Here is this month’s Genre Grandeur – Finale with a review of Where Eagle’s Dare by Niall of Raging Fluff.
This month, we had 15 other reviews for the Genre theme of War Movies.
Thanks to everyone who participated.
Here’s a list of the reviews:
Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy – Niall
Dr. Strangelove or How I Learned to stop worrying and Love the Bomb – Niall
Next month’s genre which was chosen by Tom of Digital Shortbread is Space movies, so start watching your favorite movie(s) in that genre and send me your review before 25th of September in order to be included.
Can’t wait to see what you all have in mind.
Here’s Niall’s favorite War movie!
When an American General is shot down over Nazi Germany and held prisoner at a castle high in the Bavarian Alps, an elite team of commandos is sent to rescue him.
“Broadsword Calling Danny Boy! Broadsword Calling Boy!”
To watch Nazis in some films makes you wonder how the war lasted as long as it did, and the Alistair MacLean World War II adventure Where Eagles Dare is no exception. The Germans behave as they generally do in this sort of film – the officers are cultured and have an aristocratic bearing, drink schnapps and listen to classical music; the nasty Gestapo man is feared and loathed by the ordinary soldiers; and the troops are slow-witted and conveniently slow-moving, walking and driving into booby traps, and lining up one by one to take their turns getting gunned down by the heroes. Mind you, I wouldn’t want it any other way.
My reasons for liking Where Eagles Dare, however, have little to do with the film’s merits, and a lot to do with Christmas 1982.
I can still see the Sanyo Betamax video recorder that my dad set up that morning. It was a huge, heavy, solid piece of machinery. It was satisfyingly loud. The control buttons were more like small levers that had to be pressed firmly. When it arose from within the machine, the slot for the video tape was like the mouth of some sort of alien beast. Inside, like giant teeth, were two large wheels in the centre and several smaller ones around. On the front was a digital clock with a flashing 12:00. I am, and always have been, horribly unhandy: I struggle with screwdrivers and spanners, and hammering nails into the floor looks far easier than it is. I can, however, make the 12:00 stop flashing on a video recorder. Sadly, that skill that I acquired as an eleven year-old isn`t much called for nowadays.
That video recorder changed my life; it changed all of our lives. There would be – in theory anyway – no more arguments about what to watch. Imagine – being able to watch a programme on one channel while recording something else on a different channel! And you could set a timer to record something the next day or the next week! Even if the television was turned off! And once you had recorded something, if you wanted to watch it again, you just had to rewind the tape – that wonderful sound! And for those extra special programmes that you didn’t want to record over, that you wanted to keep, well, there was a little tab in the upper corner of the tape. Once you broke it off, it was impossible to erase the tape (unless you put sellotape over the hole where the tab used to be).
Where Eagles Dare was the first thing we ever recorded. It was on BBC1 that Christmas (on Boxing Day, if I recall). We didn`t break the tab on the tape, but we didn’t record anything else on it either. I had never seen the film before. I fell in love with it. I don`t remember how many times I watched it over the holidays and well into 1983, but it was a lot. Even today when I hear the martial drum and brass of Ron Goodwin`s music, I can summon almost the entire film. I cannot read the word broadsword without hearing Burton saying into a radio “Broadsword calling Danny Boy.” (to this day, when my brother Denis and I speak on the phone, the conversation begins with those words.) More importantly, I can’t think of the film without seeing my family gathered in front of the television. I must have been lying on the floor or at least sitting closest to the television, and for good reason. Back in those days, kids, we didn’t have a remote control: I was the remote control.
Before I begin praising Where Eagles Dare, I suppose I should get the many flaws of the film out of the way. Although it’s set in a beautiful part of the Alps in the winter snow, much of it is unattractively photographed and murky. It has glaring errors in continuity: bright sunny skies one moment, overcast the next, and several scenes are clumsily constructed so that characters are outdoors in one shot, and in the next obviously in a studio against a projected background. And on many occasions when you are supposed to believe that Richard Burton and Clint Eastwood are getting up to all sorts of daring-do, the two figures on screen are clearly stunt doubles. It’s also quite long: almost two-and-a-half hours.
On the other hand, the film has an intriguing premise and a couple of good twists, and it has a lot in common with Alistair MacLean’s other men on a mission story, The Guns of Navarone. There are several exciting set-pieces, including a vicious fight atop a cable car; it has a thumping good score; there are a few good lines and some moments of light relief; the Gestapo officer is a very memorable villain; and for the most part the film is well-acted. Burton and Eastwood make a good double act; one short, pudgy and snarly; the other tall, lean and laconic. Burton was 43 when he made this; he looks far older, like he’s been at the bottle a bit (he probably was). It’s hard to think of him as an action hero, but it’s easier to see him barking orders and not suffering fools. He has one truly brilliant moment where he bares his teeth like a guard-dog and tells a German officer that he’s Himmler’s brother. Eastwood meanwhile does a fine job dispatching men with a knife, machine gun and dynamite. As the Germans are nearing, he gets to say “we got company” twice.
Burton is Major Smith, a British intelligence officer leading a team of crack commandos behind enemy lines to rescue General Carnaby (Robert Beatty), who has been shot down over the Alps. Carnaby is being held at the Schloss Adler (The Castle of the Eagle`). Why Carnaby needs rescuing is because he knows the plans for the Allied Second Front. When one of the soldiers suggests just bombing the castle and killing everyone inside, Admiral Roland (the sublime Michael Hordern) points out that Carnaby is an American, and that if they kill him, “General Eisenhower might well launch the Second Front against us rather than against the Germans. There are certain niceties to be observed in our relationship with our allies.“
Eastwood of course is also an American, and his presence in the film serves an important purpose beyond being a young and bankable Hollywood star. He plays Lieutenant Shaffer, and is there primarily because he is the only one of the team that Smith can trust because:
The whole mission is a fake: in fact it’s a mole hunt. Someone at MI6 is a German spy. And General Carnaby isn`t General Carnaby at all. He is in fact Corporal Cartwright Jones, an actor who just happens to be the spitting image of Carnaby (it’s a creaky plot device, I know, but just go with it, okay?) The allies ditched his plane on purpose so that he would be captured, necessitating the rescue mission, the real purpose of which is to ferret out the mole and discover the spy network operating in Britain. Jones volunteered for the mission because as Smith says, “What actor wouldn’t? After all, if he pulls this off it will be the summit of his career. Mind you, it might be a short engagement.”
So Smith, Shaffer and the others parachute in, and immediately afterwards a woman who’s been hiding in the plane follows. She is Mary (Mary Ure), Smith’s fellow spy and lover, and she will infiltrate the castle as a domestic. There is yet another spy in the castle: the bar wench Heidi, played by busty Hammer Horror icon Ingrid Pitt. “She’s been one of our top agents in Bavaria since 1941,” says Burton as he leers at her chest, “and what a disguise!”
The film’s other major draw is Derren Nesbitt as Major Von Hapen, the suave, unnerving Gestapo officer. He’s only in three or four scenes, but he’s unforgettable. Strikingly good-looking, with piercing blue eyes and curly blonde hair, he seems ready-made to play a villain, and he set the bar high for other actors who would be cast as Gestapo agents. He is impeccable and intimidating in the jet-black uniform of the Gestapo, with his leather coat draped over his shoulders, but notice that his cap is ever so slightly tilted, for Von Hapen is something of a dandy, a vain, smooth charmer, and when he sets eyes on Ure, he clicks his heels, bows and kisses her hand. “It’s very seldom ve haf so pretty a girl. Perhaps I can show you some Bavarian hospitality. Downstairs ve haf an armaments room which has been converted into ze most marvellous cafe.” One of these days I’m going to go to Dusseldorf just so I can confirm that Von Hapen was right: ze cathedral was on ze other side of the square.
There are car chases, gun battles, some grisly killings (it’s rather violent in places). The film was directed by Brian Hutton for MGM and it was a big hit (he and Eastwood reunited to make Kelly’s Heroes) Filming was some days quite arduous, as the crew would have to lug their equipment up into the mountains, and it was freezing. But it couldn’t have been all bad, and the cast must have had fun. At the end of the shoot, Burton and Eastwood confessed to Ingrid Pitt that they’d had a bet to see which of them could bed her first. She turned to them and blandly asked, “who won?”
Thanks again to Niall for this review and for choosing this month’s Genre
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finally read your review now that I just watched this.
Didn’t love it as much as you, but it was a very enjoyable WWII Spy flick.
When one has personal connections to a movie, it obviously is much better.
Thanks for such an informative review. My review of this will probably be up early next week