Saturday, March 14, 2009

Forty year old movie review

I may have mentioned before my unreasoning love for all Alistair MacLean's novels. What I didn't know was that the screenplay he wrote for the movie Where Eagles Dare was written concurrently with the novel of the same name and that it was essentially commissioned by Richard Burton, who was looking to make an adventure movie he could take his sons to see.

I wonder how old the kids were - the body count in this movie is pretty high.

The basic plot revolves around an attempted rescue of a British general who has been caught by the Nazis and is being held in the fictitious Schloss Adler. There are, in no particular order, parachute drops into the Alps, rides up (and down) the mountain on top of (not inside) a cable car, traitors, double and triple agents, scaling of castle walls, motorcycle/sidecar chases, mountain-plow carrying school buses, massive shootouts and quiet assassinations, surprise twists and more explosions than I've seen in any movie.

For all the action scenes, it's the acting that makes the movie. Richard Burton stars, with Clint Eastwood sharing top billing. The quality of the rest of the cast is just as good. The dialogue is essential to the plot, not an annoying interruption of the digital action sequences, as in some movies (::cough, cough:: Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull ::cough, cough::).

What amazed me, however, was the realization that none of this movie was done through special effects. The film crew moved literal tons of people and equipment up into the mountains to film. The stunts you see are real, often done in a single take because retakes would be impossible. The castle truly exists up high in the Alps (who on earth had the idea to build up there, and how did they manage to do it back in the eleventh century?). It's worth watching just for the scenery.

It was a nice way to spend two and a half hours - it's a bit long, but you would be completely riveted the entire time. No sex, no bad language but a lot of dead Nazis give this a PG rating.

And if you watch the "Making of" featurette, you'll see a quick shot of Elizabeth Taylor visiting Burton on location.

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