EYE OF THE NEEDLE -- At the AMC Academy, K-B Crystal, K-B MacArthur, NTI Landover, NTI Tysons Center, Outer Circle, Roth's Manor, Roth's Randolph, Showcase Beacon Mall and Towncenter 3.
They meet in misty Scottish scenery, during World War II. He is a Nazi and she is a patriotic Englishwoman. He is a spy, and she is the slavish wife of an embittered pilot who lost both legs in a civilian car accident. He cares for no one, and she is anxious to please everyone. He has nerves of steel and she is a nervous wreck.
These are the leads of "Eye of the Needle" played by Donald Sutherland and Kate Nelligan in the film version of Ken Follett's spy novel, directed by Richard Marquand. ("Needle" is is his nom de guerre; the title has nothing to do with rich men or Biblical camels trying to go through the eyes of needles.) The oddity of this romance and its picturesque setting do a great deal to lend interest to an otherwise minimal (for a spy picture) story.
Possible mysteries and suspense are thrown away in the first part of the film, when an affable Englishman in a key job at a London railway is discovered by his cherry landlady to be sending messages to Germany, and he quickly knifes her and returns to his task. We immediately know not only who he is -- a German aristocrat personally placed there by Hitler -- but that his character contains no conflicts in pursuance of his duty. So the only question remaining in the film is whether he will be able to keep a rendez-vous with a German submarine off the Isle of Mull, inhabited only by the heroine and her family and one drunken light house keeper. Sutherland does such an efficient job of presenting the spy's cold dedication that there is no shred of a thought that romance or pity will ever distract him.
But strange as these wartime bedfellows are, one could accept, perhaps, their finding some momentary bond if it were not that he is such an exaggeratedly efficient war machine, even to the point of being generally bullet-proof and she is such a stumbling bundle of fallibility that she is incapable of putting a box against a wall without its falling back onher foot.
It has the unfortunate effect of tugging the audience to the bad guy's side. He may be a Nazi who would just as soon stab you as look at you, but, to an audience more used to the frustrations of peacetime than the terrors of war, there is that feeling that he would at least make the Metro run on time.