Clint Eastwood’s Derby Jacket in The Eiger Sanction
Clint Eastwood as Dr. Jonathan Hemlock, college art professor and former assassin
Switzerland, Summer 1974
Film: The Eiger Sanction
Release Date: May 21, 1975
Director: Clint Eastwood
Costume Supervisor: Glenn Wright
Happy birthday to Clint Eastwood, the actor and director who combined his talents in dozens of films, beginning with Play Misty for Me in 1971. Based on Trevanian’s 1972 novel, The Eiger Sanction was Eastwood’s third directorial effort. While criticized for his story, the thrilling climbing scenes and stunning mountain cinematography—namely, Monument Valley and Zion National Park—remain standouts of the espionage thriller.
As Dr. Jonathan Hemlock, a celebrated art professor with a known adventurous side and a less known dangerous past, Eastwood insisted on performing all of his own stuntwork himself, including the climactic climbing scene that found him dangling by a rope more than 4,000 feet above the valley floor.
“You know what? Way down deep, you got the makings of a real bad ass,” Ben Bowman (George Kennedy) tells Hemlock as the two hone the professor’s climbing skills on a mountain outside Bowman’s Arizona climbing school.
The Eiger Sanction begins as Dr. Hemlock is reluctantly recruited back into the fold of “C2”, a shadowy government agency for whom he used to perform “wet work.” After Dragon (Thayer David), the organization’s eccentric “M”, pays him $20,000 cash and ensures that his priceless collection of 21—soon to be 22—illegally gained paintings will be free from government scrutiny, Hemlock agrees to a final “sanction” against one of the two assassins who have been killing C2 spies in Europe.
Following the completion of that sanction, Dr. Hemlock learns that his pal Henri Baq was among the C2 spies that have been murdered and fervently agrees to accept a second sanction to terminate the other, still unidentified assassin, understanding that the sanction will take the veteran climber back to the Eiger mountain in the Bernese Alps, a summit that Hemlock has tried—and failed—to climb twice before. “If the target’s trying to climb the north face of the Eiger, chances are my work would be done for me,” observes Hemlock, no doubt referring to the 41 climbers that had died attempting to climb the Eiger’s treacherous north face in the forty years prior. Indeed, between 1935 and May 2019, at least 64 climbers are known to have died in their attempts, earning the Eiger’s north face—the biggest in the Alps—the nickname of Mordwand, German for “murder wall.”
Hemlock is tasked with joining a four-man group of climbers, through Dragon isn’t sure which of the other three—the Frenchman desperately trying to look young and virile in front of his seductive wife, the aggressive and arrogant German, or the impulsive Austrian who was known to have killed a man prior—is his target.
What’d He Wear?
Much like his fellow professor-with-a-wild-side Indiana Jones, Dr. Hemlock leaves his spectacles and tweed garb back in the States as he sets out for his dangerous adventures overseas. A staple of Hemlock’s European wardrobe is a beige nylon blouson jacket, similar to the jackets popularized by Derby of San Francisco in the mid-1960s. Eastwood had previously worn a darker brown Derby jacket as the titular San Francisco cop in Dirty Harry (1971)… though, unlike his jacket in Dirty Harry, Eastwood’s beige jacket in The Eiger Sanction lacks the front fly with an exposed button at the neck.
With its zip-up front and ribbed-knit cotton collar, cuffs, and rear hem, the derby jacket was a commercial evolution of the classic MA-1 bomber jacket developed by the U.S. Air Force, though the derby jacket can be differentiated by the swelled seam that extends horizontally across the top of the front and back for a shoulder yoke effect.
Dr. Hemlock’s derby jacket first appears for his assassination of Kruger. As the scene is set in Zurich during late spring, Dr. Hemlock finds urban-friendly accompaniments to the jacket with a black turtleneck. He wears dark brown polyester flat front trousers with frogmouth-style front pockets, jetted back pockets (with a button through the left pocket), and plain-hemmed bottoms, held up with a wide brown leather belt with a rectangular brass buckle embossed with an eagle.
Best seen as he climbs the wall to furtively gain access to Kruger’s building, Hemlock’s shoes are dark brown suede sneakers with white piping around the opening and heavy black crepe soles like the Hutton Original Playboy boots that Steve McQueen made famous in Bullitt. Hemlock wears them with black socks.
The derby jacket gets more screen time after Hemlock meets the climbing team at Hotel Bellevue des Alpes at Kleine Scheidegg. For these scenes, he dresses more casually in jeans and a bright red turtleneck with a ribbed-knit neck.
Hemlock wears fashion-forward blue jeans with flared bottoms that tragically approach the “bell bottom” fad that was reaching its height—or should I say width—around the time of the film’s production. The jeans have a zip fly and belt loops, though Hemlock does not wear a belt with them.
The jeans’ sole pockets are two patch pockets on the front, trimmed across the straight top openings with a white broken stitch underlined by a solid tan stripe. There are no back pockets; instead, a vertical seam runs down each leg from the waist line to the bottoms that is accented in the same white broken stitch and solid tan shadow stripe.
With this outfit, Hemlock wears khaki napped leather bicycle-toe ankle-high sneakers with dark brown laces through three derby-laced eyelets. These unique shoes resemble the modern “dress casual” offerings of economical brands like Clarks and Skechers. He again wears black ribbed socks.
When carrying out the first on-screen sanction in Zurich, Dr. Hemlock wears a pair of bronze metal-framed sunglasses in a wide aviator-style shape.
What to Imbibe
When Dr. Hemlock joins his fellow climbers for one last beer in the lounge at the Hotel Bellevue des Alpes 12 hours before heading up the mountain, the group shares communal bottles of Feldschlösschen that they pour into their respective glasses. Founded nearly a century prior in 1876, Feldschlösschen remains the largest brewery in Switzerland, though it was acquired by Carlsberg in 2000.
Despite Dr. Hemlock’s stated and shown affinity for Wild Turkey, he also puts away plenty of beer over the course of The Eiger Sanction, one of at least a half dozen movies where Clint Eastwood’s character enjoys Olympia beer. This Washington-brewed beer that prided itself on the artesian water used in its making first appears as he and the gregarious Ben Bowman enjoy bottles at Bowman’s climbing school-turned-singles club in Arizona.
“I can out-drink you right now,” Hemlock brags to Bowman.
“Well, you just enjoy that one,” replies Bowman,” ’cause you’re off the sauce ’til you’re in shape for the climb.”
Hemlock is none too pleased to hear about his friend’s restrictions, but the diligence pays off after he is able to complete the challenging climb of the 640-foot Totem Pole rock spire in Monument Valley and is rewarded by Bowman pulling a six-pack of Olympia from Hemlock’s bag.
Bowman: Want a beer?
Hemlock: You gonna call room service?
Bowman: We got beer…
Hemlock: You hauled beer up this rock? You’re insane.
Bowman: I may be insane, but I’m not stupid. (opens Hemlock’s backpack) I didn’t carry it, you did, it’s in your pack.
Mike Hoover, the famous mountaineer who taught Eastwood how to climb for The Eiger Sanction, obtained special permission from Navajo Nation for the production to both climb and film at the Totem Pole as the nation had prohibited climbs to this significant formation. Eric Bjornstad and Ken Wyrick climbed the Totem Pole and prepared the location for Clint Eastwood and George Kennedy to replace them on the 18-foot wide summit. Production of The Eiger Sanction remains the last time that climbers were allowed to scale the Totem Pole.
“About your gun, I got one waitin’ for you, it’s at the hotel. It’s a C2 special with no serial number, it’s in a candy box,” Pope tells Dr. Hemlock.
Dr. Hemlock’s sidearm for his sanctions is a blued Smith & Wesson Model 40 Centennial revolver with a snub-nosed 1-7/8″ barrel. Built on Smith & Wesson’s compact “J-frame”, the Model 40 was available in a range of calibers from .22 Long Rifle and .22 Magnum up to .357 Magnum, though Hemlock likely carries the venerated .38 Special in the five-round cylinder.
Introduced in 1952, the 100th anniversary of Smith & Wesson (hence the “Centennial” moniker), the most distinctive feature of the Model 40 is the fully enclosed hammer to avoid it snagging on clothing when drawn from a pocket, though a grip safety similar to the one featured on old-fashioned Smith & Wesson “Lemon Squeezer” revolvers was added to aid shooters who were not yet used to double-action only (DAO) revolvers that did not have a hammer to be cocked before firing.
A lighter-weight aluminum-framed alternative, the Model 42 Airweight Centennial, was also made available in 1952 but production on both the Model 40 and Model 42 revolvers ended in 1974.
Also in the 1950s, Smith & Wesson introduced the Model 38 Bodyguard series that added a rounded “camel hump” shroud over the hammer, though this lacked the grip safety of the Model 40 and the Model 38’s hammer could still be accessed by the thumb while the Model 40’s hammer was totally enclosed.
How to Get the Look
When not scaling a mountain or lecturing a room of college students, Dr. Jonathan Hemlock dresses down in a comfortable beige derby jacket, turtleneck, and suede lace-ups.
- Beige nylon zip-up derby jacket with ribbed-knit collar, cuffs, and hem, horizontal yoke, and slanted hand pockets
- Red turtleneck jumper with ribbed-knit roll-neck
- Dark blue denim “fashion” jeans with belt loops, patch-style front pockets, decorative stitching, and flared bottoms
- Khaki suede bicycle-toe sneakers with brown laces
- Black ribbed socks
- Bronze-framed sunglasses with wide aviator-style lenses
Do Yourself a Favor and…
Check out the movie. While many elements may not have stood the test of time, the climbing sequences remain spectacular nearly 50 years later… as does the late George Kennedy’s larger-than-life performance as Hemlock’s charismatic old pal.
Fans should probably also watch “The Archer Sanction,” the sixth season episode of Archer that lifts the general plot and drops it into Sterling Archer’s hilariously absurd world of espionage.
She’s a very destructive woman… you know the type.
In Memory of David Knowles
David Knowles (1947-1974) was an expert mountaineer who joined Mike Hoover and Clint Eastwood for production of The Eiger Sanction. On August 13, 1974, the second day of principal photography on the mountain, a large rock broke free and smashed into the team, fracturing Hoover’s pelvis and killing the 26-year-old Knowles. Following an impromptu wake, Eastwood considered canceling the production but the climbers assured him that completing the production would assure that Knowles’ death would not be in vain. You can read more about the incident here.