Wednesday, April 25, 2007

Where Eagles Dare (1968)

[Requested by Kent Beeson.]

I was won over by this robust WWII actioner before the credits were finished. The credit sequence is nothing more than an aerial view of the mountains that will later be traversed by Richard Burton, Clint Eastwood and company as they attempt to infiltrate and destroy a Nazi castle atop an insurmountable peak. This series of dizzying shots, though, coupled with Ron Goodwin's triumphant score, results in the sense of something majestic and epic. This sort of decorum is rare in today's action/adventure climate, so I stood up and took notice. This starts off as a standard infiltration drama, but quickly it becomes clear that something is amiss. (One of the Allied team's members unexpectedly getting killed twelve minutes into the plot tends to give that sort of thing away.) In this vein, Alistair MacLean's screenplay turns into a riveting cat-and-mouse game, with the Nazis aware of the Allies' presence from a fairly early stage and Burton making some questionable moves only to have them pay off down the line. The espionage angle holds fast for a surprising amount of this film's running time, with Burton especially good as a cunning soldier who may be hiding secrets and appears willing to shift his story as it suits the occasion. He's matched by Eastwood as the sole American, whose status as the cultural outsider is mirrored by his inability to judge Burton even as he has to trust him and his desire to be cut into the loop. Eventually, all the pertinent loyalties on each side get sorted, and it's then that the film can get down to its main business of providing excitement and thrills. Clever as it is, Where Eagles Dare at heart is old-fashioned Saturday-matinee fisticuffs at its best, and it speaks quite loudly and clearly to the eight-year-old boy within me who secretly still likes to watch noble Allies stick it to evil Nazis while lots of stuff blows up real good.

Grade: B+


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