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.