Tuesday, June 1, 2010

WWII #4: Where Eagles Dare (1968)

"WHERE EAGLES DARE" (Brian G. Hutton, 1968)
Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer, 155 mins.

This action-packed WWII movie may be getting the short end of the stick when it comes to be included in the conversation of greatest war films ever made. Not that Where Eagles Dare ('68) really has a whole lot to say, but it's as polished, as thrilling and as cool as anything set against the backdrop of the European Front.

Conceived by esteemed novelist Alistair MacLean at the behest of wilting box-office performer Richard Burton, the idea was to make Burton a viable moneymaker again in a heroic, daring WWII actioner along the lines of The Guns of Navarone ('61), which was written by Carl Foreman from a novel by MacLean himself.

Almost assuring some sort of success in the States (the film was a co-production between the UK and the US), a budding 38 year-old star by the name of Clint Eastwood signed on for second-billing in this stirring adventure which I would assume is one of the "men on a mission" war films that influenced Tarantino when he wrote Inglourious Basterds.

The mission is to send six British MI6 agents and one U.S. Army Ranger into Southern Bavaria to rescue a captured U.S. General in a Nazi stronghold who has key information regarding the allies plans of attack along the second front in Northern France (D-Day). The fact that the mission turns out to be a convoluted whirlwind of double agents, secret rendezvous and government insurgencies is one of the film's irresistible pleasures.

A stirring snare-drum score by Ron Goodwin against the backdrop of the Bavarian Alps kicks things off and Where Eagles Dare never lets up - from the time our incognito heroes parachute into the snowy, deserted mountainside, we're with them all the way - from the sneaky insurgence to the skin-of-their-teeth escape from endless waves of Nazi's.

Essentially, the film boils down to the sheer pleasure of watching the refined British class of Richard Burton and the gritty, man-of-few-words impassivity of Clint Eastwood collaborating as an unlikely duo of heroism and Sergeant York ass-kicking. The result is a triumph - a steely, unnerving twister of gunfire, explosions and double identities that possesses a composed, charismatic demeanor through plotted insanity that is all too rare. [A]

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