Review Date: 5/15/16
Cast: Richard Burton, Clint Eastwood, Mary Ure, Ingrid Pitt, Anton Diffring
Beautifully shot on location in the Austrian Alps, "Where Eagles Dare" is a thrilling World War II action adventure film about a British mission to infiltrate an impenetrable Nazi castle. An American general with knowledge about D-Day has been captured and is being held prisoner at the castle, and Major Smith's (Richard Burton) team must rescue him before the Germans get any information out of him. Lt. Schaffer (Clint Eastwood) is the only American on the team, and he's completely bewildered as to why he was selected. It turns out there's more to the mission than initially meets the eye, and as an outsider, Schaffer is the only man that Smith can trust. Disguised as German officers, Smith and Schaffer make their way into the castle with the help of undercover agents Heidi (Ingrid Pitt) and Mary (Mary Ure), but getting back out proves to be much more difficult.
First of all, the film is absolutely gorgeous, and the Alpine locations are stunning. There's nothing like real snow and ice to give you a genuine feeling of actually being there, and it makes the performances more believable as well. Richard Burton is wonderful as a quick thinking, fast talking, man of action, while the steely-eyed Clint Eastwood provides the muscle and firepower to back him up. Both Ingrid Pitt and Mary Ure give defiantly strong performances, and I was delighted by how well their characters are defined. They are both women of action and are treated with dignity and respect. Similarly, the Germans are portrayed as decent and intelligent people, rather than cruel, evil, and stupid villains, which really raises the tension and drama. A hero can only rise as high as those who oppose him.
For the most part, the action scenes and stunt work are superb, although hokey projection effects, matte paintings, and optical composites tend to be visually jarring. However, allowances must be made due to the age of the film, as this was state of the art technology at the time. Unfortunately, the film is overly long and the final act really seems to drag. The complex story becomes increasingly confusing as the film wears on, and you eventually stop trying to make sense of it and just hope that the heroes will get away with whatever they're trying to do. While I'm not a fan of war movies, this one feels more like a spy film or a heist film, and I found it immensely entertaining. The grand production values, talented cast and crew, and epic scale easily qualify it as a classic in the genre.