So once again we have survived.

Where Eagles Dare

tn_whereeaglesdareIn Act I, Scene III of Richard III, Shakespeare wrote that there are places up so high that only eagles got the balls to go up there (exact quote). Schloβ Adler up in the Alps is not one of those places. It’s all Nazis and undercover MI-6 operatives in this joint. No birds at all as far as I noticed.

Loosely based on Disneyland’s Skyway and Matterhorn rides, WHERE EAGLES DARE is the story of a team of British commandos (Richard Burton, others) and one American (Clint) sent on a mission to infiltrate the Nazi-infested castle and rescue a captured general before he’s enhanced-interrogationed into giving up the Allied war plans or something. So they have to skydive, go on a snow trek, mountain climb, sneak in wearing Nazi uniforms, fit in, drink German beer (which Clint was against in THE ROOKIE, saying it has no aftertaste), and all kinds of dangerous shit.

mp_whereeaglesdareBurton is the man with the plan. He does most of the talking and instructing. He also has two (2) hot mamas he meets up with, one (Mary Ure) already a bar maid in the castle, the other (Ingrid Pitt) pretending to be the fake bar maid’s cousin. He’s sneaking around behind the others’ back and could be a traitor himself, you never know. Or just a lady’s man.

There’s a whole lot of intrigue in this thing: An Aryan douchebag who seems dangerously close to discovering the plot. Word of a mole somewhere in MI-6. A long, convoluted monologue explaining who’s really who and what they’re up to. But there’s also a ton of action: ski lift stunts, shootouts, bombings, truck crashes, a bus with a snow shovel on the front. While it takes its sweet British time getting there it eventually gets to an epic series of uninterrupted action sequences. What makes it so awesome is the quiet, confident professionalism of these characters. When Burton blurts out an instruction they know exactly how to do it, they don’t gotta ask questions. More often than that he doesn’t even have to say anything. They know exactly what to do without having to tell each other with more than a glance or a nod. When it comes time to quit ducking bullets in the bus, stand up and shoot back they do it without hesitation, without flinching, without showing much emotion. And this includes the women. Equality, man.

(The irony of movies using women to do more than stand around looking hot is that it makes them way hotter. I mean, look at this:
whereeaglesdare-maryure
Don’t you think?)

During the truck chase they just get out, set up bombs, keep going, blow up the bridge behind them. Like clockwork. It reminds me of a heist movie, a carefully rehearsed plan. They know exactly what to do.

Watching this now you definitely gotta notice the influence on INGLOURIOUS BASTERDS. Not just the drinking and trying not to seem phony in their shitbag uniforms, not just the unflinching assassination of any S.S. fucker that gets in their way, but even the expository mission briefing scene that seems awfully similar to the Mike Meyers one in BASTERDS. Of course, Tarantino cites this movie as what he was trying not to do by having all his characters speak their own languages. EAGLES uses the more common and less Mel-Gibson-approved method of just having everybody speak English, and doesn’t even bother with the commonly accepted rule German-accented-English = German. This is the movie’s one big weakness.

I don’t care about the lack of realism. This is imagination and fun. But I have to admit I got a little lost during the crucial scene where Burton lays out his scheme to a table full of guys in Nazi uniforms. Since the movie doesn’t really spend much time developing the other team members besides Burton and Eastwood and since they’re all wearing Nazi uniforms and since they all talk the same I had a hard time remembering who was real Nazis and who was fake ones. Especially since one of them is now claiming to be a fake fake Nazi. So that was a problem, but I got past it.

Clint’s part is pretty different from usual because he’s kind of the sidekick or supporting badass. But he’s one of those supporting characters who seems very present in the scenes even though somebody else is talking. You always wonder what he’s thinking, except when you can clearly tell what he’s thinking. You see him skeptical of Burton, but playing along, or waiting patiently to see where this is going. He’s kind of an American ideal (stoic, cynical, bomb expert) teamed with Burton as more of a British ideal (articulate mastermind) as a tribute to all the great things the British and Americans have done together over the years such as Monty Python, the Jimi Hendrix Experience, and the publication of Seagalogy.

The script is by the novelist Alistair MacLean (THE GUNS OF NAVARONE), not as an adaptation of a novel but as a movie-book-combo in the tradition of such cinemaliteratical works as 2001: A SPACE ODYSSEY and MR. MAJESTYK. The whole thing is a really well put together production, a real epic feel with a great Indiana-Jones-exciting score by Ron Goodwin and snowy locations nicely shot by Arthur Ibbetson. The director was Brian G. Hutton, whose KELLY’S HEROES is also coming up on my list of Clint movies to review. But it sounds like alot of the credit for this one has to go to an individual by the excellent handle of Yakima Canutt, who was a stuntman and occasional director going back to the silent film days. Here he was second unit director so he shot most of the action scenes (something he also did for BEN-HUR and SPARTACUS.)

As a Clint-centric viewer I gotta admit I don’t place this as high on the list as most of you guys seem to. It’s much more of a European thriller sensibility than the American grittiness I appreciate him for. But it’s a real enjoyable movie of its type that uses him well for extra flavor. It has some satisfying twists, is well structured to keep getting more exciting as it goes along and definitely has some of the best action sequences of its era. But again, there are not any birds in it, so the title doesn’t make any sense.

Oh wait, that’s a metaphor I bet. Good job, brave eagles. May your wings fly and then you kill other more hateful birds with courageous talons of justice, or whatever.

VERN has been reviewing movies since 1999 and is the author of the books SEAGALOGY: A STUDY OF THE ASS-KICKING FILMS OF STEVEN SEAGAL, YIPPEE KI-YAY MOVIEGOER!: WRITINGS ON BRUCE WILLIS, BADASS CINEMA AND OTHER IMPORTANT TOPICS and NIKETOWN: A NOVEL. His horror-action novel WORM ON A HOOK will arrive later this year.
This entry was posted on Wednesday, June 2nd, 2010 at 12:32 pm and is filed under Action, Reviews, War. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. You can leave a response, or trackback from your own site.

37 Responses to “Where Eagles Dare”

  1. When QT said he was doing a guys-on-a-mission WW2 film my heart soared (like an eagle you might say) at the possibility he’d be doing something along the lines of Where Eagles Dare (which I love). That’s one of the reasons I was a bit disappointed with Inglourious I think.

  2. Oh yes, German Beer. Every American I know loves it, but not one of them is strong enough for it.

  3. Hey Vern, A.G.D.T.B. (About God Damn Time Buddy)

    “This is the movie’s one big weakness.”

    I disagree. I mean what exactly is the difference between a cast speaking English and a cast speaking English through a foreign accent? They’re both speaking English so again what is the big fucking deal there? I’m reminded of that badass John Frakenheimer WW2 Men on a Mission classic THE TRAIN where Burt Lancaster the Frog never once bothers to sport a French accent.

    Which is good because you know, I bet his French accent was shit. I rather have an actor use the tongue he’s best with and pretend that he is of that nationality instead of trying to trip himself and rather sorta clumsily (Cruise in VALKYRIE*).

    rememeber LAST TEMPTATION OF CHRIST? I don’t remember Scorsese making any actor score some sort of foreign-sounding accent to play Jews or Romans or whatever. Rather he was clever by having people of distinct dialects like Harvey Keitel’s heavy Bronx accent or David The Sovereign Bowie’s British tongue to present the differences in speech of those different peoples at that time period.

    If you want realism, have the cast speak in the proper tongue and use subtitles or whatever. But save for say Tarantino, how many in Hollywood can get away with that in lengthy sections?

    *=A movie I liked mind you, and Cruise certainly was good but that accent which slipped here and there, he should have left it at home with Katie and Xenu.

  4. that is an excellent poster.

  5. One of my all-time fave films, a meticulous action movie where you actually see the good-guys plan their escape before even attempting the actual mission of infiltrating the castle.

    My favourite scene is the end of the long “reveal all”, when the SS officer comes in and Smith starts spouting bullshit about having uncovered a plot to assassinate Hitler. As he walks round the table to give the officer the “proof”, Smith blocks the officer’s view of Schaeffer (Eastwood). As Smith starts to eclipse Schaeffer, you can see Eastwood slowly reach down to pull out his gun. The SS guy’s attention is all on Smith as he continues walking round. Schaeffer just says “Smith.” in a calm voice, Smith ducks and suddenly SS guy has a new hole in his forehead…

    It’s interesting what you say about Yakima Canutt doing all the second unit stuff, because I can hardly believe that the same guy who directed this is also responsible for the complete mess that is Kelly’s Heroes.

  6. RRA, there is a movie of this era that actually had the german not only speak german, but played by german actors, and there was french charactees played by french actors, and it was an Hollywood movie: MURPHY’S WAR. Hell, even the lead actor, Peter O’Tool, was nationality correct, as he played an irishman. And the movie is damn good. I bet Vern would like it.

  7. Why is Budweiser considered an all-american brand of beer when it has an undeniably kraut-tastic name?

  8. MikeOutWest – I wouldn’t call KELLY’S HEROES a mess. I liked it, but I am intrigued by that (probably now lost) original cut of the movie which supposedly was meant to be an anti-war comedy adventure. Or I suppose Eastwood’s action movie remake of M*A*S*H.

    Yeah I like HEROES, not saying its bulletproof but I would consider it pretty good. The scene with Don Rickles being wounded is classic.

    And yes, I agree with your sentiments on WHERE EAGLES DARE, easily one of my personal favorites. Like THE WARRIORS, it never fails to make the hairs on my balls stand up and salute this machobration. I sometimes wonder if way too many modern actioneers suffering from having no patience what so ever. WED takes its sweet time to set the board pieces, but when the shit starts hitting the fan, the fucker is a wild roller coaster which honestly I’ve not seen that many actioneers pull off as well.

    AsimovLives – Yet you never watched WED? Why? What’s your excuse? Foreign boy I know you’ve seen the DIRTY HARRY series so really I am rather shocked about you never getting around to it. Now I know getting stemmed up about J.J. Abrams takes up most of your daily schedule, but shit man go out and rent WED. I mean EAstwood the glorified second banana being bossed around by Burton? Sounds like sorta your movie, no?

    Hell watch WED just to see the inspiration for this kickass Iron Maiden tune.

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=J8p9JpDuQ-o

  9. Stu – Because its original German roots has been sullied and quite frankly watered down by the immigration experience. And sorry my fellow Americans, but we are lightweight when it comes to alcoholic potency. Sorry buts its true. We have problems on that front like the French do with wars.

    Or to put it another way, the late Senator Ted Kennedy was a legendary hardcore drinker. But I’m certain that Irish-American wouldn’t last a few minutes with genuine Dublin boozers.

  10. My own favourite war movie. Not the cleverest, most witty or has the best developed characters or plot. But by god, it just fuckin thrills. Even the language issue you mention doesn’t distract from the action and two actors at the top of their game messing up the German nation (even though they are in Austria, but its the same place really)

    Don’t know how many times i have watched this, but this shit never gets old. Inglorious was cool, but apart from the German SS commander/detective, no character captured your attention like Burton or Eastwood and not one set piece touches the storming/escape from the castle.

    Vern. good call on reviewing this, think i’ll dig it out to watch.

  11. It also inspired the Misfits’ best song, in my humble opinion.

    Well, except for maybe “Skulls.”

    And probably “Last Caress.”

    Look, there are just too many best Misfits songs to get into, but “Where Eagles Dare” is definitely one of them. I’d always heard that the chorus (“I ain’t no goddamn sonofabotch!”) was taken from this movie but I was mistaken. I kept waiting for Clint to bust it out.

  12. “Sonofabotch” is my new favorite word.

  13. I remember liking Kelly’s Heroes as a kid – my dad was really taken with it, especially the Sergio Leone parody at the end. It’s bloody Donald Sutherland’s character – he’s just so out place.

  14. The Sutherland character didn’t bother me. Sure in the early 70s he was a hippie, but in the late 40s/50s he easily could have been a Beatnik. Which I think they were gunning for, I mean the only real difference was that the Beatniks were more into Jazz than Acid Folk Rock, more urban and Beatniks like Keruovac and Ginsberg believed in taking a bath more than once a week.

    What does stick out IMO is that theme song. Errr…

  15. “The world is grown so bad, That wrens make prey where eagles dare not perch.” Richard is taking the ol’ “There goes the neighborhood” stance: the world and everything in it going to hell around him, the undeserving getting the spoils, and “Since every Jack became a gentleman, There’s many a gentle person made a Jack.” The Elizabethan equivalent of being pissed off that all those other boobs in the office keep getting promoted over you.

    But I think I actually like the “there are places up so high that only eagles got the balls to go up there” interpretation better.

  16. Wasn’t a huge fan of this one, to be honest… heck, it’s a war film, not my favorite genre ever, so go figure. (As you’ll no doubt have gathered, I’m much more of a horror buff; war flicks don’t “do it” for me, generally speaking.) The characters were a little too lightly sketched for me. But what really annoyed me was the final act. A last-minute character twist is good but we haven’t really seen this character do anything except sit in a room, and his name has barely even been mentioned. (Also see: Casanova in “Kiss the girls”, where the killer’s identity is supposed to be a surprise but he’s one of half a dozen similar characters who haven’t really shown any individual features to distinguish between them.)

    I’ve read the novel (or novelisation? Looking at Vern’s statement, this isn’t just a case of a film being based on a book) and have to say that I actually preferred it to the film. That said, Alistair MacLean has written one genuine classic (his first novel “H. M. S. Ulysses”). If you only ever read one book about a British warship sent on a damn-near impossible mission into hostile waters under trecherous weather conditions, make it that one.

  17. CrustaceanHate

    June 2nd, 2010 at 4:45 pm

    ENEMY AT THE GATES wins for laziest use of accents. You’ve got American accents, half-assed Russian and German accents, plus every flavour of English accents you can imagine. As Christian Bale might say, it’s fucking distracting.

  18. I spent a year in private school watching this movie projected on a classroom wall twice every single Saturday night for an entire school year.

    God, it’s good.

  19. Val Kilmer's Elbow

    June 2nd, 2010 at 6:04 pm

    Please please PLEASE review THE EIGER SANCTION.

  20. There are so many great WWII man on a mission movies that they tend to overshadow Inglorious Basterds. It was Tarantino’s least interesting film, but the one where he was most rewarded at the box office. I would even put Kelly’s Heroes above Basterds. Of course, they’re both uneven, but Kelly’s Heroes is a lot more fun.

  21. “please review EIGER SANCTION”

    Val Kilmer’s Elbow – I second that. The rock-climbing stuff is badass this side of CLIFFHANGER, Eastwood really hanging out there by a thread of life and weren’t some stuntmen killed too on that production?

    The rest of that movie with the spy junk doesn’t matter worth spit, but the mountain scenes are worth it.

    Terrific book though, a parody of that 007 genre and yet somehow Eastwood got hold of it and made it another routine genre entry. Weird.

  22. I’ve never seen it myself, but having heard about it’s reputation, I have to agree with Val Kilmer’s Elbow (who I’m assuming is a Venture Bros fan?).

  23. Candice Rialson as his student at the beginning of Eiger Sanction. Mmmmm.

  24. RRA – Like I said, I don’t mind the phoniness of them speaking English. It just made it hard for me to follow who was who in that scene, that’s why I said it was a weakness.

  25. RRA – regarding your earlier comments on VALKYRIE (sorry, i joined this discussion a bit late), i’m not sure what you’re talking about with regards to cruise’s accent. i’m pretty sure he spoke with his natural accent the whole time. i think all the actors (mostly british) in that movie did, which was one of the things i respected about it. there was a lot of nerd uproar on the internet around the time when the first trailer for it came out. people were enraged that cruise wasn’t attempting some sort of german accent. but i couldn’t disagree more. in fact, it is a pet peeve of mine. there is ABSOLUTELY NO POINT in an american actor speaking in any specific accent (other than his/her own) in english when the language they are actually supposed to be speaking is another one. can you imagine how ridiculous it would be if klaus kinski was speaking spanish-accented german in AGUIRRE? same thing. ideally it would be great if all characters spoke (correctly) in the appropriate language subtitled a la INGLOURIOUS BASTERDS, but that ain’t gonna happen usually. so, the best way is to have actors portraying characters speaking other languages to just speak with their normal accents (which like i said is what i was pretty sure cruise and everyone else in VLAKYRIE was doing). of course, the worst is when actors speaking english with an accent that is neither their own NOR that of the language they are supposed to actually be speaking (a la liv tyler playing a russian with an english accent in ONEGIN, or jake gyllenhaal in PRINCE OF PERSIA – though from what i understand apparently his character in the video game had an english accent).

    though, i did sort of like the technique they used in ROME, where they used british accents from different classes to represent the class differences of the characters.

    one interesting side note about BASTERDS, originally leonardo di caprio was slated to play hans landa (no joke), and simon pegg was all but signed to play archie hicox but had to drop out due to scheduling conlicts. i wonder how tarantino would have solved the accent/language issues in that case, since i’m sure pegg (unlike michael fassbender) doesn’t speak near-native german, and di caprio probably isn’t fluent in german, french, and italian. would have been a VERY different movie.

    Stu – there is a long history regarding the name of budweiser beer. the original budweiser beer was a czech beer created in the 19th century in a town called ceske budejovice. the beer was called budvar in czech, after the town where it’s from. however, the lingua franca in that part of europe at the time (under the austro-hungarians) was german, and the german version of “budvar” was “budweiser,” so that was the common name of the popular beer at the time. anyway, at some point i think in the late 19th century, some american brewer decided to create a brand of watered down tasteless pilsner lager, and since at the time czech brewers had the reputation as being best in the world, and budweiser was one of the most popular of their beers, so the american just lifted the name in a time where copyrights were much more mercurial. budvar (the original budweiser) is still a very popular beer throughout europe, but ironically for years they weren’t able to export to america due to american budweiser owning the rights to the name. they finally ended up changing the name and exporting it to the U.S. as “czechvar.” budvar is a really good beer, budweiser not so much (though i still sometimes drink it due to it’s relative cheapness and out of some sort of strange patriotism, since it seems like the most american beer, though normally i am far from patriotic). i like beer.

    um, haven’t seen WHERE EAGLES DARE, but i really want to since it seems like it combines lots of elements i really like (men on a mission, killing nazis, alpine locales, british WWII officers, clint).

  26. Virgin Gary – Perhaps my memory is mistaken?

  27. I’ve been meaning to see this for a really long time

    isn’t there a blu ray coming soon?

  28. Man, i love that movie. Pure gold. The score is a little annoying, but the rest of the movie is perfection.

  29. The car flipping over towards the end of the movie is AMAZING.

  30. Griff – you’re right, it’s coming to blu-ray as a double feature with Kelly’s Heroes.

  31. Jareth Cutestory

    June 3rd, 2010 at 7:23 am

    Trivia: The stunt in RAIDERS OF THE LOST ARK where Ford crawled under and was dragged behind the moving truck is an homage to a similar stunt Yakima Canutt performed, except he crawled under a stagecoach.

  32. Val Kilmer is quite an old man today but he is still a great actor and handsome guy.-*-

  33. Man, i love that movie. Pure gold. The score is a little annoying, but the rest of the movie is perfection.

  34. Are you focused on exchanging backlinks?

  35. I’ve said that least 1683887 times. The problem this like that is they are just too compilcated for the average bird, if you know what I mean

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  37. Yeah, this review about covers it. I share Vern’s detailed criticisms and I share his praise.

    WHERE EAGLES DARE sure brightened my MayDay, as the sight of bullet-riddled Nazis, exploding Nazis, Nazis-on-fire, and suiciding Nazis usually does to any good person’s any-day. If you were a man between the ages of 18 – 40 who was gonna skip out on fighting the commies in Viet-fuckin-nam in order to make movies in Austria instead, this is a pretty good way to dodge that draft in my opinion.

    I kept trying to figure out how the great Moby-Dick (Chapter 96) passage applied to this movie, but whoops my bad yeah it was Shakespeare all along, good catch Vern. Unless it was also a reference to Melville somehow, which it wasn’t, but it really makes you think, if you think about it.

    In conclusion, don’t make my mistake and wait forever to see WHERE EAGLES DARE. It’s good action, good men-on-a-mission fare, great Nazi-killin’, and good Clint.

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