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Film: Where Eagles Dare

"Broadsword calling Danny Boy... Broadsword calling Danny Boy, come in, over."
John Smith

They dared to go where no one would try
They chose to fly where eagles dare

Where Eagles Dare is a 1968 seminal novel by Alistair MacLean (who also wrote The Guns of Navarone). It was made into an action thriller set in starring Clint Eastwood and Richard Burton. It follows in the footsteps of The Guns of Navarone, where there was a shift in war movies, eschewing historical accuracy in favour of exploding Nazis, and a very high HSQ in order to appeal to a new generation of moviegoers.

A bunch of seven Allied paratroopers are dropped behind enemy lines in the Alps, ostensibly to find and rescue a captured American general who's a key player in the plans for D-Day. However, after some members of the group appear to have been assassinated by a member of the gang and then the local Nazis are informed of their presence, it's clear to the viewer that there's a traitor in their midst. Is everyone in the team who they appear to be? Can the team accomplish their mission against all odds? And how many Nazis can be killed in just one castle anyway? A lot. (Although that missed a few.)

As with any film involving shady deals and double crossing, spoilers ahead.


Where Eagles Dare provides examples of the following tropes:

  • Action Girl: Mary takes this title by the end of the film, where she and Schaeffer gun down hordes of Nazis from the back of the bus. Also Heidi.
  • Adaptation Name Change: A few. Notably traitor Edward Carraciola is now Ted Berkeley, and Gestapo officer Captain von Brauchitsch is Major von Hapen.
  • Adventure Duo: Smith and Schaffer.
  • America Wins the War: Played with. Morris Schaffer, as a Ranger, single-handedly mows his way through two thirds of the Wehrmacht, but it's quite clear that Smith is no slouch in the killing department. It's also made clear that Schaffer is there only because Smith needs an ally, as the Brits can no longer trust their own team.
  • Anachronism Stew: General Rosemeyer arrives in a postwar American Bell helicopter.
  • Anti-Hero:
    • Schaffer kills a number of soldiers in cold blood; in fact, the others tend to leave him to that kind of work, such as when Smith stands back to allow Schaffer to stab the radio operator in the back rather than do it himself. (Although it doesn't go as planned.)
    • Smith's treatment of Christiansen, Thomas and Berkeley after they're outed as Nazi spies is quite cold. Sure, they're traitors, but the manner in which he uses and disposes of them after they're of no further use to him is pretty ruthless, such as sacrificing Thomas to distract the pursuing Germans, and kicking a begging Christiansen off of the cable car.
  • The Apple Falls Far: Poor Christiansen has a good, long look at just how far he's going to have to fall when Smith kicks him off of the cable car.
  • Badass: Smith and Schaffer both. In fact, individually they'd be classed as a One-Man Army.
  • Badass Crew: Smith, Schaffer and Mary.
  • Batman Gambit: Admiral Rolland's scheme to uncover the lead mole in England.
  • Blond Guys Are Evil: Major von Hapen.
  • Booby Trap: And how. Smith and Schaffer smuggle enough tripwire/timer-activated TNT into the castle to... well, blow it and everyone in it into smithereens.
  • Cable-Car Action Sequence: Smith fights Nazi spies Christiansen and Berkeley on top of one.
  • Car Fu: Smith's escape in a snowplough-equipped bus full of machine guns.
  • The Chessmaster: Admiral Rolland and, to a lesser extent, Smith. The entire operation, right down to finding a lookalike for an American general and shooting his plane down over the right part of Germany was all planned months in advance by Rolland, who confided in Smith and relied on his skills at roulette to see it through to execution.
  • Death by Adaptation: All the Nazis who survived in the book die in the movie, notably Weissner and his men, and all the high-ranking officers in the dining room.
  • Double Agent: Half of the commando party are double agents working for the Nazis. Smith is a triple agent who's managed to convince the Nazis he's a double agent working for them when in fact he's working for British counter-intelligence.
  • Dressing as the Enemy: The protagonists dress up as Nazis to infiltrate the fortress.
  • Every Car Is a Pinto:
    • Bizarrely, the movie manages to restrain itself from this trope right up until the final scene (despite the usual staples of cars flying off bridges etc. having already provided ample opportunity for this trope), where one of the Kübelwagens blows up.
    • Played straight in the scene where Smith and Schaffer push Weissner's staff car off a cliff. It blows up midway down for no readily apparent reason.
  • Face-Heel Turn / Heel-Face Turn: Smith manages both in the space of five minutes in order to first convince Rosemeyer and Kramer that Schaffer is an American assassin in order to gain their trust so he can kill Rosemeyer, and then back again when he's collected the information he needs and kills them.
  • Fake Defector: Smith turns in Schaffer to the German command after his apparent Face-Heel Turn.
  • Five-Man Band:
  • Gambit Roulette: Played with. Rolland is aware that some of the commando group are loyal whilst others are double agents. However, only Smith, Schaffer and Rolland are aware of each other's loyalty but aren't sure which members of their own group are loyal. Part of the overall plan is to expose them.
  • Grenade Hot Potato: Played perfectly straight with Schaffer throwing back a grenade when under siege. He later retreats when they start throwing two grenades at a time.
  • Guns Akimbo: Schaffer's CMOA is dual-wielding MP40s to hold of dozens of soldiers.
  • High-Class Glass: General Rosemeyer wears a monocle.
  • Hollywood Silencer: Averted quite nicely. Schaffer's silenced Walther PPK makes a sort of loud "Chnk!" sound when it fires. Distinct and unmistakeably a firearm, yet unnoticed in the midst of confusion or if fired with a large room and a closed door between the shooter and those he doesn't want to alert. While individual silencers vary, this is the typically described sound of a handgun equipped with a silencer from the WWII Era.
  • Leave Behind a Pistol: Smith cautions Schaffer against shooting Colonel Wyatt-Turner, noting "We mustn't cheat the hangman," but raises no objections when Turner chooses to throw himself out the plane's door rather than face trial.
  • Lethal Chef: In the novel, Torrance-Smythe is implied to be one. His movie counterpart MacPherson apparently also makes really bad coffee.
  • Lighter and Softer: McLean's novel is considerably less violent than the movie. While plenty of people still get killed in the various shootouts and Christiansen and Berkeley still die in the cable car fight, McLean has the commandos non-fatally disable most of the Punch Clock Villain Nazi guards they encounter. Most famously, Smith rescues a radio operator he'd tied up earlier from burning to death, and, instead of shooting all the high-ranking Nazis at the dinner table, he and Schaffer just inject them with a drug which knocks them out.
  • Made of Explodium: Whilst most objects in this movie end up exploding quite legitimately, there's at least two vehicles that burst into flames and explode just from pushed down a hill. Another truck seems to explode because it drove past an exploding building.
  • Male Gaze: When Smith introduces Mary to Heidi.
    Smith: Heidi's been one of our top undercover agents in Bavaria for years. And... eh... what a disguise.
  • Meaningful Name
    • John Smith/Johann Schmidt is the man you can't trust to be who he says he is.
    • Schaffer (Shepherd) is there to protect Smith.
    • Colonel Wyatt-Turner is the traitor.
  • Mind Screwdriver: Whilst almost impossibly convoluted, the plan is revealed in retrospect.
    Kramer: It's incredible!note 
    Smith: Yes. But to the British very, very simple.
    [...]
    Smith: Lieutenant, in the next fifteen minutes, we have to create enough confusion to get out of here alive.
    Schaffer: Major, right now you got me about as confused as I ever hope to be.
  • The Mole: Colonel Wyatt-Turner. Whilst it's only revealed at the end of the film, it becomes apparent that the British have suspected him as the mole for a long time and organised the mission to secure proof. Not to mention all the other moles who were killed in getting that information.
  • Mooks: Nazis are, in some scenes, literally lining up to be shot.
  • More Dakka: Many occasions throughout the film.
  • Names to Run Away From Really Fast: Invoked in-universe when Smith claims to be Himmler's brother.
  • Nazi Germany
  • Nazi Nobleman: Major von Hapen. General Rosemeyer also fits the trope somewhat.
  • No Seat Belts: This caused the death of the Mooks who were escorting Smith and Schaffer into custody. In particular it sends Weissner flying literally through the windshield.
  • Not with the Safety on, You Won't: Subverted in that Rolland removed the firing pin from Wyatt-Turner's gun before the mission started.
  • Over-the-Shoulder Carry: Schaffer does this to a dead German he threw out of Weissner's speeding car, so his body won't be found on the road.
  • The Plan: The secondary plan to expose all of the other German spies present in Britain, deliver bogus D-Day plans and assassinate key officers of the Alpenkorps under the guise of a rescue attempt.
  • Rated M for Manly: The celluloid was practically impregnated with testosterone prior to filming.
  • Reverse Mole: Smith
  • Rule of Cool: Quite possibly one of the earliest examples of an entire movie being built on this.
  • Soft Water: Necessary for their escape from the cable car.
  • Storming the Castle: The Schloss Adler can be approached only by cable car, under (over?) the watchful eye of an entire battalion of Nazi troopers.
  • Stuff Blowing Up: Pretty much every prop and set used throughout the film gets exploded.
  • Stupid Jetpack Hitler: Nazis with helicopters!
    • Was in the book. Also Truth in Television. The Nazis did have operational helicopters and where experimenting with how to use them anticipating many modern uses. The Flettner Fl 282 for example was used for Anti-Submarine Warfare, an ancestor of modern ASW helicopters.
  • Those Wacky Nazis: A classic reinforcer of a lot of the stereotypes. There's the sinister, backstabbing Gestapo officer, the aristocratic generals and the tight-lipped torture-frau, not to mention the soon-to-be-exploded Mooks shown to be continually living it up in Bierkellers.
    • Note that von Hapen was sinister but he wasn't a backstabber. He was rightly annoyed that Kramer kept him in the dark because of his reputation, and after talking to (and exposing) Maria he does his job and acts on his suspicions, very nearly stopping the allied plot.
      • In the novel, von Brauchitsch gets along just fine with Kramer. The rivalry between him and Kramer was invented for the film.
  • Throw Away Guns: Our good guys seems to have a never-ending supply of MP40s. Seeing how many Mooks they mow down, it's rather justified.
  • Translation Convention: Everyone speaks English (though a partial Hand Wave comes from the fact that the protagonists are fluent in German).
  • Unspoken Plan Guarantee: When Schaffer asks Smith what the hell is going on, the cameraman wanders off. Turns out Smith probably lied anyway, considering he pulls a gun on Schaffer later and calls him a second-rate punk.
  • Windmill Crusader: Played with/inverted; all of the team are sent in to the castle to rescue the general, but only Smith and Mary are aware that the whole setup is a complete fabrication, and most of the rest of the team are the bad guys.
  • Xanatos Speed Chess: Smith's part in Rolland's Batman Gambit is to continually fiddle the plan to either expose or eliminate the double agents whilst the treacherous members of his team try to eliminate the loyal ones.
  • You Just Told Me: Used as part of The Plan; because he's convinced Schmidt is actually a double agent working for the Germans, Kramer voluntarily gives Smith the notebooks containing the lists of spy contacts working undercover in Britain and confirms the name of the lead mole.


VortexMilitary and Warfare LiteratureWing Commander
ValkyrieWorks Set in World War IIThe Inglorious Bastards
The Western MysteriesHistorical Fiction LiteratureThe White Company
Former Child StarImageSource/Live-Action FilmsCable-Car Action Sequence
War and PeaceFilms of the 1960sWitchfinder General
When Trumpets FadeMilitary and Warfare FilmsWhite Tiger

alternative title(s): Where Eagles Dare
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