Eastwood: Where Eagles Dare

Where Eagles Dare is a World War II set action classic that has little interest in facts, preferring to concentrate on all out excitement. Starring the rather marvelous double act of Richard Burton and Clint Eastwood this was made when Clint had just become a superstar after The Good The Bad and the Ugly. The film follows a group if Allied spies who parachute into Germany to apparently rescue an American General who crashed his plan 24 hours earlier. Turns out the film has more twists than a dodgy snake and by the end you need a genius to tell you exactly what’s going on.

The debate regarding the greatest War action film may indeed be on-going but for me it’s pointless as you need look no further than this absolute epic. The words  Broadsword calling Danny Boy is enough to make people like me smile from ear to ear brining to mind Where Eagles Dare. The film centers around a British commando spy unit who parachute in behind enemy lines to rescue Colonel Carnaby from a German castle. Turns out it’s all a clever rouse to uncover German spy’s working in London and the only reason I can unveil that easily is due to having watched the film a million times.

The true genius of Where Eagles Dare lies in the fact that the key scene of the film is actually people stuck sitting behind a table and endless dialogue. This is arguably one of the biggest war action films of the 60’s if not the entire genre. The fact that the makers had the confidence and balls to make a non action scene the key moment of the film smacks of immense confidence. Burton comes into his own during this sequence as his character unveils himself as three different people in five minutes before coming back to himself.

As for the mighty Clint he’s actually not the star name of this film having to come one place beneath the mighty Burton. The majority of the film involves Clint saying very little and just allowing his height and physicality to dominate the screen. Burton later said that he found working with Clint a joy and that he wishes he could simply embody a part without an actual process. One problem the film has is the suspension of disbelief that all the Allied spies are talking German which seems a little unlikely in Clint’s case as his American accent is somewhat unmistakable. The explanation for Clint character actually being on the mission is a stroke of genius and works perfectly as to why he is in the film himself. His inclusion is naturally a commercial decision but the charisma is enough to remove any reservations the audience may have.

Beyond the endless plot twists this is at the end of the day an action masterpiece that involves a huge cable car sequence and a massive chase sequence involving a bus. The castle escape must have influenced a million computer games by today and the whole thing is a total joy no matter how many times I return to it. The cast beyond the two major stars are the usual who’s who of German action pictures and you get Ingrid Pitt thrown in on top for the cleavage factor.

Far superior to Clint’s other war move Kelly’s Heroes, Where Eagles Dare is quite simply one of the greatest films ever made. Beloved by the Coen brothers I defy anyone to have an attitude about this action classic. The inclusion of Clint is exactly critical for the success of the film but it’s brilliant to see him side by side with the incomparable Burton. As odd couples go this film really does push the limits of credibility by having the double act of the Shakespearean Burton with the Hollywood megastar Eastwood, but it simply works. On my list of the hundred greatest film ever made there is a very strong possibility that Where Eagles Dare would feature strongly and rightly so.

Aled Jones

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