Roger Moore ambles in and out of a Teutonic accent as Major Otto Hecht, the Kommandant of a prison camp in Greece toward the end of World War II. He is given to telling his charges, “This is an American word I am not understanding”.
Although he does have the decency to flash an occasional self-deprecating smile at the camera suggesting that nothing in Escape From Athena is meant to tax our understanding or be taken too seriously.
The film is under the erratic direction of George Cosmatos, who gave us The Cassandra Crossing (1976) and quickly became a one-man warning to beware of Greeks bearing cameras.
The subject of the movie seems to be dredged from an assortment of behind-the-lines war movies, beginning with collusion between Major Hecht and the prisoners to seize some treasure stashed in a mountain monastery (why this hoard has gone unmolested by the Germans is one of the screenplay’s many evasions).
The film then dwells on noble resistance fighters struggling to free the island under the leadership of Zeno (Telly Savalas), who spends most of his time modelling chest jewellery.
Then Cosmatos seems to have remembered The Guns of Navarone (1961), and the monastery is revealed to be a secret German rocket base. The base contains a single rocket that looks like a used muffler, and we are ominously informed that this awesome weapon is about to sink the Allied fleet.
Visions of destroyers and cruisers dodging the flying muffler dance in the mind, and then Escape from Athena gets seriously silly. It is, of course, one of those near-cartoons of a movie with a celebrity cast acting inanimately and speaking almost pidgin English for dubbing purposes.
The only participant who seems comfortable in these reduced artistic circumstances is the incomparable Sonny Bono. David Niven’s excuse is that his son produced the film.
And Telly Savalas channels his inner Anthony Quinn to do a little Greek dance at the film’s end.
Thanks to Desmond Ryan
Major Otto Hecht
Dottie Del Mar
SS Major Volkmann
George P. Cosmatos