Where Eagles Dare (1968)

Where Eagles Dare (1968), directed by Brian G. Hutton.

A plucky band of commandos infiltrate an impregnable fortress, a popular 1960s trope and a plot Alistair MacLean used more than once. This one is elevated early on when we understand that the mission is not what it appears to be, that not everyone on the team is trusted, and that we are going to have to live with deception and mystery for much of the film. The key to the plot is: we know Major Smith has a cunning plan; is it still on track or are they all in serious trouble?

It is Richard Burton's show; Clint Eastwood is the stalwart sidekick. They mow down and blow up Germans by the gross. Even given the nature of the fantasy adventure, the mayhem they commit at the airfield with a bus is excessive.

Next time: bring snowshoes or skis. And a pack train for all of that dynamite. Good thing everyone in Austria speaks English. The cunning plan works improbably well.

It's a lovely looking film with all sorts of vertical space: the mountains, the looming castle, the tram cars. Some of the vertiginous action on the aerial cars is faked but some isn't; the stunt men earn their money.

Shakespeare, Richard III: "The world is grown so bad / That wrens make prey where eagles dare not perch".

Available on Blu-ray with an undistinguished image.

I read most of Alistair MacLean at one point and still get the urge from time to time. They are well told action/adventure stories without the Bond sex or other silliness. I think his earlier books are better than the later ones, which seem lighter, quicker, less plausible, and were probably intended as screenplays, which lessens their value as novels. Some of the very last ones look like plot outlines which were packaged as novels by his publisher after his death.

My favorites:

I would like to revisit his first book, HMS Ulysses, a harrowing tale of suffering in arctic waters during WW2.