My 'Top 60' Favourite Movies: 1. 'Where Eagles Dare' (1968)
OK, so I am 60 in June of 2019 –impossible I hear you cry! It is true and in order to celebrate (?) that event, I am running a series of blogs of my ‘Top 60’ movies (did you see what I did there?) that I have enjoyed during my cinema going life so far and why I rate them so highly. Now they are not in any particular order as I think it near impossible to single out even a Top 10 when you have been viewing movies in my case over around a 50 year period – Mary Poppins was the first film I saw in a cinema which must have been around 1965. Personal tastes change over that breadth of time of course and some movies hold up better than most!
So as Mary Poppins said: “Spit spot and off we go!”
- Where Eagles Dare (1968)
I first saw Where Eagles Dare with my dad at the old ABC (Regal as was) Woolwich either on its first UK release (1969) or possibly a re-release. I do recall that it was a double bill of sorts as there were several Tom & Jerry features that played before it. Now, that made for some kind of a programme as Where Eagles Dare ran for 155 minutes –and that did not include an interval. My next memory of it was on one Christmas Eve when our family was returning from Eltham (London SE9 for the uninitiated) having visited my Nan. It was being shown on her Black and White TV when we left and was still playing when we got in at our home in Abbey Wood (London SE2) whilst the fire was being set.
Of course like a lot of people, I have seen Where Eagles Dare numerous times on TV and it is still a regular part of the ITV 3 schedules here in 2019, but I have always been drawn to it but I don’t think you really appreciate its raw emotional pull and power unless you see it on the Big Screen. Sadly, it has rarely been shown in the form it deserves. It had a screening as part of the 2009 Bradford International Film Festival but that version came with Swedish subtitles!
Now 2018 was the 50th anniversary of Where Eagles Dare being made and thankfully the British Film Institute held a special screening of it just last month (January). You couldn’t ask for a better way to start 2019…..
So, what for me is the appeal of the film? I think it is that it is a pure cinematic treat. It has, in my eyes at least, the greatest opening to any film. The MGM lion roars the film alive as we are treated to a Junkers 52 fly over the Alps to the beat of that incredible Ron Goodwin score- his incessant snare drumbeat builds to a crescendo interspersed by the growl of the aircraft’s meaty engine. As the movie develops, we get transported back to good old Blighty where military planners Michael Horden and Patrick Wymark lay out to their intrepid band of special forces the suicide mission to allegedly capture a very special person from the Nazis in the Schloss Adler or ‘Castle of Eagles’ perched high up the Austrian mountains where no one can get at them- unless of course you are Major John Smith (Richard Burton), Ranger Lt Schaffer (Clint Eastwood) and their female companions Heidi (Ingrid Pitt) and Mary Ellison (Mary Ure).
The important thing to remember is this: do not worry about the plot! It is irrelevant to the numerous delights of the film- just leave your enquiring mind at the door and just relax and enjoy the Boys Own antics of in Steven Spielberg’s personal view “the best war film ever made”.
You have Burton having the time of his life as he cites those memorable words on landing in snowbound Austria “Broadsword calling Danny Boy, Broadsword calling Danny Boy…”, Eastwood spends most of the film either squinting or taking out dozens of Nazis without even having to reload his weapon, you have two great Cable Car fights including Burton’s character fighting with just one hand (not easy) and laying into Nazi agent Donald Houston with a pickaxe-nasty! The women also earn their money as Mary Ure blasts away with her machine gun as if she is the leader of the Baader Meinhof Gang. And if that is not enough, you have the always reliable Derren Nesbitt doing his nasty SS man act as Major Von Happen who has the hots (don’t we all?) for Mary Ure but comes to a right sticky end.
Although Where Eagles Dare runs for 151 minutes, it goes in a flash and as someone said after the January screening “there’s not a dull moment!”.
I also think that for men in particular Where Eagles Dare is a rite of passage film- you see it as a boy and you remember it forever as a man….