US Release Date: 12-04-1968
Directed by: Brian G. Hutton
- Richard Burton, as
- Maj. Jonathan Smith
- Clint Eastwood, as
- Lt. Morris Schaffer
- Mary Ure, as
- Mary Elison
- Patrick Wymark, as
- Col. Wyatt Turner
- Michael Hordern, as
- Adm. Rolland
- Donald Houston, as
- Capt. James Christiansen
- Peter Barkworth, as
- Edward Berkeley
- William Squire, as
- Capt. Philip Thomas
- Robert Beatty, as
- Gen. George Carnaby
- Ingrid Pitt as
- Heidi Schmidt
Clint Eastwood and Richard Burton in Where Eagles Dare.
Where Eagles Dare is one of the best paced war movies ever put together. It starts with a group of British (and one American) agents flying into Germany disguised a Nazi soldiers. It ends with the surviving members flying out. In between is an action packed movie that never stops for obscure side plots or meaningless dialogue.
The group of men are being sent behind enemy lines in the Bavarian Alps to rescue an American General who is being held in a castle like fortress that can only be reached by cable cars. Soon after the group parachutes into the scenic winter Alps, it is made clear that a traitor is in the group. The plot thickens as you see Major Smith keeps secrets from the other men in the group. Even more plot twists occur until the plausibility factor is pushed right out the window.
Even when the plot has you scratching your head, there is so much action that you never waste too much time thinking about it. A fight on top of the cable cars and an escape in a bus/snowplow are two of the best sequences.
Burton and Eastwood work great in that opposites attract sort of way. Burton is the stiff, "do as I say" Brit and Eastwood is all guns-a-blazing hero. His machine gun miraculously never runs out of bullets.
The only time Where Eagles Dare misses the mark is in the big exposition scene where we find out who is really who. The coincidence required for that scene to take place and be predicted by the British government is ridiculous. I am not sure if that scene is the same as in the book, written by Alistair MacLean, who also wrote the screenplay, but it is almost laughable in its implausibility. One other scene that bothered me is that Eastwood and Burton use a silencer numerous times while killing Nazi's in the Castle, but at one point Eastwood creeps up on a radioman very slowly until the radioman hears him and hits the alarm. Did he just suddenly forget that he had a silencer and has been using it every chance he could up until then?
If you can ignore a few flaws and just lose yourself in this action/spy World War II movie, you may find yourself caught up in the excitement.
Clint Eastwood, Ingrid Pitt, Mary Ure, and Richard Burton in Where Eagles Dare.
Richard Burton reportedly made this film because his step-sons with Elizabeth Taylor wanted him to make a movie that they'd actually want to see and one where he didn't die by the end of it. A conversation between Burton and producer Elliott Kastner brought "Guns of Navarone" author Alistair MacLean on board to write the screenplay and the novel. The addition of Eastwood made the film international and provided a nice contrast to Burton and the other Brits. The result is a highly enjoyable film that moves along pretty quickly, despite it's 2 and half hour running time. Unfortunately, as Eric indicated, the plot really makes absolutely no sense at all.
Realism clearly wasn't in the forefront of anyone's mind when making this movie. Burton and Eastwood are able to accomplish the most amazing feats of derring-do ever put on film. Between the two of them, they decimate several divisions of Nazis without getting so much as a scratch. According to the sort of people who count this sort of thing, Eastwood kills more people in this movie than in any other of his movies. When you think about the many violent movies he has made over his long career, that becomes even more impressive. It's also easy to believe. Eastwood mows down Nazis with his machine gun by the dozens, no matter how many there are or what weapons they might be carrying, he dispatches them with aplomb. Any army with Burton and Eastwood's characters in it in real life could have won the war in two weeks.
Watching these guys do there thing is entertaining and it's important that they never stop shooting their guns, because when they do, it gives the audience a chance to think, and with this plot, that can only hurt. SPOILER ALERT: The real mission is to uncover the identity of German agents in England, but this is absolutely the worst possible way I can think of identifying those agents. They already know three of them and suspect another. Surely, tapping phones, shadowing the agents, feeding them false information, etc. would be the smart way of capturing them? Instead they send a team, which includes those three agents into Nazi controlled territory. Why? Who knows. As Eric said, fortunately for the allies an opportunity arises where the information that is needed is revealed, but it's an opportunity that could never have been predicted and where getting the information back to those who need it will be seemingly impossible. Well, impossible if these weren't basically military superheroes. Other smaller plot points also make little sense, such as the moment Eric described with the silencer. Also, what's the point of Burton trying to bring the three German agents back with them? Again, if they wanted to interrogate them, maybe they shouldn't have sent them into enemy territory where there's a pretty good chance they'll either escape to the German side or be killed.
Along with the action, there is also plenty of scenery to distract the viewer from the nonsensical plot. Some of it was shot on location and the snowy mountain scenes are beautiful. And unlike your typical John Wayne war movie, there's scenery of another kind in the form of two beautiful female co-stars, who are crucial to the plan, and who really come into their own during the escape. Their inclusion in this male fantasy, as well as the location shooting, are no doubt evidence of the changing times, with more than 20 years having passed since the end of World War II when this movie was released.
That I was able to enjoy this movie as much as I did, despite the plethora of plot holes, says something for it. It was a hit, both critically and financially upon its release and remains well regarded. Stephen Spielberg has called it as his favorite World War II movie. If you manage to not get bogged down in trying to make sense of a nonsensical plot, you'll likely find something to enjoy here as well.
Photos © Copyright Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer (MGM) (1968)