A movie that I find not enough people have seen is WHERE EAGLES DARE (1968). It’s a World War II action-thriller starring Richard Burton (well into his post-CLEOPATRA marriage to Elizabeth Taylor) and Clint Eastwood (hot off the ‘Man With No Name’ trilogy of spaghetti westerns directed by Sergio Leone). Those that do know it, love it. It’s a movie that deserves plenty of recognition, and then some.
The discussable plot is simple. A high-ranking American general with D-Day information is shot down behind German lines and taken captive by the Nazis. Being held in a castle, a British Commando team led by Burton, is sent in on a rescue mission. Eastwood is in the mix but is the odd man out on this all-British team and can’t figure out why he’s been included. What ensues is a tense and exciting action picture with so many twists and turns and a sequence that even while being completely dialogue driven, will blow your mind. The problem of course is beyond the basic plot, it is difficult to go into too many details because this is one movie that is best left unspoiled. It’s one of those pictures where the less you know, the better it is.
Director Brian G. Hutton has a small list of credits (he passed away in 2014), but it’s a solid one that includes another World War II picture starring Eastwood, KELLY’S HEROES (1970) which is a comedy, X, Y AND ZEE (1972) a drama starring Elizabeth Taylor, THE FIRST DEADLY SIN (1980) a detective picture starring Frank Sinatra, and HIGH ROAD TO CHINA (1983) a World War I adventure with Tom Selleck. Only 9 pictures directed, but it’s a solid list. WHERE EAGLES DARE though stands out though as a picture that deserves all the attention it can get.
Eastwood here is the junior compared to Burton, but the two are clearly powerhouse actors in their prime. Burton was not in the best condition, drinking heavily and depressed, but you’d never know it. There is something about the way Burton commands the screen in everything he does. That Shakespearean voice, that theatrical command of dialogue and let’s face it, the man is beyond handsome even with the signs of some hard living. Eastwood here is in his late 30s, and especially after seeing him in his most recent picture, THE MULE (2018), he looks fresh faced and young.
The picture is written by Alistair MacLean and is an original screen story as opposed to being based on one of his very popular novels (my Father can attest to that as I’m sure most people’s Fathers can – he’s a ‘Dad’ writer). He later did turn this into a novel, but the screenplay came first. His most notable screen adaptations are THE GUNS OF NAVARONE (1961), THE SATAN BUG (1965), ICE STATION ZEBRA (1968) and FORCE 10 FROM NAVARONE (1978).
WHERE EAGLES DARE was a hit at the box office, and according to IMDb, has the highest body count dished out by Eastwood in any of his pictures. It’s a picture that is ripe for rediscovery and even if one person watches after reading this, then my job is done!