Eye of the Needle (Blu-ray Review)

  • Reviewed by: Jim Hemphill
  • Review Date: Nov 16, 2016
  • Format: Blu-ray Disc
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Eye of the Needle (Blu-ray Review)


Richard Marquand

Release Date(s)

1981 (September 13, 2016)


20th Century Fox/MGM (Twilight Time)
  • Film/Program Grade: A
  • Video Grade: A
  • Audio Grade: A
  • Extras Grade: A


Director Richard Marquand is probably best remembered as the director George Lucas picked to helm Return of the Jedi after David Lynch turned him down, but his career yielded a number of other terrific films before Marquand’s life was cut short by a stroke in 1987. After an apprenticeship in British television, he debuted as a film director with 1979’s stylish horror film The Legacy, and a couple years after Jedi he directed one of the great American thrillers of the decade, the Joe Eszterhas-scripted Jagged Edge. The movie that made Marquand’s reputation, however – and the one that got Lucas’s attention – was his 1981 gem Eye of the Needle, a riveting character-driven thriller that delivers on every possible level, and which is now available as a sumptuous limited edition Blu-ray release from Twilight Time.

Based on a best-selling novel by Ken Follett, Eye of the Needle tells the story of a Nazi spy (played to perfection by Donald Sutherland), who makes a shocking discovery that could tilt the war in his colleagues’ direction – if only he can get the information to them in time. A series of circumstances waylays Sutherland on an isolated island, where he meets and falls in love with a British wife and mother (Kate Nelligan) stuck in a horrible marriage. Marquand and screenwriter Stanley Mann take this premise and milk it for all it’s worth creating an espionage film that’s simultaneously riveting and contemplative; somehow, they calibrate the action so that the suspense and romance perfectly complement each other, with the action giving the love story more urgency and weight and the romance driving the action forward with even greater intensity. The result is a modern classic that not only invites but earns comparison with masterpieces of the genre like Casablanca and The Third Man.

Alan Hume’s cinematography is superb but tends toward the dark end of the spectrum; previous home video releases have often seen the fine nuances of Hume’s lighting get lost amidst murky blacks and grays blurring together. Twilight Time’s new Blu-ray transfer is a marked improvement – in fact, it’s flawless in its attention to detail in terms of both contrast and palette. The subtlety of the production design and cinematography in Eye of the Needle create a fine line, where a less than perfect presentation can suddenly make the whole thing seem ugly and flat; thankfully, this release gives the images the showcase they deserve. The uncompressed monaural soundtrack is also beyond reproach, and Miklos Rozsa’s rich, old-fashioned score is included as an isolated audio track. Rozsa scholar Jon Burlingame contributes to an excellent commentary track in which he is joined by Twilight Time house historians Julie Kirgo and Nick Redman; together they provide a lively and illuminating analysis of the film’s content, style, and production history. They convincingly make the case for Eye of the Needle as a classic of its genre, not that the movie needs much help in that sense – it really makes its own case, and never more beautifully so than on this Blu-ray.

- Jim Hemphill