestle control back from the Germans in particular Major Otto Hecht (Roger Moore - North Sea Hijack) an antiques expert who is in charge of the PoW camp.
To be honest by the end of the 70s when "Escape to Athena" was released the popularity of the war movie was almost over as basically every war cliche had already been explored in one form or another. In a way that may explain why the storyline feels like an amalgamation of war movie cliches with the PoW camp, escape attempts, local resistance and what is very much a weak heist storyline. But the pieces don't come together that well and whilst linked it all feels very messy and at times confusing. It honestly takes a little while to work out what is going on and what storylines we have and by the time you've fathomed it all out you are bordering on being bored.
Separately these ideas could have worked and watching say just the prisoners trying to steal the Greek artefacts would have been more interesting than this mixed bag. And this mixed bag is not helped by the additional storyline of two American performers ending up in the prison as it brings with it a comedy element. Now Elliott Gould as a Jewish Comedian is an amusing idea but the one liners and incessant shtick he churns out ends up becoming grating. Stefanie Powers is no better as his partner Dottie Del Mar because most of what the character is about, flirting with Major Otto Hecht, is just as dull. All of this comedy which also comes from various other parties including Sonny Bono just makes things messier.
The knock on effects of this is when it comes to the action, the daring take over of the Prison and the assault on the Greek monastery; well it's some of the most uninspiring action I have sat through. There is very little which is exciting about it and almost has a bit of cheesiness about it as resistance leader Zeno makes his way in to the secret Nazi war room to try and stop their top secret missile from being launched. In fact that one scene has a feel of the James Bond about it and I am talking about the cheesy James Bond where it almost became a spoof of itself.
Talking of James Bond "Escape to Athena" sees Roger Moore cast as German officer Major Otto Hecht which is one of the worst pieces of casting ever. Not only does it feel wrong to have Roger Moore playing a German but also he can't do a German accent and spends the majority of the movie relying on acting charming than doing anything else. Roger Moore is not the only piece of poor casting as David Niven also seems to be doing the minimum as does Sonny Bono and Richard Roundtree. In fact every actor from Claudia Cardinale through to Stefanie Powers appears to either be miscast or doing the minimum which in a way I suspect is down to the mess which is the storyline.
What this all boils down to is that "Escape to Athena" is a poor movie and there is no hiding the fact. It's just seriously messy from the various cliche storylines though to the additional forced comedy and it almost feels like a parody but never being funny enough to be so. And whilst it certainly has some star power going on none of them actually stand out for delivering anything good, in fact some stand out for delivering something which is bad. To put it simply if you enjoy great War movies which focus on a PoW camp then give "Escape to Athena" a miss.
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