Where Eagles Dare (1968)

Having just re-read the book on which it is based, I especially enjoyed the film Where Eagles Dare,made in 1968 but released in '69. That's largely because the film hews closely to the book's plot — no surprise, since Alistair MacLean wrote the book and the movie screenplay simultaneously!

Oh, the two aren't quite identical. A movie — even one that fills more than two-and-a-half hours, as this one does — can't contain every thought and action an author describes. However, all the vital events made it into the movie, and the few plot alterations are small and unimportant (such as name changes for some of the Allied agents). In some cases, I think MacLean actually added by subtracting; for instance, he almost completely excised a secondary romance that seemed artificial and annoying in the book. (See my review of the book here.)

So: a ripping good yarn in print became a ripping good adventure on the big screen. In fact, only a couple of factors kept me from rating this even higher than 8 out of 10 stars.

One small quibble is with the casting. Richard Burton is excellent in the lead role, and reasonably similar to the way I'd envisioned Major John Smith. On the other hand, Clint Eastwood's performance — while strong — differs markedly from the Lieutenant Schaffer in the book, who had an easy-going, folksy persona (not the typically intense one modeled by Eastwood). That changes the chemistry among the main protagonists.

My other, larger complaint is about well-trained German soldiers firing thousands of rounds at the Allied agents without inflicting more than a small scratch, while those agents easily mow down SS troops by the score. This makes the story seem a lot less real. It reminded me of the nonserious 1980's TV series "The A Team", in which the good guys often faced a blizzard of bullets with nary a casualty. One's disbelief can be suspended only so far.

Bear in mind, though, that those problems are far overshadowed by the many strengths of the movie, with its faithfulness to the book chief among them. Definitely worth viewing by any MacLean fan!

P.S. Interesting historical note: according to a 2012 New York Times article, Richard Burton, lead actor in this film, is buried "a few yards" from MacLean himself, in Céligny, Switzerland.


(8 out of 10)