Castle of the Eagles

Like The Guns of Navarone, Brian G. Hutton’s Where Eagles Dare (1968), was based on a story by Alistair MacLean. In the seven years since Navarone was made into a hit film in 1961, cinema had changed dramatically. In the era of Bullit’s high-octane car chases, the casual, explosive violence of The Dirty Dozen and the gadget-laden espionage of James Bond, ‘high adventure’ had hit new heights. Instead of the scene in Navarone when the commandos scale sheer cliffs in a raging storm, Eagles serves up cliff-hanging exploits on icy cable cars, high above an alpine valley (actually staged on a vast set constructed at MGM’s London studio). In place of Navarone’s occasional action spots, when the heroes shoot it out with German patrols, we have two Allied professionals – a double-agent and an OSS assassin – shooting it out with the entire Wehrmacht.

Where Eagles Dare was based on MacLean’s ‘Adler Schloss’ (Eagle Castle) which detailed a fictitious raid on a German mountaintop stronghold – Waffen SS fortress the Schloß Adler (‘The Castle of the Eagles’), which was the HQ of the German Secret Service in southern Bavaria. MI6, British Intelligence, mount a special mission to free US General Carnaby (Robert Beatty), who has been captured when his Mosquito was shot down. He was en route to a conference with the Russians on Crete to discuss the establishment of a second front in Europe (the D-Day landings) and must be rescued before the Gestapo loosen his tongue. Major John Smith (Richard Burton) leads the crack rescue squad, which consists of US Ranger Lieutenant Morris Schaffer (Clint Eastwood), five British soldiers – James Christiansen (Donald Houston) Edward Berkeley (Peter Barkworth), Philip Thomas (William Squire), Harrod (Brook Williams) and Jock MacPhearson Neil McCarthey) – and female agent Mary Ellison (Mary Ure). Mary poses as ‘Maria Schenk’ who visits her ‘cousin’ Heidi (Ingrid Pitt), an undercover agent working in the guest house ‘Zum Wilden Hirsch’ (The Wild Stag). The squad parachute in disguised as German soldiers, but radio operator Harrod is killed on landing and MacPhearson is murdered shortly afterwards in the village of Werfen, at the foot of the fortress. Realising that Christiansen, Berkeley and Thomas are traitors, Smith and Schaffer infiltrate the eagle’s nest, which can only be accessed by cable car, where more than a few surprises await them in this twisty tale of double and triple-cross.

Film magazine Cinema Retro has a new edition of its Where Eagles Dare ‘Movie Classics’ special edition available. The original 80-page issue was published in 2009, but has since sold out. This new version, now including contributions from the director Brian G. Hutton and other key personnel, is even more spectacular, with in-depth analysis of the film’s making. Drawing together material, much of which has never been published, this is the definitive story of the film’s creation, on location and in London. The Schloß Adler was an actual 11th Century castle, the Burg Hohenwerfen, perched above the village of Werfen in the Salzach Valley, Austria. This special edition magazine includes full-colour post artwork for all the film’s varied ad campaigns worldwide, set sketches, storyboard details, and many behind the scenes pics of Clint Eastwood, Richard Burton and his wife Elizabeth Taylor, Ingrid Pitt, and the rest of the cast and crew, at work and relaxing between takes. Now 116 pages, this Deluxe Edition offers even more insight into this $7.2 million production, which remains one of the most popular adventure war stories of all time. I’ve contributed an article to the issue discussing the film’s historical accuracy – or otherwise – as a period WW2 film.

See the Cinema Retro website for details on how to order the new Movie Classics Where Eagles Dare issue and for sample layouts

My latest book When Eagles Dared: The Filmgoers’ History of World War II (I.B. Tauris), as you’d expect from the title, also includes a chapter on the film, and other tales of daring-do during Special Ops in Europe in the latter years of the war, such as Operation Crossbow and The Dirty Heroes

Pick up the movie tie-in paperback

Or the movie itself…


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