Saturday, May 15, 2010

"Where Eagles Dare" and the difference between an ass and a bad-ass

Title: Where Eagles Dare
Released: 1969
Genre: World War II action-adventure
Notable for: Pairing Clint with Richard Burton
Clint's subliminal message: "Me like explosions."

Clint Eastwood must have felt like he finally made it big when he was cast in "Where Eagles Dare." Everything about the film is big in a Hollywood way. That's good and bad.

First and foremost, this is a big-budget World War II story that features Clint in a secondary role behind Richard Burton. No one at the time knew Burton's career was about to start a steep decline, so he was still regarded as one of the leading actors of his generation. Clint has a backup role with the primary dramatic function of killing Nazis by the dozen. The movie is chock full of expensive looking stunts and what we suppose are primitive special effects. It is shot on location and has lots of mountain scenery.

Now for the bad: The movie is too long, the plot twists are meant to be impressively intricate but often get in the way of the action, and parts of the story are damn silly.

The film centers around an allied spy team sent to infiltrate a Nazi mountain stronghold accessible only by cable car. Their mission is to rescue a captured American general. It's a British operation but for reasons not explained until the end (and not explained very convincingly then) Clint tags along as the lone American.

Viewers do not need much time to figure out there is a hidden story. The captured American general turns out to be a phony. The entire mission is really an elaborate ruse to flush out German double-agents within the British spy network.

Weak points are easy to spot. For one, the Brits would find simpler ways to root out German spies. For another, Burton looks too old and booze-bloated to do half the things he does. A third point that particularly irritated us: Everyone on the mission was chosen because they speak fluent German — but no one ever speaks German. Not even the Germans speak German. They speak English with German accents. It's like "Hogan's Heroes."

So what? It's still a good movie. It's worth watching for the explosions and body count alone.

Burton and Eastwood must have parachuted into Bavaria with about 4,000 pounds of dynamite because they blow up everything in sight. It is extremely impressive and totally impossible. Clint single-handedly kills so many Nazis he ends up looking like a comic-book commando. Which is fine by us.

Nazi-killing was a hallowed Hollywood tradition by 1968, so Clint could get away with it. But someone ought to note critics hated his spaghetti westerns for being too violent but he killed far more people here in a mainstream Hollywood hit.

Published biographies say Clint learned an important lesson from "Where Eagles Dare."

Burton allegedly gave Clint a good idea of how he never wanted to behave as a movie star. Burton and Eastwood reportedly got along OK but Clint was appalled by Burton's drinking binges, his entourage (including Elizabeth Taylor, whom we hope Clint bedded) and other annoying trappings of a big ego. We get the impression Clint thought Burton acted like an asshole.

A real man does not have to be an asshole to be a bad-ass. Clint knows that, onscreen and off.

Next up: "Paint Your Wagon."


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