Alas, Dear Reader, it turns out we (as in, yours truly) may be a philistine.
We realized this when we screened the 1968 action thriller Where Eagles Dare, starring Richard Burton and Clint Eastwood. Some regard this film as one of the greatest WWII movies ever made; look at the rave reviews on Rotten Tomatoes.
We don’t get it.
Now, we consider ourselves to be fairly tolerant when it comes to film. We overlook plot holes, mediocre performances and cheesy special effects.
But we can’t buy into this film for, admittedly, some pretty shallow reasons.
First, there’s the looping or ADR (Automated Dialogue Replacement). This is when an actor re-records his lines, usually in a studio, because the sound quality wasn’t usable on the original shoot. In Where Eagles Dare, there is a tinny echo in the looping, which is distracting because it reminds us this is Only A Movie.
Secondly, we have the cliché-ridden script, e.g. “We’ve got company,” and “It seems I have no cards left to play.” It makes a person weep, a little, hearing Richard Burton deliver this drivel.
Then there is the matter of Clint Eastwood’s hair. Eastwood sports a beautifully sculpted, 1960’s hairdo throughout the film, despite several near-death adventures. How on earth does one maintain such coiffure while dodging angry Nazis?
Finally: The film is Too Long. When filmmakers pile on the explosions and gunfights, they’re only prolonging the inevitable conclusion. In our unprofessional opinion, this would be a much better film if it were trimmed by several minutes. Where are the Warner Bros. of the 1930s when you need ’em?
You may think we’re being unfair, and perhaps we are. Some of Hollywood’s top filmmakers were involved in this production, and it Paid Off handsomely. With a budget of an estimated $7.7 million, the film grossed $21 million in 1968 (approx. $152 million in today’s dollars).
Where Eagles Dare is about a Daring Rescue Mission – as though there were any other kind. A team of sneaky Allies is sent to the Bavarian Alps to free an American Bigwig who is being held by Nazis in an impregnable mountain fortress.
The premise is Very Similar to another war/action flick, namely The Guns of Navarone (1961), based on the novel by Alistair MacLean, who also wrote this film + novel combo. This time, though, the enterprising MacLean wrote the novel and the screenplay at the same time, and, apparently, it all started with Richard Burton.
True or not, legend has it the sons of Burton’s then-wife, Elizabeth Taylor, wanted him to make an action film. Burton, being a Movie Star, asked a Hollywood producer if such a script were lurking about. Our man MacLean was commissioned to create a New Adventure, so he replaced the Mediterranean cliffs of Navarone with snowy mountains in the Alps. Ta-dah!
Clint Eastwood was cast as Burton’s sidekick. At first, Eastwood reportedly didn’t like the script, and almost turned it down. His agent persuaded him to take it – one of those “Baby, it’ll make you a Star” moments – so he signed on, requested fewer lines for his character, and became a Star.
Although Eastwood and Burton have very different acting styles, they make a good Nazi-Busting Team. Burton delivers the speeches while Eastwood handles the explosions. Also, we (the audience) sense genuine camaraderie between the two men.
Where Eagles Dare was filmed in Austria and Germany during the winter and early spring of 1968. While that alone would present its own set of challenges, Wikipedia says the crew also had to contend with freezing temperatures, blizzards and avalanches.
Now that we think about it, maybe we have been a bit harsh with this film. It is not without thrills or surprise and, like Navarone, it asks: Who is the traitor on our team of agents?
Personally, we can’t wholeheartedly recommend Where Eagles Dare. But if you like WWII action yarns with lots of shooting and explosions, then this is for you.
This post is part of the WINTER IN JULY BLOGATHON hosted by Moon in Gemini.
Where Eagles Dare: starring Richard Burton, Clint Eastwood, Mary Ure. Directed by Brian G. Hutton. Written by Alistair MacLean. Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer, 1968, Metrocolor, 158 mins.