Clint Eastwood as Dr. Jonathan Hemlock, college art professor and former assassin
Swiss Alps, Summer 1974
Film: The Eiger Sanction
Release Date: May 21, 1975
Director: Clint Eastwood
Costume Supervisor: Glenn Wright
December 11 is International Mountain Day, an observance established by the United Nations in 2003 to encourage sustainable development of mountains and recognize the importance of protecting the resources they provide and the populations that depend on them.
One of the most famous movies about mountain climbing is The Eiger Sanction, directed by Clint Eastwood who also stars as former assassin and expert climber Jonathan Hemlock. Hemlock is called back into service by C2, the shadowy government agency that would hire him to perform his “sanctions”. After learning that his new target is responsible for the death of a former friend, Hemlock eagerly agrees to take on the task of eliminating him, even if it means the veteran climber will need to ascend the treacherous Eiger mountain of the Bernese Alps, a summit that Hemlock had 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,” Hemlock says to his superiors, 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.”
“There comes a time in some movies when sheer spectacle overwhelms any consideration of plot, and Clint Eastwood’s The Eiger Sanction is a movie like that,” wrote the movie critic Roger Ebert in 1975. Indeed, while the story was silly, the movie did well at the box office thanks to the efforts of the real climbers who provided the spectacular camera angles, took the risks and provided Eastwood with advice, which was usually implemented.
— Chic Scott, Rock and Ice
What’d He Wear?
Hemlock ascends the Eiger with three other climbers, still unaware which of the three—the desperate Frenchman, the arrogant German, or the impulsive Austrian—is his ultimate target. He dresses in rugged layers for the hard work ahead with extra layers to account for the temperature changes he would encounter the higher he ascends the north face.
Hemlock wears a bright blue down jacket, constructed of a polyester outer layer insulated by down feathers that give the coat its colloquial name. While these “puffer jackets” have become popular winter outerwear for men and women, they indeed originated for mountain climbing when Australian chemist George Finch wore his innovative green “eiderdown coat” made by SW Silver & Co. for the 1922 British expedition to ascend Mount Everest.
At the outset of the expedition, the scrappy Finch had been mocked by the tweedy gentlemen who rounded out the group, though they came to appreciate the windproof garment to the point that Finch proudly noted in his journal that “everybody now envying… my eiderdown coat, and it is no longer laughed at.” After his reported rival George Mallory failed to reach the Everest summit in his tweed suit, Finch managed to reach a height of 8,630 meters with the assistance of his down jacket and oxygen system, though his exhausted partner forced their retreat. An avalanche that killed seven of the group’s porters eventually aborted the expedition and, following a series of tours, Finch returned home to his family and his young son Peter… who would grow up to become a five-time BAFTA Award-winning actor and would receive a posthumous Academy Award for his explosive performance in Network.
Adventurers to follow would develop similar jackets, including Eddie Bauer, who patented his “Skyliner” concept in 1939 after a freezing night in his waterlogged wool inspired him to create a weather-resistant coat insulated with down feathers that would be evenly distributed with quilting and with ribbed knitting on the collars and cuffs. Finch himself emerged in the early 1950s to advise Sir Edmund Hillary’s successful Everest expedition, for which New Zealand company Fairydown modernized Finch’s original eiderdown jacket to develop a product similar to the puffer coats that remain popular more than a half-century later.
Nearly a hundred years after George Finch was laughed by his fellow climbers, the down jacket remains a winter outerwear staple seem everywhere from summit to supermarket. There are no shortage of styles available, from compact “packable” zip-up coats to full-length parkas with fur-lined hoods with endless combinations of pockets, quilting shapes and scales, and more. Thus, if you’re looking to channel the Jonathan Hemlock look with horizontally oriented quilting, a simple zip-front closure, and a standing collar sans hood, you won’t have to look hard before finding an affordable product from a reputable brand:
- Amazon Essentials down jacket in blue nylon with 90% duck down (Amazon)
- Calvin Klein Men’s Alternative down jacket in “marlin blue” nylon (Amazon)
- Columbia Men’s Frost Fighter Insulated Puffer down jacket in “azul” blue nylon with synthetic polyester insulation (Amazon)
- Dockers “The Noah” Classic Packable down jacket in royal blue nylon with ultra loft down alternative insulation (Amazon)
- Lacoste “Easy Pack” down jacket in “inkwell” blue nylon (Amazon)
- Marmot Men’s Calen Insulated Puffer down jacket in blue sapphire nylon with Primaloft Black insulation (Amazon)
- Nautica Arctic down jacket in “bright cobalt” blue polyester (Amazon)… as long as you don’t mind the conspicuous branding on the left sleeve!
- Pro Club down jacket in royal blue nylon with 80% duck/20% feather down (Amazon)
- The North Face Men’s Aconcagua down jacket in blue nylon with RDS-certified goose down (Amazon or The North Face)
- The North Face Men’s Morph down jacket in blue nylon with RDS-certified goose down (Amazon)
- Tommy Hilfiger Men’s Classic puffer jacket in navy nylon with down feather insulation (Amazon)… it’s a little darker with a snap fly added for extra closure.
- Wantdo Packable down jacket in sapphire blue nylon with 80% white duck down (Amazon)
Why not add a hood? It would save you from needing to add a hooded extra layer as Hemlock does when the weather gets rough!
- Adidas Men’s BQ8549 Climawarm Nuvic down jacket in “collegiate royal” blue with down filling (Amazon)
- Eddie Bauer Men’s Peak XV down jacket in “ascent blue” nylon with RDS-certified down insulation (Amazon)
- J. Lindeberg down jacket in “pop blue” polyester with 90% down insulation (Amazon)
Under his down jacket, Hemlock’s protective base layer is a navy blue ribbed turtleneck jumper with long sleeves that extend a few inches longer than the sleeves of his coat. The recent renaissance of the men’s turtleneck means an abundance of affordable options of varying quality popping up on Amazon, frequently from unrecognizable but surprisingly well-reviewed names like Daupanzees, FISOUL, GIVON, JINIDU, PrettyGuide, Rocorose, and Yesasyou in addition to more familiar brands like Abercrombie & Fitch, ASOS, Charles Tyrwhitt, Express, Gap, Jos. A. Bank, Paul Fredrick, and Paul Jones, to name a few.
Durable corduroy has long been a trusted fabric for climbing garments, so Dr. Hemlock wears a pair of golden tan corduroy trousers for his climb. Corduroy climbing pants are still available from specialized retailers like Moon Climbing (who offers the corduroy Abel Pant, though it appears to be sold out as of December 2019) and Pilgrim, which offers four colors of the Salathe Corduroy Climbing Pant including a Hemlock-esque khaki.
Hemlock’s flat front pants appear to be specifically designed for climbing with shortened bottoms that tighten high on his calves with velcro straps to keep from interfering with his footfall as he takes step after precarious step up the mountain.
Hemlock wears taupe-colored thermal hiking socks in a mixed wool blend, widely ribbed to stay up over his calves and keep him insulated. Hosiery like these remain a staple of outdoors and work-wear brands like Carhartt, Emprella, L.L. Bean, Smartwool, Wigwam, Woolrich, typically made of a blend that includes predominantly merino wool in addition to nylon and elastane or spandex for appropriate stretch.
Boots are among the most important apparel that can make or break a mountaineer’s trek. Hemlock wears a pair of brown nubuck leather hiking boots with coral red round laces that are laced through four metal D-ring eyelets and one set of speed hooks, then three additional sets of speed hooks up the shaft. Necessary traction is added by the heavy black rubber lug soles, which are each adorned with a yellow shape in the center that is likely the octagonal signature mark of Vibram soles.
The boots have a golden leather collar where the fuzzy beige synthetic “sherpa” lining emerges from the top. The lining is likely of the removable sort, so that it can be easily removed from the boot shell and—should it become wet—can be dried inside a wearer’s sleeping bag, making the removable lining of “double boots” ideal for multi-day expeditions like Hemlock’s.
This style and even lace color was very common for mountain-climbing boots of the 1970s, such as these vintage finds from BetaMenswear, Dexter, G.H. Bass, and Stellina. Danner recently delved into their archives to revisit this iconic look for the Mountain Light Cascade boots for men and women, including a custom pair they developed for Reese Witherspoon to wear in Wild (2014). Timberland also followed suit with the introduction of their “1978 Waterproof Hiking boots”, available from Amazon and Timberland.
Available from Amazon and Danner, the Danner Mountain Light Cascade Clovis is handmade in Portland, Oregon, of brown full-grain leather with waterproof GORE-TEX lining and black rubber Vibram Kletterlift outsoles. Like Eastwood’s screen-worn boots, they are laced through a system of round silver D-ring eyelets and speed hooks up the shaft.
When the group encounters snow and ice on the side of the mountains, Hemlock and his cohorts strap on crampons, a traction device similar to ice cleats. Though crampon technology has evolved with the development of step-in attachments and hybrid systems, the strap bindings seen on Hemlock’s crampons were still the most common by the mid-1970s.
While many consider falling to be one of the greatest dangers a climber faces, many can attest to the danger of items—such as rocks or equipment—falling from above. To combat that danger, protective helmets are essential equipment for climbers.
If REI’s current lineup or Outdoor Gear Lab’s list of favorites are any indication, modern climbing helmets have evolved to look more like bicycle helmets, though Hemlock protects his head with what it essentially a green hard hat not unlike the headgear commonly associated with construction workers, fitted into place with a drab chin strap.
As the conditions get snowier, Hemlock dons a pair of snow goggles. Not unlike the Cébé goggles that Robert Redford wore on the slopes in Downhill Racer five years earlier, Hemlock’s goggles look more like a pair of tricked-out sunglasses than the eyewear commonly associated with ski or snow goggles.
Higher altitudes mean lower temperatures so Hemlock adds the layer of a hooded shell jacket in a similar shade of blue as the down jacket he continues to wear under it. This added jacket has a large hood and a black-taped zipper down to the bottom with six black velcro patches for additional closure. Below the cinched waist are two large patch pockets, each with a double-velcro flap to close, with a vertical entry for a handwarmer behind each pocket.
Hemlock layers up below the waist as well with navy snow pants over his corduroys and tall crimson red knee gaiters with blue-and-yellow bottoms that cover the tops of his mountaineering boots, now fitted with the aforementioned crampons to add traction on the ice. The waterproof soft-shell nylon gaiters close with four snaps, with the lowest snap on the narrow yellow portion covering the bottom edge of each gaiter.
Additional warmth comes from the large light gray knitted wool mittens that Hemlock wears in the snowiest, coldest weather.
Dr. Hemlock pockets his usual sidearm, a blued Smith & Wesson Model 40 Centennial revolver with a snub-nosed 1-7/8″ barrel, likely chambered in .38 Special though the Model 40 was available in a range of calibers from .22 Long Rifle and .22 Magnum up to .357 Magnum.
Introduced in 1952, the 100th anniversary of Smith & Wesson (hence the “Centennial” moniker), this latest addition using the manufacturer’s compact “J-frame” differentiated itself with its fully enclosed hammer that kept the weapon from snagging on clothing when drawn from a pocket. As an added safety measure for shooters not used to this double-action only (DAO) style, Smith & Wesson incorporated the “lemon squeezer” grip safety from its turn-of-the-century top-break revolvers to prevent the weapon from being discharged unless it was the intent of whoever was holding it.
This particular weapon is a wise choice for Hemlock given the nature of his mission. Not only are revolvers traditionally a durable choice, but the enclosed hammer would allow Hemlock to be quick on the draw when pulling from his pocket, particularly in shaky situations such as when suspended from a rope in the icy air thousands of feet above the ground.
How to Get the Look
Clint Eastwood’s mountain climbing attire as Dr. Jonathan Hemlock in The Eiger Sanction was anchored by a blue down jacket, navy turtleneck, and khaki corduroy trousers that transcends his ascent to be a practical cold-weather casual outfit once he’s back on the ground… assuming he survives the trek, of course.
- Blue nylon down jacket with standing collar, black-taped zip front, slanted side pockets, and set-in sleeves
- Navy blue ribbed-knit long-sleeved turleneck
- Golden tan corduroy flat front climbing pants with slanted side pockets, flapped back left pocket, and shortened bottoms with velcro calf straps
- Brown nubuck leather mountaineering double boots with coral red round laces (through a system of D-ring eyelets and speed hooks), removable “sherpa” fur lining, and black rubber lug Vibram soles
- Gold-cleated clampons with brown buckle straps
- Taupe mixed wool-blend ribbed thermal socks
- Green hard hat-style climbing helmet with drab chin strap
- Black-framed vintage snow goggles
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.
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.