Where Eagles Dare (1968)

World War Two rages. The Nazis and their pals have conquered Europe and have made inroads into Russia. The Allies are finalizing their plans to invade France and begin pushing the bullies back where they belong… and then the unthinkable happens.

General Carnaby’s plane crashes in enemy territory, and he’s captured by the Nazis. They don’t know it yet, but Carnaby knows all the plans for where and when the invasion will happen. It’s only a matter of time before they realize just how valuable this American general is. And everyone knows the Nazis will submit him to inhuman cruelties just to get his information.

There’s only one thing to do: rescue him.

The British military puts together a crack team of spies led by their best man, Major Smith (Richard Burton). Smith is terse, efficient, secretive, suspicious, and deadly. The rest of the team are British agents too, except one man: an American OSS agent named Schaffer (Clint Eastwood). He doesn’t know why they want him along, and the rest of the team don’t know why he’s there, but the word is Go, so they go.

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I’m a huge fan of both Richard Burton and Clint Eastwood. Eastwood doesn’t get a lot to do in this movie except walk around looking confused and shooting people, but he’s nice scenery to have around, so I don’t mind. Burton gets the best role, convincing the audience he’s anything and anyone he says he is at the moment. Such is the power of his acting that a sneer or a monosyllable from him does more to develop his character than whole pages of dialog for others.

The Nazis are holding Carnaby in an Alpine fortress you can only reach by cable car from the village below. It’s a massive, impregnable old castle filled with both regular Army and Gestapo troops. No way can anyone break in there. But they must. Can’t let the Nazis find out what Carnaby knows.

From here on out, I will spoil a few things. This is a twisty spy thriller, and I need to tell you some twists. Can’t say I didn’t warn you. But I promise not to reveal the big suprises at the end.

The team, and the audience, soon learn the truth: Carnaby is a fake. The British dressed up an actor who looks just like the real General Carnaby and are using him as a diversion. His mission is to feed the Nazis misinformation, but now the Allies fear the Nazis will figure out he’s a fake, so Smith and his cohorts need to rescue him before they visit unspeakable atrocities upon poor not-Carnaby.

Smith, Schaffer, and the rest of the team parachute into the snowy Alps just outside the fortress. One of them dies, supposedly killed upon landing, but Smith doesn’t think so. Smith secretly meets up with a female agent sent to help him without the rest of the team knowing it. In fact, Smith does a lot of things in secret. Why? What game is he playing that he hasn’t invited the other men to join?

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The surviving members of the team disguise themselves as Nazis and prepare to infiltrate the castle. More of them die mysteriously, until the team is just Smith, Schaffer, and three other guys. The three other guys get themselves captured, but Smith insists he and Schaffer must try to finish the job. Schaffer’s a game fellow, and it’s not like he has anything else to do while stuck in the Alps in the middle of winter, so the two of them sneak into the castle.

Remember those cable cars? Many feats of derring-do occur thanks to them, with people riding on top of them, jumping between one car and the next, and so on. The studio made Where Eagles Dare in 1968, right in the thick of Sean Connery’s reign as James Bond, and the action in this film is comparable to many of those classic 007 films. Lots of explosions, stunts, sneering bad guys, and the occasional kissing scene just because, gosh, if you’ve got male and female spies working together, why not have them kiss now and then?

Smith and Schaffer infiltrate the castle. They find not-Carnaby and free him. And then the plot twists come thick and fast. Because it turns out that rescuing not-Carnaby was another ruse. The real reason they’re here is to find out some very important information of a different nature. I won‘t tell you what that is because that would spoil the fun. Go read the fantastic book by Alistair MacLean (who also wrote the screenplay) or watch the film for yourself! If you like spy stories, you’ll love this.

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ABOUT THE AUTHOR: Rachel Kovaciny’s western fairy tale retelling novels “Cloaked” and “Dancing & Doughnuts” are now available in paperback and Kindle editions. Learn more about her at her author website, rachelkovaciny.com

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