WolfmanOz at the Movies #20

Broadsword calling Danny Boy

Post WWII, one of the most popular genres for approx. 30 years was the war adventure/action film where, whether it be land, sea or air, the films would provide escapist entertainment reinforcing the image of the Allied victory against both the Germans and the Japanese.

The anti-war messages tended to be somewhat muted given the clear moral choices that tended to differentiate WWII from WWI.

The stories told were mostly fiction e.g. The Guns Of Navarone or The Dirty Dozen, and, if based on historical drama, tended towards embellishment e.g. The Great Escape released in 1963.

But the ultimate in action and suspense in a war adventure film came with the release in 1968 of Where Eagles Dare. Even now, 54 years later, it still stands as one of the most exciting films ever made and a true classic.

The genesis of the film started with star Richard Burton in which Lizzie Taylor’s kids wanted to see him in a film they could watch so Burton contacted producer Elliott Kastner who then consulted with best-selling author Alistair MacLean who wrote the screenplay which he then adapted into a novel.

MacLean was noted for his popular thriller and adventure novels which often had convoluted plots with numerous twists all of which was on display in Where Eagles Dare.

Starting off as a somewhat straight forward rescue mission, where British intelligence send in a team of seven agents to rescue a captured American general (who is the chief planner for Operation Overlord), who has been taken by the Germans to a mountaintop castle in the German Alps castle accessible only by cable car.

The team is lead by Major Smith (Burton) with an American, Lt. Shaffer (Clint Eastwood) also assigned to the British team who are then all parachuted into Germany where a number of them are mysteriously killed and then they are all captured.

Smith and Shaffer then manage to escape and then prepare to enter the castle via the cable car.

Once in the castle the true nature of the mission is revealed which the following 2 clips detail – Richard Burton was in his prime.

Needing to escape the castle, the team then go on a series of incredible death-defying stunts and sequences in which the cast dubbed the film Where Doubles Dare.

And the film ended with one last surprise twist !

So why was the film so successful ?

I believe it was just a lucky combination of the right talents, both in front and behind the camera, coming into play at the right time. From the top cast of mostly British actors to the level of tension generated by director Brian G. Hutton, a ridiculously contrived plot that enabled the viewer to willingly plant their brain under their seat whilst they enjoyed the absurdities and twists. And not forgetting the terrific music score by Ron Goodwin that perfectly supported the mood of the film.

I vividly recall first seeing this film on release when the family was on holiday at the Isle of Wight. It was a very wet afternoon and the family went to see it not really knowing much about it . . . oh for the days before the internet.

Well this young lad was utterly transfixed in whether he wanted to replicate Clint Eastwood shooting dozens of Germans (who couldn’t shoot straight) or Richard Burton confusing the Nazis with his double and triple crosses.

It holds a special place for me and is still one of the most purely entertaining films I have ever enjoyed and continue to do so.


29 thoughts on “WolfmanOz at the Movies #20”

  1. Broadsword calling Danny Boy

    A few years back, two friends and I went thirds in a 26′ ali fishing boat, which we used when all of us were in Lancelin (small town on the coast north of Perth) for holidays or just weekends.

    Whenever we went out fishing in company with another boat, that was our exact call sign to each other, done in the best faux Richard Burton voice.

    God only knows what the Sea Search and Rescue mob thought of that …

  2. The inability of baddies to shoot straight seems a common trait in all action movies. No wonder they always lose. (The goodies also seem to have extraordinarily large magazines.) If I was a criminal mastermind intent on taking over the world, I would certainly invest in some target practice for my minions.
    Having said that, I would vote The Guns of Navarone the best of those you nominate. All good fun, though!

  3. I loved all those movies as a kid and still do. They bring back memories of the early ’70s; Dad was in the army and posted to Port Moresby. There was no TV in PNG in those days, so open air movies at the Sergeants Mess on Saturday night was eagerly anticipated. War movies, westerns and comedies were the go. Good times.

  4. The raptor returned a few years later with Michael Caine, Donald Sutherland and others in “The Eagle Has Landed”.

  5. Clint Eastwood shooting dozens of Germans (who couldn’t shoot straight)

    Reminds me of that philosophical paradox – akin to the question of what would happen in the irresistible force encountered the immovable object.

    What would happen?

  6. I liked the novels better, but perhaps that was because I read them in high school and imagination fills in your mental picture of such stories a certain way. So when you see someone else’s mental picture it doesn’t quite fit with yours.

    In such a genre you can add The Great Escape, Kelly’s Heroes and of course The Dirty Dozen.

  7. I agree with all that others have said.

    Mary Ure also was at her best I’m this film. But as a young lad I fell for Ingrid Pitt in her dirndle. What a disguise!

    Darren Nesbit very nearly stole the show.

    Only the British would do these kinds of things. Operation Mincemeat actually happened.

  8. “The Eagle Has Landed” was aired on Fox Classics a few days ago.

    Despite outstanding performances by Michael Caine and Donald Sutherland, it was a thin plot and woeful special effects. Should have been called “The Chook Has Fallen off the Perch”.

    Disappointing compared to the masterpiece “Where Eagles Dare”

  9. Does Zulu (1964) count as a war film?
    Great film, BTW, as are Where Eagles Dare and The Guns of Navarone.
    Another favorite, if not as good as the films above is Operation Crossbow (1965).

    Incidentally, I will be seeing Operation Mincemeat at the cinema tonight, but I don’t expect much action in that, if any.

  10. It’s standard hollywood – The goodies win against impossible odds . Meanwhile in the real world the “baddies” have been winning against the “goodies” . I’m waiting for the movies titled “the Washington trials” or the “Canberra trials”. Cancelled in 3…2…1…

  11. This is Dannyboy go ahead Broadsword.

    Great pic. I remember seeing it as a lad with my father. But fell asleep as was the fashion of 7yo.
    Recall mother thinking Twas too violent but I was just happy to spend time with me Dad.

    Always wanted to have a fight on top of a cable car!

    And stash a blonde in the woodshed for a quick rendezvous.

    Also love watching Kelly’s Hero’s. I think it is great plot that could be redone…just need to find that gold!

  12. I love it too Wolfman. And strong interesting roles for those two chicks, machine gun on hips shooting from the bus!

    Ruined me for cable cars though, especially when they pass each other!

    And yes, that final twist. Always worth the wait.

  13. Das Boot the movie was good.

    Sure was; one of the most harrowing “warries” I’ve ever seen. And the ending just perfectly summed up the sheer futility of it all.

    In a completely different vein, two more contemporary movies that left me emotionally wrung out were Blackhawk Down (despite Eric Bana’s Godawful American accent) and American Sniper. I found the tension in both of them to be at times almost palpable.

  14. All of the above and 12 O clock High and The Way Ahead (David Niven 1944). Saw them both for the first time doing the leadership module in the Corporals Course I did. Rewatched many times since.

  15. I saw when Eagles Dare when i was about 12, went to a show with a friend and his father, a man who served with the RN in the Med in WW2, wounded and decorated.

    We kids loved it but the old man was a bit non plussed. I remember him saying the war wasnt really like that, it was not easy to kill Germans, and they would have won the war in 6 months if they had Clint Eastwood.

    I have always since thought that movies that make German (or Jap) soldiers out to be easy pickings were a kind of insult to the ordinary, terrified, but courageous men who went up against them.

  16. Bah – Simplistic propaganda
    Honourable mention “ eye of the needle” – the German lands the girl and almost made it.

  17. Am halfway thru Seawolves. Tell me it has a strong ending cos the first half is schiezenhauzen.

  18. Methinks IRL Clint would rather have had the real deal, James Garner, on his side rather than Garner’s paranoid fruitloop neighbour (c/- his memoirs) ‘legend’ Steve McQueen.
    Garner did all the things IRL that McQueen dreamt of.

  19. I’ve always had a soft spot for the submarine movies – you know, the glup glup sound effects, the psychological warfare. Mind you, the subs in these movies were remarkably spacious and clean, and the personnel very well-groomed and dressed. From what I can glean about WWII subs, the reality was rather different. 🙂

    Props to GEM on FTV that shows old war movies regularly on weekends. In recent weeks I re-watched two about Dunkirk, both of them interesting and well acted, if not always realistic. They also ran When Eagles Dare not long ago.

    The Dirty Dozen is a good movie, but it is just a war-based variation of an old theme also applied to sports teams, criminal gangs etc in other fillums. Group of clashing personalities thrown together and so on.

    Does anyone remember a TV series called Combat starring Vic Morrow?

  20. Diogenes. Indeed, I was suprised that “12 O’clock High” was used for leadership training I believe inside and outside the military. Gregory Peck’s character is superb as he takes over the hard luck bomber group and transforms a low-ebbing, psychologically strained group of “kids” — bomber crews of 18+ year old airforce types — into an outfit that — was it 21 bombers to a group? — was not only successful, but one in which outsiders would really desire to be part of.
    I am not sure how to define pride in this context. But Peck’s character provided them with purpose, the reason to exist, the will to strive and the ability to make mistakes, learn and then progress on to high-achieving success – high marginal productivity of labour (sorry, I am an economist, and this is one way of defining efficiency).
    “This group.” “This group.” That is your only loyalty. Amazing and inspirational words. It is a great movie.

  21. Something of a segue, but these films highlight patriotism, duty, sacrifice and other unwoke virtues. Sure, Hitler and his rabid followers were excrement – but the ordinary enlisted kraut was imbued in large part by the same virtues. Now think about most of the mob who are clamouring for our vote in the upcoming election. Sure there are exceptions – Andrew Hastie for example. But most of them would not cross the road for this country unless there was a vote or dollar in it.

  22. Does anyone remember a TV series called Combat starring Vic Morrow?

    Sure do. Never missed an episode.

    There’s some fascinating trivia about it, too.

    Pierre Jalbert, Caje in the series, was not Cajun but Canadian. A champion skier, he was the captain of Canada’s Olympic ski team — until he broke a leg and missed out on the Olympics.

    Vic Morrow, Sgt Saunders, absolutely hated the Thompson .45 SMG he characteristically carried. He whinged about the weight so much that the props crew made him a lightweight wooden replica to carry. He only reverted to the real thing when he had to fire it. (He was also Jennifer Jason Leigh’s father.)

    Actually, Rick Jason, Lt Hanley, was originally scripted to carry the Thompson, but he too complained about the weight. He was then given his little M1 carbine, which he liked so much that when the series ended, the production company had the rifle totally refurbished and returned to firing order and presented it to him. He later had the barrel plugged and gave it to a friend, who mounted it over his fireplace.

  23. Does anyone remember a TV series called Combat starring Vic Morrow?

    Sure do. Never missed an episode.

    Supposed to have been an Australian platoon, caught in a Vietnamese town, during the Tet offensive, of 1968, where the platoon commander discovered his men had no training in street fighting.

    “Right. you’ve all seen “Combat” on the T.V? That’s how we’ll do it!”


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