VALLEY OF [THE] EAGLES. General Film Distributors, UK, Lippert Pictures, US, 1952. Jack Warner, Nadia Gray, John McCallum, Anthony Dawson, Mary Laura Wood. Written by Nat A. Bronstein, Paul Tabori and Terrence Young. Directed by Terrence Young.

   A film that left me goggle-eyed.

   Valley starts off like a typical British “B” of the period, albeit set in Sweden. Well-acted, flatly shot, the first half hour or so deals with scientist John McCallum, whose MacGuffin gets stolen by his wife (a gorgeously cold Mary Laura Wood) and assistant Anthony Dawson. Swedish Police Detectives Jack Warner and Christopher Lee — looking like they just stepped across the street from Scotland Yard — plod into the case but McCallum is unimpressed with their efforts and investigates on his own.

   So far so dull, but then Warner comes into his own, a more astute detective than we or McCallum thought. As their investigations converge, the scientist and the cop find themselves in friendly alliance as they follow the absconding couple north into Swedish Lapland.

   At which point Valley of the Eagles switches gears splendidly. Stalled by a blizzard, Warner and McCallum keep up the chase by tagging along with a Lapp reindeer drive, and the film becomes a gripping tale of outdoor adventure.

   A BIT OF BACKGROUND: Writer/director Terrence Young organized an expedition to Lapland and spent about eight weeks shooting near the Arctic Circle. It paid off, as he got stunning footage of reindeer herds stretching for miles, stampedes, wolves encircling the camp at night and pursuing the party by day, an incredible sequence with a remote tribe who hunt big game with eagles — just as falconers use their birds for smaller game — and a violent avalanche cascading down on fleeing villagers done without camera trickery.

   Young achieves all this with an absolute minimum of back projection, and the result is staggering. Even these days, when you can do anything with CGI, the sight of all this actually happening on screen makes the heart race with excitement – or at least mine did anyway.

   Amid all this, Director Young and the writers never lose sight of the characters. Detective Warner sees his criminal investigation turn into a matter of simple survival, while McCallum’s quest for his faithless wife and precious MacGuffin loses all meaning for him—a perfect confluence of acting and writing that adds real depth to the spectacle.

    Valley of the Eagles is not an easy film to watch at times. It’s also hard to find. The only DVD I could get was in European format that can only be played on suitably equipped players here. But it’s more than worth the effort.