Sunday, November 16, 2008

Flick of the Week: "Major, right now you got me about as confused as I ever hope to be."

This week's flick takes us with the voice of Richard Burton in Zulu to the Alastair MacLean action/thriller, Where Eagles Dare.

Where Eagles Dare, in many ways, marks the end of the action adventure WWII flick. It was based on a novel by the master of the genre and produced by same people who did The Dirty Dozen. It encapsulates everything such films need - suicide mission; bad Germans, twists upon twists, a mix of Americans and English, lots of explosions, and a good ending.

After this film, which came out in 1968, very few films adhered to this mix. Too Late the Hero which was released in 1970, and directed by Robert Aldrich, who also directed The Dirty Dozen, is possibly the last 'action' WWII film to come out, but even that was starting to feel the effects of the Vietnam War, and thus allegories to that conflict were included (and pointedly it was set in the Pacific . From then on war films would be Apocalypse Now, or The Deer Hunter - they had to say something.

With Where Eagles Dare, there's no link to modern conflict. No questioning of why men fight. No pondering on how those who return after a war are affected. Nope - this is just lots of fun thrown wildly around. If ever a WWII film could be made into a theme park ride, this is the one - a parachute drop, the fantastic cable car jumping, and the chase along snow-frosted roads in a bus with massive explosions along the way. I mean, c'mon, what more do you need?!

The plot involves a group of Englishmen and one American having to infiltrate into Germany to rescue an American General who knows of the Allies' plan to invade Europe. But really that's just an excuse to let rip the adventure. It's pure unadulterated boy's own stuff, but the efforts of Richard Burton and Clint Eastwood put this into the top drawer entertainment level.

I have to admit to having watched this one far, far too many times, and yet still love it. It's not my favourite WWII flick (The Great Escape has that title), but it's perhaps the one I've watched the most.

Burton actually makes this film for me. As Major John Smith (!) of British Intelligence, the guy just dominates, and is obviously having a lot of fun doing so. He was a brilliant actor, but he never got too snobby about the films he appeared in. Some say he wasted his talent, and yet the guy came from a dirt poor Welsh family with 12 brother and sisters, went on to make a tonne of films, married Liz Taylor twice at the time when she was considered the most beautiful woman in the world, and generally had fun (drunken fun it must be said, but fun nonetheless). Ok, his last decade was mostly full of crap films (The Exorcist II) but he was nominated 7 times for an Oscar (never won). So I say bugger it, the guy did well; and many an actor would kill to have his career.

Also, according to imdb, he once got into a contest with Robert F. Kennedy, whom he greatly admired, in which they tried to out-do the other by quoting William Shakespeare's sonnets. Both were word-perfect, and Burton was forced to "win" the contest by quoting one of the sonnets backwards. Now, that is cool. (nerdy cool, but still cool).

Another interesting bit of trivia; MacLean was asked to write an original screenplay for the film. He couldn't do it - so what he did was write the novel first and then do an "adaptation"; all in six weeks apparently. I'm thinking Alastair didn't worry too much about writer's block.

Best line:
err. look it's not really a 'talking' picture - just enjoy the action.

No comments: