August 23, 2013

Movie Review: Where Eagles Dare (1968)

Broadsword calling Danny Boy, Broadsword calling Danny Boy, come in, over? - Major John Smith (Richard Burton)

Director: Brian G. Hutton

Writer: Alistair MacLean (novel, story and screenplay)

Producer: Elliott Kastner

Studio: MGM (US)

Major Stars: Richard Burton, Clint Eastwood, Patrick Wymark, Patrick Hordern

Note: In keeping with my policy about movies 25 years old or more, I feel no compunctions about revealing what happens in the film. With that in mind, there may be SPOILERS below. If you haven’t seen the film yet, you may want to avoid this review.

I admit to a certain level of bias when it comes to Where Eagles Dare. This was one of the first WW2 films I ever watched with my dad. And it is still, after all these years, one of the best.

The plot is (supposedly) straightforward; Major Smith (Burton) leads a squad including an American Ranger (Eastwood) into the Bavarian Alps to rescue an American general that has been captured. It turns out that everything I typed after the world “Alps” isn’t true at all. Because what this film is, at heart, is a very clever intelligence operation. Alistair MacLean’s script is tight and twisty. There is a point in the film where what you thought was going on actually gets tossed on its head three times in ten minutes. And none of it is a cheat. Everything holds together and makes sense.

That said, it’s still a kick-ass war flick. You have gun battles galore and the best fight ever filmed on a cable-car (don’t bring that weak Moonraker argument in here!). The Nazis are rotten and the women are buxom as all good Bavarian women and MI6 female operatives are.

Richard Burton is perfect as Major Smith, the British soldier/operative tasked with the true goal of the mission. He has that wonderful Brit “calm under fire” attitude down pat. And his dry wit makes for some memorable lines. Eastwood plays American Ranger Lt. Morris Schaffer, the only man on the mission that Smith can trust. He a cool killer. In fact, Eastwood kills more people in this film than any other one he filmed. And if you’ve seen A Fistful of Dollars or The Outlaw Josey Wales, you know that’s a lot of dead Nazis.

The film was actually shot in and around Bavaria, which accounts for the great scenery. Some of the film was also shot in Switzerland and Austria. The Swiss even ponied up the JU-52 transport the mission team uses to insert and escape from Bavaria. They are actual WW2 relics. Which again forces me to point out that the Swiss were Nazi-light in many ways during the war (see my review of Von Ryan's Express), but the planes help to make the film more realistic.

I use the word “realistic” lightly here, because we’re dealing with a fanciful scenario set in a real event (kind of like Kelley’s Heroes, another Eastwood flick.) So I don’t hold an expectation for realism in a film like this as opposed to one like A Bridge Too Far. That makes it even nicer to see them use something like the JU-52. Compare that to Battle of the Bulge, where they shot a battle that was supposed to be in France…in Spain.

As far as negatives go…the only really ridiculous thing that stuck out was Schaffer when he used an MP-40 in each hand. Those things weigh near 10 pounds each. No one could fire them like that and control where their shots went. And General Carnaby couldn’t have been going to meet his Soviet counterpart in Crete, since the Germans still controlled the island in 1944.

But that is nitpicking at what is one of the most enjoyable WW2 action films around. If you don’t own it, you have to buy it. This is a “must have” for any collection.

In the list, Where Eagles Dare is easily in the upper echelons. I have to put it above Toko-Ri, which says something about how good it is. But is it better than Stalingrad? In the end…not quite. But as a pure “action” war film, it doesn’t get much better than this.


  1. Great review!

    We're linking to your article for Spy Movie Tuesday at

    Keep up the good work!



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