WHERE EAGLES DARE

Where Eagles Dare

Where Eagles Dare or as the Daily Mirror put it ‘a real humdinger’.

When I was writing my book Far Away, which is set during the Second World War, it got me thinking about the influence war films had on me as a child. As I remember it, there was hardly a moment during my childhood when they were not being shown. The most memorable ones were: Where Eagles Dare, The Guns of Navarone, The Bridge on the River Kwai, The Great Escape, The Dambusters, In Which We Serve and later A Bridge Too Far (1977). I loved them indiscriminately.

This was probably because Where Eagles Dare was the first film I ever saw at the cinema and therefore is seared into my imagination in the most vivid way. At some point my mother had refused to take me to see the musical of Oliver Twist which came out about the same time but she had taken my two older sisters. I had sulked and raged and consequently I don’t think she could stand the fuss of leaving me behind. Or maybe my father, who had been left with me in a towering sobbing tantrum, just didn’t fancy going through all that again. Who can blame him?

So there I was staring at the biggest screen I had ever seen in my life and I have to say that ABSOLUTELY EVERYTHING THRILLED ME. The splendidly curly, red, German font of the opening titles, Schloss Adler (‘the Castle of Eagles’),  the dramatic film score, the beautiful snowy scenery and obviously most memorable of all, the stunt sequences on top of the cable car. Unlike in the book, where hardly any Germans are killed and Major John Smith (Richard Burton) and Lt. Schaffer (Clint Eastwood) are really rather gentlemanly, the film has a very high death count (100 according to the website movie body counts boards. 89 according to one clip on you tube).

This was ironic because the reason my mother had given for not taking me to see Oliver Twist had been that I might be traumatized by the scene near the end of the film when Bill Sykes falls off a roof and accidentally hangs himself. It’s amusing that not long after she then took me to Where Eagles Dare, a film in which 100 people are killed. Of course the violence is actually quite cartoonish, certainly nothing like the kind depicted later in Saving Private Ryan. However at that point in my life I had not seen one person killed on screen let alone 100! In fact the only moving images I had seen were on a neighbour’s black and white TV,  a bit of  Dr Who, involving a dalek with a croaky voice in need of an oil can. I wonder what state I was in when the film finished? I have no recollection of that but this early viewing did give me an abiding affection for the film. I suppose it was my first experience of how exciting and dramatic cinema could be and it also left me with a permanent longing for a retro white winter anorak.

Where Eagles Dare Trivia:

  • It started as a film script (written in six weeks) and was turned into a book later
  • Due to the amount of stunt work on the film Burton nicknamed the film Where Doubles Dare
  • The stunt man who stood in for Richard Burton and did the stunts on top of the cable car had the very lovely name of Alf Joint. He was the same man whom Sean Connery electrocutes in the bath in Goldfinger. He was also the man who dived off a cliff in the Cadbury Milk Tray ads.
  • Clint Eastwood was paid $800,000 and Richard Burton $1,200,000
  • The film’s budget was $7.7 million. At the box office it earned $21 million
  • Clint Eastwood did not initially like the script and he asked for his part to be cut and clunky exposition to be given to Richard Burton. Lucky old Richard! So Burton got to do more speaking and Eastwood got to do more killing. Probably about right.
  • Burton admired Clint’s “dynamic lethargy.” If only someone would admire mine.

What was the first film you remember seeing at the cinema? What kind of impression did it make?

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12 thoughts on “WHERE EAGLES DARE

  1. Once again, Ms Blake, you have stirred a whole load of memories with your evocative writing!
    All the films you list have memories associated: The Great Escape – bank holiday escapism, Bridge on the River Kwai – every year in Christmas Charades, The Dambusters – the amazing music. But overall, war films bring up my Dad and a chance to ‘bond’ with him, something that didn’t happen very often.

    I would have to add to the list, The Eagle has Landed (more eagles!) as I was so struck by the intelligence of it – there were goodies and baddies on both sides and I wasn’t aware of having seen that before, Michael Caine an honourable German soldier, Donald Sutherland an Irish spy, for instance.

    The first film I ever saw in the cinema was The Sound of Music. We were on holiday at my grandparents in Devon and I remember being excited as we queued up outside. And of course, the opening of that particular film, unforgettable …

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    • I think that’s really interesting and you’re absolutely right. For a certain generation war films were about bonding with their father’s or at any rate the ‘war generation’. My Mum watched more TV than Dad who hardly watched it at all but even if he wasn’t actually watching, it was bonding. I’m not very familiar with The Eagle has Landed. It’s one of those films I’ve watched bits of at various times but never all the way through. You’re right it sounds much more complex than the usual war films. Seeing The Sound of Music as your first film must have been great makes me think of what a musical of Where Eagles Dare might look like. Maybe a bit like The Producers!

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  2. Hilarious V!! Too nostalgic. Have just had long discussion about the film with Kevan at work who really likes it. He is 52 so right age to remember when it came out. I’d forgotten the white anorak – extremely cool. Makes me long to see it again.Let xxx

    Date: Fri, 20 Feb 2015 11:03:28 +0000 To: letitiablake@outlook.com

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  3. Evocative, as usual! I remember going with my best friend and our Dad’s so yes, I agree with Francesca, it was a Dad-bonding film and totally memorable. But not my first by a long chalk (who mentioned age?). I think we did a few Disney things with animals bouncing about as music followed their every step, but Mary Poppins was the first real memorable one – I was convinced they were acting it out behind the screen, just like a panto.

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    • Disney sounds a bit more like it. I think my Mum fancied Richard Burton and just thought I’m taking them all whatever age they are because I want to see it. Good for her really. I don’t think it did any lasting damage!

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  4. The first film I saw was ‘Treasure Island’ with Robert Newton. I must have been around nine years old and it frightened the hell out of me. We didn’t have a television at the time so I imagine it was my first experience of any sort of fiction on a screen, apart from the two minute Mickey Mouse films my father showed in the living room on a hand cranked projector. I remember one had Minnie and Mickey driving along in a car and we all would sing ‘Daisy, daisy, give me your answer do, I’m half crazy etc.’ Not sure why as there were no bicycles in it, but still a very fond memory. We rarely went to the cinema and never to war films as my father was a pacifist. He died forty years ago and I’m still half crazy.

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    • Thanks Keir. My grandfather used to sing Daisy, daisy… he had a lovely singing voice and used to boom that one out at any opportunity. Wasn’t Robert Newton Bill Sykes in the black and white David Lean Oliver Twist? Lean had trouble with him because he was such a drinker but he was terrifying in that as well.

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      • Yes he did play Bill Sykes. I looked in Wikipedia and it says that both Tony Hancock and Oliver Reed cited Robert Newton as a role model. Oliver Reed, another drinker, went on to play Sykes. I remember talking to a local telephone operator in the late 1960’s who told me that when Hancock’s Half Hour was on the television they had no calls during that half hour. There were only two televison channels at that time – but even so it does show how popular he was. He certainly was with me.

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  5. Broadsword calling Danny Boy! Broadsword calling Danny Boy!

    On the war front, besides cinema stuff there always seemed to be old films – usually black and white – on Saturday afternoons, back in the days before satellite telly and when terrestrial stations still actually showed films and there weren’t 300 Sky movie channels.

    While I must have seen The Dambusters, The Great Escape and – yep – Where Eagles Dare a gazillion times, one of my top old WWII war movies is probably the saddest – Carve Her Name With Pride, with Virginia MacKenna as Special Operations Executive agent Violette Szabo.

    I won’t spoil it, but anyone who has seen the film would have been struck by the poem “The Life That I Have”. After that I simply had to read ” Between Silk and Cyanide”, the autobiography of the poem’s author, the cryptographer Leo Marks.

    I think it was from watching the likes of Where Eagles Dare on Saturday afternoons that I laughed so much at all those WWII movie cliches and OTT scenes in Quentin Tarantino’s Inglourious Basterds. Both Eagles and Basterds have one of those “How To Get Away With It In A Bier Keller With the Nazis” scenes.

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    • Hi Mel, Carve Her Name With Pride is a fantastic film and extremely far removed from the Boy’s Own cartoon of Where Eagles Dare. Also unusually for war films the main character is a woman. It was one of my mother’s favourites. The poem is incredibly touching. Leo Mark’s autobiography sounds interesting.

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  6. Pingback: How’s the body count? | Mel Healy

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