Where Eagles Dare (1968)

Where Eagles Dare (1968)

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Eastwood could smell the alcohol on Burton's breath from a mile away.
Eastwood could smell the alcohol on Burton’s breath from a mile away.

Twitter Plot Summary: A small team, led by Richard Burton, is sent behind enemy lines to rescue an American general from the Nazis.

Five Point Summary:

1. Broadsword calling Danny Boy.
2. Dammit! It’s all my fault.
3. Some people are getting dead…
4. DAMMIT!
5. Lots of shooting.

Where Eagles Dare isn’t just a classic, but it also represents that old school Boys Own style of adventure where the good guys will win and lots of evil Nazis/German soldiers will be killed in the process. The outcome is never in doubt, but there’s much enjoyment to be had in the various plot twists and slow drip-feed of information as the story plays out. The plot twists and turns to an unnerving degree – somebody is a traitor, but who? Alistair MacLean’s script does its best to keep the audience on its toes, whilst maintaining an almost constant feed of action and peril. To call it a labyrinth plot in terms of the twists would be entirely true, balanced with the constant threat that their undercover roles may be discovered at any moment.

Set in and around the picturesque snowy castle of Schloss Adler (portrayed by Hohenwerfen Castle in Austria) in the Alps, a small team led by the stiff upper lipped resolution of Richard Burton’s Major John Smith and the deadpan puzzlement of Clint Eastwood’s Lieutenant Schaffer are dropped behind enemy lines in order to rescue an American general who has been captured by the Germans. What follows is a tense game of cat and mouse between the undercover operatives and the German army that have taken up residence in the area, a regular game of cat and mouse that has double and triple crosses aplenty, yet it all resolves itself with barely a plot thread left unresolved.

Richard Burton and Clint Eastwood are perfectly cast as the leads, although you’re not going to get subtlety from that pairing. You can practically smell the alcohol on Burton’s breath, yet somehow he still maintains his screen presence almost effortlessly. There’s able support from Mary Ure and Ingrid Pitt as undercover operatives who provide operational support when members of the team start dying in mysterious circumstances. Whilst they’re stronger characters than you may expect, they do eventually find themselves taking a more passive role in events rather than helping dictate a plan of action – let’s just leave that to the men, shall we?

One of these men looks a bit shifty to me...
One of these men looks a bit shifty to me…

It wouldn’t be a war film without its fair share of action sequences, which in this case culminates with a dramatic fight atop a precariously balanced cable car halfway between the mountain retreat and the village below. A chase involving a bus and a platoon of German soldiers is no less thrilling, however you’re best ignoring the fact that the helicopter in use by the Germans is actually an American design that entered military service in 1946, or that there are a number of other historical inaccuracies if you look close enough – in the grand scheme of things it doesn’t really matter. Honestly.

It might have heavy comic book overtones similar to Commando or Valiant, but then that forms part of its appeal. By modern standards it may appear to be slower paced in terms of action, but don’t let that dissuade you from enjoying the thrills that are provided. If all is well, you’ll be pretending to be Broad Sword calling Danny Boy before the film’s end, no doubt.

Score: 5/5

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