- Directed by Brian G. Hutton
- December 4, 1968
- Based on the 1967 novel Where Eagles Dare by Alistair MacLean (written at the same time as this)
When a chief planner for the Western Front is captured by the Germans and taken for interrogation, a joint British-American Special Operations Executive team of paratroopers are sent to retrieve him.
They do not make war films like this anymore. Where Eagles Dare is an action-packed WWII film filled with plot twists from start to finish. It can get a bit difficult to follow at points. Difficult but not impossible. That is part of what makes this such a worthy watch. It makes you pay attention.
Amongst the twists is a high level of action. Legendary Hollywood stuntman Yakima Canutt served as the second unit director and was responsible for filming most of those action scenes. The man was a pioneer in stunt work by developing technology and techniques still largely used today that not only made stunts safer but much more realistic. He and John Wayne for example figured out how to film fake punches to appear as if they actually connected.
Where Eagles Dare is as much a game of cat and mouse as anything. Reveals and double reveals and hidden motives. Yet with all the twists and turns and surprises none of it feels forced. By the end, it all makes sense even if everything wasn’t clear.
The legendary Richard Burton stars as mission leader Maj. John Smith who is paired with Clint Eastwood as Lt. Morris Schaffer as they lead this dangerous mission. Both actors play to their strengths in their respective parts. Burton is, well, Burton who is the stoic English officer duty-bound to complete his mission. His part is dialogue heavy and at points filled with some serious exposition.
Eastwood for his part is much less a one note jerk as he often can be. Though a bit of a cynic his character is much more rounded. He is doing his job and trying to understand the situation in which he finds himself. Eastwood though takes much more of a backseat as a character to Burton.
Mary Ure is our other significant player as Mary Ellison who is the team’s contact in Germany. She is in a relationship with Smith but that gets introduced and put aside with near equal speed. I am cool with romantic subplots but to introduce something and then not touch it greatly annoys me. It is my understanding that both Smith and Schaffer had romantic subplots in the novel, but they were written out in the film.
There’s a bit of a mystery hanging over the story from the start. The moment the team enters German territory members of the unit are killed but who committed those murders is not known. What is reveal is there is a traitor in MI6 trying to not only screw the hooch on this mission but the war as well.
Hints, though subtle, are dropped along the way during the course of Where Eagles Dare. Well, most are subtle but one is a big smack across the face in hindsight. I did not get it at the time but once the bulk of the reveals had been done it was very clear.
Like most MacLean material there is a very secret traitor in it all and that is revealed as the surviving cast is making their way to safety. What makes this special is that it is all handled gentlemanly. There is no big fight. The main traitor is allowed to exit with a bit of dignity. It’s certainly a different ending than what most creators at any given point in entertainment history would do.
There is a nice mixture of mind and action along with interesting characters in a logically driven plot. While there are surprises, none of them show up illogically. They all make sense because of what came before. Director Brian G. Hutton keeps you hooked from the start.
Where the Eagles Dare is a great World War II action drama. There are enough twists and turns and just general excitement to keep you watching. I definitely recommend this one!