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?


Where Eagles Dare

Richard Burton doing a bit of bird spotting


It was my first author event and the bottle of Rescue Remedy I had glugged down on the train was not having the desired effect on my nerves. I was one of five or six new crime writers sitting in front of a large audience in Heffers Bookshop  in Cambridge. One of our number had been published slightly earlier than the rest of us and was therefore an old hand. Although already in the bookshop, he had taken his seat last, strolling through the audience like Billy Graham (BG) at a revivalist meeting.

The first question we were asked was about writers who had influenced us. BG went first and expounded at length on John Steinbeck.

What, not dear Agatha, or Dorothy, or Margery? I mused.

Suddenly, I didn’t like the look of my choices anymore. They looked a bit lack lustre. Not very Nobel Prize-ish. I began to race through other options: Bukowski? B.S. Johnson? Dostoevsky? Chandler? Hammett? The only trouble (apart from the alarming sex-change of my influences) was that I could determine absolutely no link between my writing and theirs. To claim it would have been laughably arrogant not to mention misleading.

Then I remembered Sara Paretsky, the progenitor of the female private investigator novel. A writer I very much like and admire. But I immediately realised that I had no idea how to pronounce the name of her main character, V. I. Warshawski. Try it yourself now and then imagine saying it in front of a large audience with your heart beat skipping along at the rate of a marathon runner on her last legs. I knew that if I attempted that I would sound like a woman with a sock filled with marbles in her mouth.

And then I heard those rough-gruff tones of Richard Burton: ‘Broardsword calling Danny Boy, are you receiving?’ Well, yes I was. Loud and clear. Thank you very much, Richard.

And I saw a young man with a quiff (not Clint Eastwood although he does sport a very fine quiff in Where Eagles Dare), a white dog and an irascible, sweary captain. The audience was looking at me expectantly.

Captain Haddock meets Tintin for the first time in Herge's The Crab with the Golden Claws

Captain Haddock meets Tintin for the first time in Herge’s The Crab with the Golden Claws

‘Alistair Maclean and Tintin,’ I blurted out.

BG looked bemused. I can’t remember much of what I said after that. No doubt something about the importance of pace and whizzing along, throwing a few jokes in there to keep the reader going and remembering that they may be reading you on the train on the way to work and just before they fall asleep so it’s important to ENTERTAIN THEM and KEEP THEIR ATTENTION! I gabbled and whizzed along myself.

BG went on to win prizes and occupy platforms all by himself; I went off to contemplate my influences and do a course on public speaking.

Here are some questions to end on.

1. Where does the quotation at the beginning of the post come from? Clue: Not a bad influence to claim!

2. Who or what has influenced you? High brow or low brow – in art or in life?