Men On A Mission Film Theater: Where Eagles Dare (1969)

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After the massive success of THE DIRTY DOZEN, Metro Goldwyn Mayer knew a good Men On A Mission thing when they had one. And 1960’s superstar Richard Burton wanted a hit film and to play a “heroic” figure for his children. He approached best-selling author Alistar MacLean, who wrote this novel and screenplay in two months. Somebody came up with the brilliant idea of mixing Richard Burton’s thespic thunder with the stoic irony of Clint Eastwood, bearing one of the great disparate action teams in movie history. WHERE EAGLES DARE is an essential cinematic cousin to THE DIRTY DOZEN minus the moral complexities of the Robert Aldrich film. Directed with cool efficiency by Brian G. Hutton, this is another two and a half-hour 60’s epic but edited at a kinetic, consistent pace with nary a dull or wasted moment. Even the film’s third lead, the luscious Mary Ure, is only there to briefly romance Burton, then help dispatch Nazis with her machine-gun.

427998.1020.AThe narrative is so complex that neither Burton nor Eastwood have any real character arc but then, why should they? Their mission: to infiltrate an Austrian castle fortress and rescue an American general before he reveals important secrets. Of course, there are traitors within the Allied team and this leads to double and even triple crosses that I still haven’t figured out after half a dozen viewings. That’s okay because I love the cold style and Panavision 70mm ambience, beautifully lensed by Arthur Ibbetson. You can almost feel the snow outside your window as Ron Goodwin’s stirring score provides the perfect mood. Burton and Eastwood were apparently eager to work together, and their opposite styles mesh perfect here, with Burton providing the urbane British leadership while Eastwood assays the quiet American warrior — he kills more people in this film than any other. And it shows. This is a surprisingly brutal and bloody epic freed up by the groundbreaking changes of 1960’s cinema with none of the politics. It’s such a thorough machine that looking for subtext here would be an exercise in semiotics (unless you went to Berkeley. Now you have a paper to write.).

screenshot_453Men On A Mission afficianados probably revere this film more than THE DIRTY DOZEN, if only because it’s easier to cheer the winning team on. The only stars here are Burton and Eastwood, but there are good bits by the supporting actors, especially Derren Nesbitt as Major von Hapen, the Gestapo goon sent to interogate the American prisoner. He’s one of those cold villains with ominous warmth. Ferdy Mayne (who also played the head vampire in Polanski’s 1967 THE FEARLESS VAMPIRE KILLERS) is well-cast as the practical Reichsmarshall. I like his contempt for Major von Hapen when he refers to the Gestapo “cluttering up things with their torture chambers.” It’s also nice to see Hammer Studios femme fatale Ingrid Pitt as the other Allied female secret agent. For a boy’s adventure tale, WHERE EAGLES DARE gives the girls an equal role in the fighting without ado.

The movie takes its time getting to the action, but when it comes, it’s relentless. As stated, the killings are fast and violent especially during the climatic fight atop the cable car. Eastwood was unhappy with stuntmen forced on him, as he prefered to do the action scenes himself (he called the film WHERE DOUBLES DARE) but the stunts are thrilling and the only giveaway is the de rigeur bad process shots so indigenous to the decade. I’m also curious if Eastwood’s wicked double-machine gun moment is the first time in movie history such a combo was shown; if anything, it cemented his bad-azz mofo reputation. Burton is no slouch either as an action hero, and his curt wit serves the movie well. His penultimate scene when he confronts the Nazi leaders in the castle and engages them in a serious mind-fuck as only an actor of his caliber could is a highlight.

WHERE EAGLES DARE was another huge hit for MGM in 1969, and Burton achieved his goals. He would return to the genre with 1978’s cool and brutal THE WILD GEESE and Eastwood would of course move onto American iconography.  Here’s a fansite wholly devoted to the movie and even this month’s amazing CINEMA RETRO magazine has a 48 page “Making Of” issue. Of course, WHERE EAGLES DARE is one of Spielberg’s and Tarantino’s favorite war films. And mine.

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11 Responses to “Men On A Mission Film Theater: Where Eagles Dare (1969)”

  1. Last weekend I watched this and The Spy Who Came in From the Cold. Badass double feature.

    And I love this movie too, though I may be more partial to Dozen, that’s tough, perhaps dependent on mood.

  2. christian Says:

    Can you believe I still haven’t seen THE SPY WHO CAME IN FROM THE COLD? I’m watching it this weekend. INGLORIOUS BASTERDS is putting me in a war movie frame of mind. Makes the ones going on right now seem…I dunno.

  3. I’ve never seen this projected. I’ll bet it looks magnificent on the big screen. Helluva picture!

  4. Also, note to 21st Century Hollywood marketeers — THAT’S a movie poster.

  5. christian Says:

    I’d love to see a 70mm festival of all these films.

    And yes, that is exactly how to make a poster sizzle.

  6. Rewatched Dozen again for the first time in several years, I think I’m partial to Eagles, in case I had you in suspense over that verdict.

  7. christian Says:

    Don’t let Lee Marvin hear you…

  8. I’m totally renting Eagles and Dozen this weekend.

    Awesome read Christian. One of your better if you ask me…and you didn’t.

    I even loved the McLean’s novelization when I was a kid. Turned me into a McLean fan and I ended up reading all of his other books…none of which quite had the snap of Eagles.

  9. christian Says:

    Thanx Craig. I actually have never read one book by MacLean. What’s a good start?

  10. Where Eagles Dare! You can read it in shorter time than the movie takes to watch.

    I haven’t read one since I was a lad, but they were great summer vacation books.

    Ice Station Zebra was solid. Guns of Navarone, natch. Hell, I loved them all.

  11. christian Says:

    And I’ve still never seen THE GUNS OF NAVARONE…

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