There's something about WWII movies from the late 1960s and early to mid 1970s that just click for me in ways that the glut of WWII-based video games never do. For every Call of Duty I can point to The Guns of Navarone, The Great Escape, Patton, and so forth. Up until recently the most I'd ever seen of Where Eagles Dare was the last five minutes. For whatever reason, whenever I would catch the film playing it was always during that scene. Courtesy of Netflix I finally managed to check out the whole film and it was terrific. I had a few problems with it to be sure, but overall it was one heck of a fun movie.
Set in the winter of 1943, Where Eagles Dare follows a determined British commando team led by Richard Burton himself who, along with a token American Ranger played by Clint Eastwood, have to break into an impregnable fortress in Bavaria to rescue an American general who is one of the main planners of Operation Overlord, also known as the invasion of Europe. If the Germans are able to break the general and find out what he knows then it could be disasterous for the Allies. But when the team first lands in the Bavarian countryside, they quickly figure out that there is a traitor in their midst who will do whatever it takes to kill them all.
In terms of plot, you don't get better than this and with good reason. The screenplay was churned out by none other than Alistair MacLean who also wrote The Guns of Navarone. It shows because the film feels more like a novel than anything else. There is a lot of setup along the way for a fairly weak pay-off, but if nothing else it entertains along the way. I found it fascinating watching all the little details slipped into the film culminating in a riveting roundtable with everyone held at gunpoint by Burton as he lays out the master plan. What makes this scene even greater is that even the viewer isn't sure whether Burton is telling the truth let alone what he hopes to gain by it.
Eastwood displays plenty of the youthful charisma that makes his early films so much fun, but he's not given much to do other than stand around and grimace. While some might argue that's all he did in his early career, he does score a few times here despite this obviously being Burton's show. Eastwood's physical capabilities loom large over Burton's and this is all the more evident during the fight on top of the ski lift car. Burton fights with a couple of bad guys as the lift descends and it's just hilariously staged. Were Eastwood the one doing the fighting then the dynamic would have been completely different and, I think, the better for it. But Eastwood eventually went on to Dirty Harry while Burton went on to Exorcist II: The Heretic so I'm satisfied justice was eventually served.
But overall the film is a lot of fun despite its rather lengthy run time and a final twist you'll see coming right from the start.