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Film / Where Eagles Dare

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

Where Eagles Dare is a seminal 1967 novel by Alistair MacLean (who also wrote The Guns of Navarone). The following year it was made into an action thriller film directed by Brian G. Hutton and starring Richard Burton, Clint Eastwood, Mary Ure, Patrick Wymark, Michael Hordern, Donald Houston, Ingrid Pitt and Anton Diffring. It follows in the footsteps of The Dirty Dozen and The Guns of Navarone as part of a then-new trend in war movies toward eschewing historical accuracy in favor of flashy mowing-down-Nazis action and a high "Holy Shit!" Quotient, the better to appeal to a younger generation of moviegoers.

The plot: during World War II, seven Allied commandos are dropped behind enemy lines in the German Alps, ostensibly to find and rescue a captured American general who's a key player in the plans for D-Day. However, after two of the group's members are killed and the local Nazis are alerted to their presence, it becomes clear to them—and the viewer—that there's a traitor in their midst. Is everyone in the team who they appear to be? No. Can the team accomplish their mission against all odds? Just watch 'em. 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 Tropers Dare:

  • 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.
  • Adapted Out: Inverted — whereas the book has just one loyal commando who dies early on (Harrod), the film has two (Harrod and MacPherson).
  • Adaptation Name Change: A few in the movie.
    • Traitor Edward Carraciola is now Ted Berkeley.
    • Gestapo officer Captain von Brauchitsch is Major von Hapen.
    • In a more minor example, Colonel Wyatt-Turner's hyphenated surname is shortened to simply Turner.
  • Adaptation Relationship Overhaul: A budding love story between Schaffer and Heidi was cut from the film. Indeed, in the novel Schaffer asks the pilot to arrange for a priest to meet them at the airport.
  • Adjective Animal Alehouse: The team meet Heidi at a tavern called "Zum Wilden Hirsch" (At the [sign of the] Wild Deer)
  • Affably Evil: Rosemeyer is remarkably polite and soft-spoken for a German general, treating Carnaby to a fancy dinner before actually starting the interrogation. Likewise, Kramer isn't your typical sneering SS officer (that'd be von Hapen). The dinner scene emphasizes their wish to be as polite as possible with Carnaby. .... Until he tries their patience, whereupon they prove that no matter how affable they are, they're still bad guys.
  • America Won World War II: 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.
  • 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. Then again they did murder two of the Allied commandos sent in at the beginning of the mission and tried to cover it up. Not to mention for treason, they'd be executed anyway.
  • 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.
  • Artistic License – History: In reality Germany had few (if any) effective spies in England (most were promptly caught and many were turned), and none of any significant rank in the military.
  • Badass Crew: Smith, Schaffer and Mary.
  • Battleaxe Nurse: The Nazi Fraulein is implied to be this.
  • Batman Gambit: Admiral Rolland's scheme to uncover the lead mole in England.
    • Smith getting Kramer to confirm Turner as being the lead mole by writing his name down and Kramer confirming it, convincing Kramer that Smith knew and thus was indeed a German agent. Had Smith and Rolland's suspicions been wrong, the entire operation would have been blown in that instant.
  • 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.
  • Bottomless Magazines: Schaffer fires an MP 40 submachinegun minute after minute, never once reloading for a quarter of the movie. Since there are no convenient ammo trucks following him around, the ammo fairy must be helping out. And it is quite an effective ammo fairy; there are moments where he fires more rounds in a single burst than the weapon can hold.
  • Cable-Car Action Sequence: The most famous movie example. If one does not use a helicopter, then the castle of Werfen can only be accessed via its cable car.
    • Smith and Schaffer hop on the roof of the cable car as it ascends so they will be able to infiltrate the castle undetected. Schaffer nearly falls from the frozen and slippery roof of the cable car station upon arrival. As he's holding onto his ice axe, Smith takes his hand just in time.
    • In the climax, there's a lengthy fight inside the cable car as the heroes escape, complete with jumps between two crossing gondolas and Smith fighting Nazi agents Christiansen and Berkeley on top of it. The movie's posters embellished it also.
  • 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.
  • Cruel Mercy: Smith informs the traitor Colonel Turner that if he wants to escape the hangman waiting for him all that badly, he's free to jump out the plane's door. The defeated Colonel seems almost grateful and obliges.
  • Darker and Edgier: 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.
  • Death by Adaptation: All the Germans who survived in the book die in the movie, notably Weissner and his men, and all the high-ranking officers in the dining room.
  • Department of Redundancy Department: The first line of dialogue is "Our man was brought down at 2 am in the morning."
  • Dies Differently in Adaptation: In the book Thomas, Carraciola, and Christiansen attempt to escape in the cable car with Smith on the roof. Carraciola is crushed by the steel suspension arm of the cable car while struggling with Smith on the roof; Thomas and Christiansen fall to their deaths after Smith blows the cable car up with plastic explosive. In the film Christiansen and Berkeley (Carraciola in the novel) are killed by Smith on the cablecar, and Thomas is shot and killed by a German soldier while climbing down a rope.
  • Disney Villain Death: Capt. Olaf Christiansen is dropped to his death this way. Col. Turner being a British Nazi kills himself this way.
  • Double Agent: Half of the commando party are double agents working for the Germans. Smith is a triple agent who's managed to convince the Germans 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 German soldiers in order to infiltrate the fortress.
  • Even Evil Has Standards: General Rosemeyer and Colonel Kramer hate the thuggish Gestapo "cluttering things up with their torture chambers". This opinion is especially interesting with Kramer, who is an SS officer.
  • 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.
  • False Flag Operation: The British shoot down one of their own planes, containing a (fake) American general, over Germany as a pretext to sending in a team of undercover agents in a convoluted effort to flush out The Mole.
  • Faux Affably Evil: Von Hapen. Unlike his fellow Germans, his niceness is just a façade to trick people into trusting him. This is just in the movie, though; in the book Captain von Brauchitsch comes off as more truly Affably Evil like Rosemeyer and Kramer.
  • Gambit Roulette: Played with. Rolland is aware that some of the commando group are loyal whilst others are suspected to be double agents. Other than Smith, the only one he knows is loyal is Schaffer — who, being American, is an outsider; he doesn't know which of the others are loyal. Part of the overall plan is to expose the traitors.
  • 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.
  • The Guards Must Be Crazy: Subverted in the novel. The German soldiers searching for the commandos don't check the ladies toilet where they're hiding. When one commando mentions how stupid that is, his superior points out the soldiers were eager to think up excuses to avoid searching places where desperate men might empty a submachine gun into them.
  • Guns Akimbo: Schaffer is dual-wielding MP40s to hold of dozens of soldiers.
  • High-Class Glass: General Rosemeyer wears a monocle.
  • Hired to Hunt Yourself: A variant: Smith is put on the mission by Colonel Turner, who believes he is a double agent, in order to sabotage the mission and prevent the loyal British agents from carrying it out.
  • Hollywood Silencer: Averted quite nicely. Schaffer's silenced Walther PPK makes a sort of loud "Chnk!" sound when it fires. Distinct and unmistakably 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.
  • Imperial Stormtrooper Marksmanship Academy: Overdone. Mooks from THREE German groups (SS, Luftwaffe, Wehrmacht Alpenkorps) can't hit any of the heroes (except for Major Smith, but it's Only a Flesh Wound).
  • Informed Ability: During the briefing, we're told that the men are fluent in German. Due to the Translation Convention, they never display this in the film.
  • It Works Better with Bullets: Smith confronts Col. Turner, but he has a gun pointed at him. No problem: it was arranged he would have that gun, and the firing pin has been removed.
  • Just Plane Wrong:
    • General Rosemeyer arrives at the Schloss Adler in a postwar American Bell helicopter. World War II Germans did have helicopters, most notably the Flettner 282 "Kolibri" and the Focke-Achgelis Fa 223 "Drache", but they looked nothing like a Bell, weren't used to transport officers and never reached mass production.
    • Why has an airfield deep in Nazi Germany got half a dozen North American T-6 Texans sitting on the tarmac? The only possible explanations is that someone thought they looked a bit like the Focke-Wolf 190 and couldn't get hold of appropriate replicas.
  • 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: MacPherson apparently also makes really bad coffee.
  • 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 being pushed down a hill. Another truck seems to explode because it drives past an exploding building.
  • Major Injury Underreaction: Smith's reaction to getting shot in the hand is an annoyed "Blast".
  • Male Gaze: When Smith introduces Mary to Heidi.
    Smith: Heidi's been one of our top undercover agents in Bavaria for years. And ... ah ... what a disguise.
  • Meaningful Name
    • John Smith, alias 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 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.
    • Smith, who Turner and the Germans think is their mole, but who is actually a triple agent.
  • Mooks: Nazis are, in some scenes, literally lining up to be shot.
  • More Dakka: Hoo boy. Many occasions, throughout the film.
  • Names to Run Away from Really Fast: Invoked in-universe when Smith claims to be Himmler's brother (nephew in the novel).
  • Nazi Nobleman: Captain von Brauchitsch (Major von Hapen in the film). General Rosemeyer also fits the trope somewhat.
  • No, Mr. Bond, I Expect You to Dine: When we first see General Carnaby, he is in full uniform and seated at a dinner table with his captors.
  • 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 Even Bothering with the Accent: Not only do our heroes speak English throughout the film, but (due to the Translation Convention) they do so without any accent. Despite being fluent in German.
  • 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.
  • Oktoberfest: The commandos are going to inflitrate a castle in Bavaria, so of course there's going to be a beer hall with Dirndl dress-wearing waitresses, Heidi (Ingrid Pitt) in this case. That being said, it matches the setting, as that traditional dress is actually worn in the Germanic Alps (Bavaria, Tyrol and so on), moreso in beer halls and restaurants (though nowadays it's more due to tourism prompting them to enforce this than any other reason).
  • One-Man Army: Smith and Schaffer both. Which is good, because the only other member of the team that is not a traitor is the girl. They are badass enough to accomplish the mission and demolish one of the Nazis' greatest strongholds even with the absurd odds against them.
  • Outside Ride:
    • Smith and Schaffer infiltrate the castle by sneaking onto the roof of the cable car.
    • In the climax, Smith goes onto the cable car's roof again as Berkeley and Christiansen flee in it, and fights them both there.
  • 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.
  • Plot-Based Voice Cancellation: While in a tavern (in German uniform disguises), Smith and Shaffer are having a discussion, and just as Smith starts to explain something the Shaffer, the scene cuts to Mary and Heidi laying the groundwork for infiltrating the castle. This is when Smith would have revealed parts of the real plan to Shaffer, including the fact that Christiensen, Berekely, and Thomas, the other three agents on the mission, are all German agents, something not revealed to the audience until later.
  • The Radio Dies First: The radio itself survives (at least, for a while) but the radio operator is killed immediately after the parachute drop into Germany.
  • Rated M for Manly: The celluloid was practically impregnated with testosterone prior to filming.
  • Rule of Cool: Quite possibly one of the earliest examples of an entire movie being built on this.
  • Sarcastic Confession: Smith tells Schaffer the reason he's late is because he found a beautiful blonde woman lying in the snow. Said woman is an intelligence agent who parachuted in after the commando team and is secretly working with Smith.
  • Self-Disposing Villain: In both the book and the movie, the final traitor opts to jump out of the plane at the end rather than be taken into custody, in a scene lifted almost beat for beat from MacLean's earlier novel The Satan Bug.
  • Shout-Out to Shakespeare: The title comes from Richard III.
    "The world is grown so bad, that wrens make prey where eagles dare not perch."
  • Simple Solution Won't Work: Played with. When the team is being assigned to rescue General Carnaby from the heavily fortified Schloss Adler to stop the Nazis being able to prize the key details of the upcoming D-Day landings out of him, Christiansen asks why go through such a risky mission when they could instead have a squadron of Lancaster bombers reduce the entire fortress to rubble thus ensuring the information stays secret. Admiral Rollo bluntly tells him that deliberately killing the American general would lead to severe repercussions from the outraged American military. However, the whole event is in fact a staged front to route out the double agents that have infiltrated British intelligence.
  • Soft Water: Necessary for their escape from the cable car.
  • Stating the Simple Solution: Killing Carnaby is suggested by Christiansen at the start of the mission as a way to stop him from divulging key D-Day information to the Germans.
    Christiansen: There is, of course, another way, sir. A way with a 100% guarantee of success. Whistle up a Pathfinder squadron of Lancasters with 10-ton bombs. I don't think anybody in that castle would ever talk again.
    Admiral Rolland: Nor do I think that you grasp the realities of the situation. The captured man, Gen. Carnaby, is an American. If we were to destroy him, then I think Gen. Eisenhower might launch his second front against us rather than against the Germans. There are certain... niceties to be observed in our relationship with our allies.
  • 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.
  • Swiss-Army Weapon: The heroes use "Swiss-Army Dynamite" which can be triggered by either timer or tripwire. It's used for everything from traps to the wholesale demolition of bridges and buildings. And they use so much of it in the movie that 90% of the equipment in their packs has to have been these.
  • Take My Hand!: After Smith and Schaffer reach the castle on the roof of the cable car, Schaffer nearly falls from the frozen and slippery roof of the cable car station. As he's holding onto his ice axe, Smith takes his hand just in time.
  • Take Off Your Clothes: Smith says this to Mary after catching up to her in the woodshed behind Zum Wilden Hirsch. When she reacts he clarifies that he just wants her to change into a disguise to sell her cover as a new hire for Schloss Adler.
  • Ten Little Murder Victims: Not one, but three of these. Four if you count the Colonel.
  • Those Wacky Nazis: A classic reinforcer of a lot of the stereotypes. There's the sinister 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.
  • 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: The film begins with the Allied operatives in a meeting being briefed on their mission to infiltrate a Nazi stronghold. The leader helpfully reminds them, "All of you speak fluent German", which they presumably did not need to be toldnote ; it's just a line thrown in only to explain to viewers why all of the dialogue afterwards is in English.
  • 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.
  • Uriah Gambit: Played With. Colonel Turner sends his goons along with the rescue party to ensure Major Smith is killed or captured with no loose ends; the film then subverts the trope by revealing both Smith and Admiral Rolland knew Turner et all. were German spies, but had to set up the mission to collect evidence.
  • The Von Trope Family: Major von Hapen.
  • Walk into Mordor: You can't simply parachute on Schloss Adler, or climb the mountain below it. You have to take the heavily guarded cable car!
  • War Crime Subverts Heroism: Our Heroes commit dozens (if not hundreds) of war crimes, mostly of the "misuse of enemy uniform" variety - which makes every one of their kills a murder. Note that wearing enemy uniforms is such a flagrant violation that (at the time) the generally accepted rules of war allowed anyone caught in such to be executed on the spot. And in an interesting subversion, the Germans commit no war crimes at all.
  • What Measure Is a Mook?: Actually averted in both film and book. In either, the nameless Nazi Mooks are treated no better or worse than their superiors by the heroes.
  • 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 that Smith/Schmidt is actually a double agent working for the Germans, Kramer voluntarily gives him the notebooks containing the lists of German contacts working undercover in Britain and confirms the name of the lead mole.