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?