Director: Brian G. Hutton
Writer: Alistair MacLea
Cinematographer: Arthur Ibbetson
by Jon Cvack
I had this film in my Netflix queue for quite some time, waiting for the summer blockbuster season when big films have that extra kick, no matter how old or how many times I’ve seen them. It had been grabbed from seeing on at least half a dozen “Best World War II” film lists I’ve seen. I was expecting something along the lines of The Longest Day or A Bridge Too Far, and while the second half meets these expectations, the first is a bit slow and even a little hokie.
A team of British commandos, led by Major John Smith (Richard Burton), is joined by Army Ranger Lieutenant Morris Schaffer (Clint Eastwood), assigned to a highly dangerous and covert mission in the swiss alps in order to retrieve American General Carnaby (Robert Beatty), with the ridiculously gorgeous MI6 agent Mary Ellison (Mary Ure) hidden away on the plane and following a separate mission that we’ll learn about shortly.
Not knowing a single thing about the plot, I was a bit disappointed at first, especially once Smith meets for a lustful rendezvous with Ellison in an old cabin in the Alps, telling her to then meet him at a particular place in the village, and the whole thing was starting to feel like an hackneyed 007 plot placed against a Nazi backdrop; especially when Smith later discovers that one of the operatives had his neck broken after landing, making it clear that there’s some double dealings going on within the operation.
When the brigand finally arrives in town, sneaking past the guard while speaking in their native accents, I was a bit perturbed. Maybe the Nazis didn’t hear them. Then the remaining five soldiers hit up a crowded bar, with Richard Burton’s character openly engaging with the Nazi leadership with his trademark English accent and no one’s any wiser. While at first I hated it, I then kind of appreciated the gesture. Obviously the best they could have done was speak in German, but given how hard that’d be for these Hollywood bad boys, I’m not sure that a German accent would have been believable, leaving us to assume that while they’re speaking no differently, they’re actually speaking German. In other words, director Brian G. Hutton figures we'll just roll with the logic, which I did, and in many ways I was thankful, as I’m not sure I could have properly handled Eastwood’s German accented stoicism, or Burton’s similarly styled sarcasm.
However, even with Wikipedia’s help, it was here that I was bit confused over what occurs at this moment, as suddenly German police enter the bar, possibly saying something about the five troops that might have entered the city, but seemed more like Military Police pissed off about something else, but essentially causes the three other Allied operatives Thomas (William Squire), Berkeley (Peter Barksworth), and Christiansen (Donald Houston) to turn themselves in, with Schaffer and Smith later doing the same. I’m not sure if this was simply a convenient plot device or what, but it seemed like the only purpose of this scene was to kickstart the action and get the men into the castle, as without having apprehended the men it would have been difficult to advance the plot. So maybe they deliberately set themselves up to be captured? Given how complex this moment is, I’m not so sure it was simply a victim of lazy writing, but I was still confused.
Schaffer and Smith then kill their captors on the way to castle, and thus we get our first taste of what kind of action this movie contains, as an actual Nazi jeep falls about five hundred feet down a mountain and into a small creek, making you wonder if there are still pieces of the thing somewhere down there to this day. Schaffer and Smith then make it up to the castle, finding an interrogation between the Nazi leadership and General Carnaby inside a massive dining room. The three Allied operatives (Berkeley, Christiansen, and Thomas) are brought it, and so begins an absolutely incredible dialogue sequence, as Schaffer swings back and forth between presenting himself as a double agent and revealing the double dealing between his team and the General. I’m not even positive as to what exactly went on, so much as enjoyed Clint Eastwood’s unflinching reaction, culminating in an incredible Tarantino-esque guns blazing finale. And now they have to get out of the castle.
What begins involves incredible tight hallway gun battles, countless plantings of dynamite, climbing down the castle, a car chase that might be one of the coolest I’ve seen ever, and enough explosions to impress the most diehard of Michael Bay fans. With the most impressive thing being - it’s all provided through practical and highly realistic effects, as even some of the most dangerous stunts look like they actually happened.
When I was a kid my dad would put on an action movie, and once the shoot outs began I’d get overwhelmingly motivated to ditch the movie, grab my toy guns and run around, acting like I was in the film. This movie made want me to find that old bag of toy guns. It’s such a fun story, functioning exactly how an action movie should. I kept thinking of Enemy at the Gates, and how it was one of the last films that looked like it actually took place in a leveled city rather than a mega-expansive computer generated landscape. In 2001 when Enemy at the Gates was filmed, CGI wasn’t yet good enough to compete with practical effects, and it felt like you were watching a massive production, requiring hundreds of people building and destroying sets In the behind the scenes documentary, you see pyrotechnics, with countless amounts of fuel and bombs, with everything looking like it’s on fire. Imagine visiting that set as a kid and how much it’d inspire you to get involved with films and to see the magic in creating them. Now compare that to a kid entering a dark computer lab where hundreds of people are working in silence via a heavy division of labor and there’s no comparison.
These movies are becoming increasingly rare to discover. I’ve seen so many of them, and can revisit some, but I definitely spend more time looking than finding them. It’s the type of movie that makes you nostalgic for those summer action flicks.. They’re not really around this year - Independence Day, sure, but I’m not hearing anyone talking about it. It’s that void that makes you excited. When I hear of Christopher Nolan’s Dunkirk and his demands for close to fully practical production design and effects, I’m beyond excited, in a way that popular films rarely provide these days. He’s one of the few filmmakers working who can immerse us within that Big Summer Movie World, with The Dark Knight Trilogy now something I turn to every season, as they’re the most recent films to capture that feel. Where Eagles Dare is like Die Hard, where anyone who likes a good action film would be glued to the last hour of this; where if they were at a bar, diner, or laundromat, they’d sit in their chair until the credits rolled. It’s incredible.
BELOW: The first action piece - an actual Jeep being pushed over a cliff, falling hundreds of feet
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