Tuesday, March 18, 2008


Inspired by Stacie at Final Girl - respect!

Way back in the day, BBC1 used to show ‘Where Eagles Dare’ as regularly as ‘Holiday Inn’ at Christmas or James Bond over the bank holiday. I can’t remember how old I was the first time I saw it – old enough to plead with my folks to stay up and watch horror or thriller movies, and young enough that they invariably said no – but on this occasion, Dad relented and let me stay up and watch ‘Where Eagles Dare’.

Dad liked war movies, but wasn’t into horror. So it was still a no-no as far as ‘The Omen’ or any of the old Hammer flicks were concerned, but increasingly I was allowed to stay up if ‘The Guns of Navarone’ or ‘633 Squadron’ were on.

‘The Guns of Navarone’ was pretty cool (for a pre-pubscent still denied the frisson of the horror genre, anyway), especially when the big guns blew up at the end. And there was a dead good bombing run in ‘633 Squadron’, even if it was just ‘Star Wars’ but with some Norwegian cliff instead of the Death Star.

(Now, of course, I know better. I wish that Alexander MacKendrick hadn’t been booted off ‘The Guns of Navarone’ and replaced by J. Lee Thompson – he’d have turned in a much more interesting film – and I know that ‘633 Squadron’ was the film that got George Lucas fired up for the climax of ‘Star Wars’ and not the other way round … but, hey, I was a kid at the time and the spaceships in ‘Star Wars’ were way cool.)

But better than either of these was ‘Where Eagles Dare’. It had a bunch of guys parachuting out of a plane into a wintry forest. It had them impersonating German soldiers to bluff their way into a fortress. It had traitors in their midst. It had cable cars and people dangling off the cable cars and there was shooting and lots of explosions and they all escaped in this old bus as half the German army came piling after them and they blew this bridge up to make good their escape and then they drove the bus through this airfield and shot out the control tower and smashed up a load of Messerschmidts … No doubt about it: at that age, reared on Commando comics and Biggles books, this was the. Best. Film. Ever.

When I got into my teens, it was still shown on TV quite a lot (and even if it wasn’t, Dad had the video) and there was the added appreciation – or should I say hormone-addled appreciation? – of Hammer starlet Ingrid Pitt as a German barmaid with a decolletage you could rest your pint on. Oh, there were still plenty of explosions, never mind that I’d seen ‘Lethal Weapon’ and ‘Die Hard’ by then.

In my twenties, having it seen it more times than I could count (it’s probably still my most-watched film) and always in a slightly faded panned-and-scanned print, I bought the DVD. Woo-hoo! Widescreen, remastered, Ron Goodwin’s score punched up and even more explosions for your money. Sure, some of the acting was ropey; sure there wasn’t quite enough plot for the two-and-a-half-hour running time. Did I care? Did I hell! I was in action movie heaven and loving the film all over again.

And I still love ‘Where Eagles Dare’.

I love the fact that Richard “make mine a double” Burton and Clint Eastwood are so bizarrely but brilliantly paired, the former’s scenery chewing perfectly matched by the latter’s effortless laconic cool.

I love all that business with the cable cars. I can’t see a cable car nowadays, whether it’s those dinky little ones at the Heights of Abraham in Derbyshire, or authentically vertiginous ones in Austria or Switzerland, without humming the ‘Where Eagles Dare’ theme music. On the subject of which …

I love Ron Goodwin’s score. It’s by turns brooding, ominous and exciting. In an OST version of ‘Desert Island Discs’, the ‘Where Eagles Dare’ soundtrack would be top of my list.

I love that last scene in the aeroplane, when you realise that the whole thing has been about one name scribbled in a notebook. Minimal dialogue and the drone of the engines in the background.

And yes, I still love the action and the shoot-outs and the explosions. I know that war is hell – ‘Paths of Glory’ and ‘Cross of Iron’ are favourites of mine, powerful and damning cinematic indictments of the inhumanity of war – but we’re talking about straight-down-the-line action movies here and ‘Where Eagles Dare’ ranks among the best.

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