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Where Eagles Dare

Reviewed By dionwr
Posted 06/11/03 11:41:29

"Movies that time forgot--and justly so"
3 stars (Average)

Some movies have the bad fortune to age in such a way that all their shortcomings are evident to later viewers, who can't see what in HELL anyone ever saw in them. Almost all silent movies have that problem. "Titanic" springs to mind. And firmly in that category is the WWII action-adventure film, "Where Eagles Dare."

"Where Eagles Dare," stars Richard Burton, Clint Eastwood, and Mary Ure, and it's the silliest piece of pure nonsense I've seen in many years. I had never seen it or even heard of it before, a symptom of my having grown up without a TV. At one time, in the 1960's when this was made, I am told, great heroic stories of WWII were a box office staple.

So Hollywood made a lot of such films and, as is usually the case, everyone tried to top what had gone before. And as more of these films got made, the heroism became more and more removed from reality, By the time "Where Eagles Dare" got made, the only thing real about it was its reference to a real war, as opposed, say, to something that happened a long time ago in a galaxy far, far away.

The plot, a concoction of ace 1960's pulp writer Alastair MacLean, concerns a secret mission to rescue an allied general who has been captured by the Germans during World War II. The general was coordinating the planning for D-Day and needs to be rescued before he can be made to talk. How the general managed to get into a position to be captured is one of many points you have to gloss over to even begin to go with it.

To rescue the general, the British put together a mixed team of agents who have never worked OR trained together before (another point requiring you to gloss over the rationale), including an American Ranger (Eastwood), and send them in to infiltrate an incredible German castle being used as SS headquarters for the region. It is explained in the mandatory pre-mission briefing that they can't do a commando raid because the castle is both too inaccessible and too well-guarded.

I had trouble following the logic that they therefore should send fewer people to get past the defenses, but again, you have to gloss over some things, and this is nothing if not a high-gloss production. The plan is to use stealth and sneak into the fortress. Okey-dokey, and god I'm glad I'm not going in with you!

All the agents, we're told, speak perfect German. This gives you severe pause seeing Eastwood, who never even speaks much English, but I do have to say, our man Clint wears a German uniform like he was born in it. If he hadn't made it as a leading man, he could have had a great career as a snarling German bad guy. Eastwood snarls with distinction. Ah, the paths that might have been...

The castle is a great found location, a King Ludwig extravaganza built on the very tippy-top of a mountain, with the only way into or out of it some hanging cable cars from the valley below. So many people sneak into and out of the castle by jumping onto the top of those cable cars that you keep waiting for a conductor to come out with them up there, to take their tickets.

But right from the beginning, we're given various, subtle clues to believe that things are Not What They Seem.

First, after our stealth squad parachutes from the plane, Mary Ure comes out from the pilot's cabin and parachutes in after them. Fortunately, none of the team notices the other parachute.

Second, members of the team keep ending up DEAD with evidence of foul play from some other member of the team. Personally, if I was on a mission in the middle of enemy territory with such solid evidence someone on my team was a traitor, I'd get out of there at the earliest opportunity. But that would make for a much shorter movie, so they don't do it. Keep glossing!

Burton is on hand to do the expository lumps and keep a straight face while doing so (a triumph of thespian skill, however misdirected), Eastwood's around to blow shit up *REAL* good, and Mary Ure and Ingrid Pitt are around to wear those great Bavarian/St. Pauli Girl corset-and-blouse costumes that show as much of their cleavage as possible in a major studio release from the late 1960's.

It's the unashamed patriot in me, but I did get a moment of quiet pride that all the babes in this movie are on the side of Goodness and Niceness. This was, of course, from before the era where, "Ilsa, She-Wolf of the SS," introduced us all to the attractions of the Bad Little Girl In Leather. Indeed, the one lapse I can really chalk up against "Where Eagles Dare" was that a good-looking Aryan Nazi dominatrix villain babe would have added a lovely je ne c'est quoi to the whole shebang.

There is also a distinguished cast of German character actors who spent the 1960's playing the obligatory villains of this type of WWII thriller, led by Ferdy Mayne, still the best screen Dracula I've ever seen, albeit he went by the name of Count Krolock in "The Fearless Vampire Hunters." From Prussian aristocrat to crude, Junker bourgeois, there's not a German villain cliche or stereotype they missed, save for the previously mentioned lack of a Nazi dominatrix. (I have a thing, okay?)

One interesting touch is that in the role of the secondary villain, the Hitler Youth SS officer, Major Hapen, they cast the Virgil Tracy marionette from Gerry Anderson's "Thunderbirds." I'm not kidding! There couldn't possibly be two hairpieces like that in existence! He even has a major threatening moment, where he has figured out our heroine is lying by holding her hand--and feeling her pulse, like a lie detector. No, really!

But wait, it gets better! It turns out that British intelligence has mounted this mission NOT to rescue the general--who is an impostor, as it turns out--but to expose the counter-agents in their midst. Obviously, a life-or-death mission with NO margin for error at all is the perfect place to do that, putting all your suspected traitors into a group where they outnumber the agents you can trust. Again, I gotta sorta question their logic on that one.

For about the last hour they dispense with the cockamamie derring-do and sneaking around, and concentrate on blowing shit up. It's lovely to see how only four of our folks can destroy entire divisions of Germans. It's no wonder we won the war. What took us so long?

Eastwood really comes into his own during this sequence, aided by a knapsack with an apparently unlimited supply of plastic explosive and Infernal Devices, and guns which never jam or run out of ammo, no matter how much he uses them. Lucky, that.

And yet, it has to be admitted, this was an enjoyable entertainment in spite of, and partially because of, the silliness. Why do we get so much amusement from things our heads know are purely nonsense?

Partly, too, it was the venue in which I watched the film, with a crew of folks who'd been stuck on a ship for six weeks. Our entertainment needs were decidedly undemanding, and we enjoyed the spectacle and the violence while loudly making fun of the abysmal logic of its plot. So I can't, in fairness, dismiss it out of hand.

If you're ever looking for a movie to heckle, I haven't laughed AT a movie this much in ages. I'd love to see the Mad magazine version of it.

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