Where Eagles Dare
The basis for one of "his" most successful movies, 1967's Where Eagles Dare sees Alistair MacLean
returning to a World War II setting. MacLean's service with the Royal Navy had given him an insider perspective of
that war — experience that served him well in earlier works such as The Guns of Navarone. Its dramatic
depiction of breathless action amid breathtaking surroundings made Where Eagles Dare a natural candidate
for filming; in fact, MacLean wrote the screenplay even as he worked on the novel. The movie paired
well-established star Richard Burton with a young Clint Eastwood, who had just acted in a string of "spaghetti
Eight of Europe's best Allied agents fly to Bavaria for a suicidal mission: recovery of a captured general who
knows the plans for the upcoming D-Day invasion. He is being held in Schloss Adler — "Castle of the Eagle" — a
fortress accessible only by cable car, and defended by an elite garrison of Alpenkorps soldiers. As the
southern headquarters for the German Secret Service and the Gestapo, Schloss Adler is virtually impregnable.
Surely the Allied operatives would be doomed to fail even if there weren't traitors in their midst
- First and foremost, MacLean's prose is among his best. Detailed and nuanced expositions of scenery,
psychology, and [of course] action make the reading a pleasure.
- The action itself is nearly relentless, as one would expect when agents try to invade a vitally important
and heavily guarded enemy stronghold.
- Just when you think you've figured out every plot twist, several more are tossed into the story like hand
- MacLean makes his protagonists human and fallible, far more so than in his lesser works.
- While I'm all for irony in the face of adversity, some protagonists (as in many of MacLean's other stories)
have an unrealistic habit of exchanging sardonic bons mot while mortal peril is bearing down on
- The two romantic subplots are pretty weak and hard to take seriously under the dangerous
- The story contains so many secret plans and double-crosses that even after finishing the book, I was unsure
why the Allied leaders had added certain elements to their convoluted plans.
Where Eagles Dare is one of the toughest MacLean books to put down. After the first paragraph, you know
he's in good form; after the first chapter, I could only marvel at the deftness of his setup, while burning with
curiosity to see how he would continue and complete the tale. Other than the exceptions noted above, the rest of
the book lives up to its brilliant start.
♦♦♦♦♦♦♦♦ (8 out of 10)