There are some films that seem to have the ability to transport us back in time, and Where Eagles Dare is one of those; I only have to watch the first few minutes for it to work its magic. The alpine landscape appears, the blood red credits roll, Ron Goodwin’s pounding score swells up, and I’m once again that wide-eyed little boy sitting on my parents’ rug – spellbound. Back then, I felt sure that this was the greatest war film ever made – and I was becoming something of a connoisseur of the genre at the time. Now, as the years wear on, I know that Where Eagles Dare is not the greatest war film ever, but its ability to carry me back thirty years or more is a priceless quality that no amount of critical snobbery can ever diminish.
Following on the success of The Guns of Navarone, the books of Alistair MacLean were seen as a source of cinematic gold just waiting to be mined. There wasn’t a lot of character development in these stories, but the twisty plots and non-stop action made up for that. Where Eagles Dare is about an Allied mission (headed up by Richard Burton and Clint Eastwood) behind enemy lines to rescue a captured American general from the Nazis before they can force him to reveal the details of the D-Day invasion. The difficulty for our heroes lies in the fact that the general is being held in the Schloss Adler, an almost impenetrable castle perched on a mountain top, and accessible only by cable car. As if this were not enough, it looks as though there is a traitor lurking among our intrepid group. To go deeper into the plot would require some massive spoilers, and I don’t want to do that here. Suffice to say that the film treats us to double cross piled onto double cross, lots of big spectacular explosions, huge numbers of Nazis mowed down by Burton and Eastwood, and a fantastic fight with an ice pick atop a moving cable car. By the end everything has been resolved satisfactorily and two and a half hours of escapist bliss have whizzed by.
There’s a great cast for this movie, even if they’re all playing roles which are basically caricatures. Richard Burton’s Major Smith seems capable of planning and talking his way out of even the most hopeless situations. Clint’s Lieutenant Schaffer is cool, ruthless and laconic; a WWII version of The Man With No Name. Mary Ure and Ingrid Pitt look good while helping out the heroes and, crucially, they do not indulge in any girly histrionics – something which should never happen in a proper Boy’s Own adventure anyway. The support cast is also well stocked with Ferdy Mayne and Anton Diffring playing German officers (what else?). Derren Nesbitt is ideal as the suspicious Gestapo major, although his German accent wouldn’t stand up to too much analysis.
Where Eagles Dare has been out on DVD from Warner for ages. The anamorphic scope transfer is good enough and there’s a ‘Making of’ featurette on the disc. I don’t see this getting an upgrade any time soon since it’s probably seen as too lowbrow for the SE treatment. For me, it will always remain one of those links to an increasingly distant past – an innocent and adventurous world where Richard Burton will forever intone “Broadsword calling Danny Boy…..Broadsword calling Danny Boy”
12 thoughts on “Where Eagles Dare”
‘…an almost impenetrable castle perched on a mountain top, and accessible only by cable car…’
…and a post-war helicopter…
How do they smuggle all those explosives into the castle? How do they have the strength to lug it around in those bottomless havesacks? Why can’t the highly trained Wehrmacht infantry hit anything with all that ammo they spray around when Clint simply two fists a brace of machine guns, narrows his eyes, points in their general direction and rarely misses? Why is Derren Nesbitt’s hair so luminous that you would have thought it needed it’s own blackout? Why is Clint Eastwood so gormless? Why does the plot make no. Sense. At. All. Why does none of that matter?
‘Cos, as you so rightly point out, it’s so much damned fun. Crank up the volume, shut down the blinds; I think I’ll watch it again tonight…
Nice piece; like you, I first watched this as a kid. I must have been about 8 and I sat and watched it with my Dad and thought it the coolest thing I’d ever seen. It’ll always remain my favourite film (yes, ever) because it never fails to transport me back to childhood when I watch. I still find it thrilling, even though I know every scene by heart. One of my most prized CDs is the FSM release of Ron Goodwin’s full score to this – that main title music still sends shivers down my spine.
Oh God, that theme tune does it for me every time – blood-stirring stuff. Combined with the opening aerial photography… just brilliant. Burton and Eastwood make for a great team too. Let’s hope no-one is foolish enough to try and remake it…
Altogether now: BOM, Bom, Bom, Bom – ta ta ta ta ta! Bom, Bom, Bom, Bom, Bom, Baaaam Ba Ba Bam! Ta ta ta ta ta!
Thanks for the comments guys.
It’s always nice to know that some of the same things that made, and continue to make, the movie so enjoyable for me are shared by others.
And damn, but I forgot all about that helicopter – of course it didn’t belong but who cares – somehow it gets forgotten in all the excitement.
Yes! I love the film. It’s a cracking piece of Boys Own type of adventuring that you can really lose yourself in for the entire running time. Have you read the book, by the way? It’s pretty great, too, and the relationship between Smith and Schaffer is slightly different (in an entertaining way). Highly recommended!
Yes, I read the book years ago after seeing the film – I’d say I’ve read pretty much everything Alistair MacLean ever put on paper, and loved it.
I know it’s not great literature by any means, and his work did get weaker the older he got, but for pure blood-thumping entertainment it’s hard to beat.
‘Altogether now: BOM, Bom, Bom, Bom – ta ta ta ta ta! Bom, Bom, Bom, Bom, Bom, Baaaam Ba Ba Bam! Ta ta ta ta ta! ‘
Geoff Love and His Orchestra: ‘Big War Movie Themes’, preceded by Goodwin’s ‘The Battle of Britain’, last track side one of a ‘Music For Pleasure’ LP. I played it over and over and over (and over) ’til it was simply worn out. Looong time ago…
Boys Own movies never got better than this, it will always be No.1 to me. It took me forever but i recently found the soundtrack on LP in a charity shop, and it was unused as well… oh how that changed the moment i got home.
Like everyone else who’s commented I first watched this as a child and loved it. Oh for those bygone days when war movies could be fun and didn’t feel the need to beat the viewer over the head with the whole ‘war is hell’ shtick.
This, The Great Escape and Kelly’s Heroes were probably my three favourite war movies as a kid and I still love them all.
And John that ‘Big War Movie Themes’ LP brings back memories, I also had ‘Big Western Movie Themes’ and ‘T.V. Western Themes’.
Yes, I also had those Ian; they were actually excellent covers weren’t they (and cheap, the big factor), but when I later acquired original scores, the tiny differences – a beat here and there – between the two really threw me. Still does.
BTW, before being howled down by the rest of tribe Hodson, I did manage the first 15 minutes of WED last night; it’s a cliche isn’t it, the old ‘see somethig new every viewing’, but I spotted a name in the credits that I’d never twigged before. I suppose it leaped out because very recently I was more than a little stunned to see that he’d adapted the original novel for Burton’s ‘Villain’ for the screen (with the script subsequently written by Clement and La Frenais).
And here he was again on ‘Where Eagles Dare’ as ‘dialogue coach’ – who could have guessed the versatility of Al Lettieri?
Love this war slash espionage slash adventure thriller. This one does have a magic to it. Great to hear you’re a fan of the film. Well done, Colin.
Seems like ages since I wrote that short review! Thanks for reminding me of it Michael, and it also occurs to me that I’ve yet to pick up the Blu-ray that’s been released in the interim.