Warner Bros. // 1969 // 155 Minutes // Rated PG
Reviewed by Judge Bill Treadway (Retired) // November 17th, 2003
They dare to climb a terrifying new peak in suspense...all the way to hell!
Are you in the mood for a good, old-fashioned war movie? Where Eagles Dare, now available from Warner Bros. in a long overdue widescreen edition, may fit your bill.
WWII 1944 -- An Allied plane carrying American General Carnaby has been shot down over a German-occupied area of Bavaria. The Germans are holding Carnaby prisoner in an old castle on the mountains. Carnaby is believed to be holding information about the upcoming D-Day invasion.
Admiral Rolland (Michael Hordern) decides to dispatch Major Smith (Richard Burton), American Lieutenant Shaffer (Clint Eastwood), and a group of five to Bavaria. Their mission: to penetrate the castle and free Carnaby before the Germans get a chance to make him talk.
Of course, this being an Alistair MacLean story, there are double crosses, plot twists, and surprise revelations along the way. Hang on to your seats!
I hate when critics use words like "exciting," "action-packed," and "thrill-a-minute" to describe an action film. It feels like a last resort, as if there wasn't anything else to say. Now I find myself in a predicament. It turns out that those words aptly describe what it's like watching Where Eagles Dare.
It's one hell of a picture. The film is consistently suspenseful as gradually pieces of the story start falling into place. Don't worry if you're confused at first. While it's true that once you think you understand what's going on that the story takes a turn, it all becomes clear if you sit back and just be patient. The first hour moves slowly, as we gather all the information and set up the incredible final hour and a half, which is the invasion of the castle, the payoffs, and resolution.
About that final hour and a half: action fans will not want to miss this. The showdown between Burton and two men atop a moving cable car will have you biting your nails down to the skin. There's a great deal of gunfire in this film. Some critics have said that Clint kills more people here than he has in all his other films combined. They may be right.
The screenplay was written by Alistair MacLean, a Scottish author who specialized in well-researched, suspenseful war novels. His screenplay contains all of the strengths that made his novels great reads: in-depth, interesting characters and well crafted action scenes. He was a logical choice to write the script since films adapted from his novels were very successful at the box office (The Guns of Navarone was nominated for several Oscars, and Ice Station Zebra was a current hit for MGM).
Looking through the Internet Movie Database, I discovered that the genesis for the project came from Richard Burton himself. Unsure of what to do for his next project, his son suggested an adventure movie. Burton approached producer Elliott Kastner, who also thought it was a good idea. Kastner approached Alistair MacLean and a screenplay was written in six weeks. Brian G. Hutton, who directed Kastner's previous project Sol Madrid, was signed to direct the film. An international cast including Clint Eastwood, Michael Hordern, and Ingrid Pitt was assembled. The resulting film was 1969's biggest hit for MGM (and Burton and Eastwood as well).
Acting is really good for a war epic. Richard Burton atones for some of the awful films he made with then-wife Elizabeth Taylor in this period with a superb performance. When sober, the man was one of the finest actors in the world. Clint Eastwood was known for his laconic image, and Where Eagles Dare takes full advantage of it. Mary Ure plays a strong woman involved in a man's war and it's a daring performance for its time. Michael Hordern is always a welcome presence in any film. Ingrid Pitt, known mainly for Hammer horror films, gets a chance to play a normal (for her) role as a double agent.
Brian G. Hutton's direction never falters. He has the difficult task of balancing these great action scenes with an intelligent story. Lesser directors would concentrate on the action, but Hutton never caves into the temptation. After this, Hutton would direct Eastwood again in Kelly's Heroes, but his career faded afterwards. The First Deadly Sin (1980) was an excellent film, but the 1983 Tom Selleck dud High Road to China proved to be his last credit.
The cinematography is by Arthur Ibbetson. It's the best of 1969. Never before had the Alps been shot so beautifully than in this Panavision production. Ibbetson and Hutton work together to make the most of the 2.35:1 frame, and they succeed in making a film that works visually both for the story and the audience.
Released as part of the Clint Eastwood Collection, Warner Bros. gives us a fine looking 2.35:1 anamorphic widescreen transfer. Seeing it widescreen is absolutely essential, since director Hutton's compositions will be ruined in pan-and-scan. The film does show signs of age such as scratches, grain, and dirt, but these flaws never overwhelm the viewer and for the most part, it looks so much better than the muddy pan-and-scan versions that have been floating around. Colors look nice and realistic and there is no edge enhancement to be seen.
Most, if not all, of the Clint Eastwood discs feature Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround sound, and this disc is no exception. It is a stunning sound mix, with all explosions, gunfire, and dialogue coming through in ear-bleeding fashion. Chances are you have never heard it like this.
Extras include an exciting theatrical trailer in anamorphic widescreen and a 15-minute featurette titled "On Location: Where Eagles Dare." The featurette includes recent comments from Burton and Eastwood and should be seen by anyone interested in a behind the scenes look.
Since seeing Where Eagles Dare on a big screen in 35mm is impossible, Warner's DVD is the best option. Keeping in mind Clint Eastwood's own philosophy on economy in films, the retail price of $19.99 makes this a must own for any DVD library.
Review content copyright © 2003 Bill Treadway; Site layout and review format copyright © 1998 - 2014 HipClick Designs LLC
Scales of Justice
Studio: Warner Bros.
* 2.35:1 Anamorphic
* Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround (English)
* Dolby Digital 2.0 Surround (French)
Running Time: 155 Minutes
Release Year: 1969
MPAA Rating: Rated PG
* "On Location: Where Eagles Dare" Featurette
* Theatrical Trailer