(1968) by Brian G. Hutton with Richard Burton, Clint Eastwood etc.
Germany in winter 1943/44: A plane with one of the US officers, George Carnaby [Robert Beatty], who is instrumental in planning D-Day, is shot down on a flight to Crete. The general is taken prisoner. The Wehrmacht transports him to the headquarters of the German secret service in the heavily fortified castle „Schloss Adler“ in the Alps, [the actual scene is Hohenwerfen Castle]. To prevent the general from revealing important information, he is to be liberated by a British Special Forces team led by the experienced Major John Smith [Richard Burton]. The US Lieutenant Morris Schaffer [Clint Eastwood] is assigned to the English command as an elite fighter.
After Smith and his team parachute over the Bavarian Alps under cover of dusk, they manage to penetrate into the castle, which can only be reached by cable car. Then begins a dramatic turn of events, in which the spies are mutually referred to as double agents and the general is alleged to be an American actor. The goal of the mission was in fact not the rescue of the general, who is actually an actor, but the detection of double agents within the British secret service MI6. This proves successful: Through a clever ruse, Smith comes into possession of a list of the names of the traitors – as well as the name of the top German spy.
The situation escalates and the group makes a daring escape from the castle and continue by bus with an attached snowplow to the airfield. There they are picked up by an apparently captured Ju-52 transport of the German secret service. On the flight back to England, Smith reveals to his superior officer, Colonel Turner, the name of the German top spy: Turner himself. The thus exposed double agent, who would consequently be court-martialed, would like to be spared a walk to the gallows and asks Smith for an alternative. With Smith’s permission, he commits suicide by jumping out of the plane without a parachute.
Was screenwriter Alistair MacLean a secret agent?
No, Scottish thriller author, Alistair MacLean, and scriptwriter of ”Where Eagles Dare”, was one of the most prolific war and espionage novelists, which made it seem as if during his time as a sailor in the Royal Navy during the Second World War that he also took part in secret missions – in truth the stories sprang from his blossoming imagination.
Were SS members involved in the filming?
Yes, in order to make the appearance of the Nazis and their uniforms as authentic as possible, the film team recruited former Wehrmacht members as advisers, who then visited actors, such as Derren Nesbitt, in their hotel rooms in full gear or enthusiastically participated as ”movie soldiers”, some in their original uniforms. Some of these extras were arrested at the border crossing to Lofer by German authorities, because they were on the wanted list.
Was Hohenwerfen Fortress ”Schloss Adler”?
No, in the film ”Where Eagles Dare” the Hohenwerfen Fortress is the headquarters of the German secret service, the heavily fortified castle complex in the Alps, fictitiously called ”Schloss Adler” – While in fact, the fortress served rather unspectacularly as a ”Gauschulungsburg”, a regional training facility of the Nazi Party during the Second World War.
Did the secret commando from the movie really exist?
Yes, there was indeed a secret commando of the British Special Operations Executive (SOE), led in April 1945 by the Austrian deserter Albrecht Gaiswinkler to parachute over the Feuerkogel (location of the cable car scenes) and arrest Propaganda Minister Joseph Goebbels. The action failed, but parts of the incident were incorporated into MacLean‘s screenplay.
Did the Nazis have helicopters?
Yes, since the 1930s there have been experimental models, and in 1945 the only helicopter squadron of the German Wehrmacht was brought into safety in Salzburg – so it is not historically inaccurate that there were helicopters with swastikas flying around in Salzburg. The helicopter in the movie was an American Bell 47 G.
Did somebody really want to blow up the cable car?
Yes, however, the cable car in the film on the castle hill of Hohenwerfen did not actually exist and was instead a skillful film trick – the actual filming location was the ”Feuerkogel cable car” in Ebensee, on which on September 23, 1963 during the ”South Tyrolean independence movement” there was an attempt by Italian extremists to blow it up – fortunately a cable car driver noticed and the cable car, which was fully occupied with students, was able to be evacuated and the bomb defused.
Did an unknown man want to kill Richard Burton?
Yes, according to the journalist Philip Norman in the daily newspaper ”Daily Mail” in 2018: late in the evening, the actors around Richard Burton, dressed in German uniforms, were having a drink in the lobby of the hotel ”Österreichischer Hof” when a US citizen and intrusive fan of Burton would not go away and threatened Burton with a pistol in a loud argument. Liz Taylor, alarmed by the noise, appeared in a nightgown and rescued her husband.
Did James Bond learn from WHERE EAGLES DARE?
Yes – in the James Bond movie ”In Her Majesty‘s Secret Service” (1969) lead actor George Lazenby performed dangerous climbing maneuvers on a cable car on the 2970 meter high Schilthorn in the Bernese Oberland, the headquarters of the rogue Blofeld. And also Roger Moore defeated ”Jaws” (Richard Kiel) on the roof of a moving cable car in a duel in ”Moonraker” (1979).
Was a performer arrested and sentenced?
Yes, the British film actor Paul Symonds-Beaumont was convicted by a Salzburg judge in February 1968 for the ”crime of fornication against nature“ (in legal language this stood for homosexual acts) and a suspended sentence of four months in jail. Symonds-Beaumont did not appear later in the official crew list.
Is it true that ”Where Eagles Dare“ caused diarrhea in cows?
Yes – as the spring sun melted the snow before filming was over, 1,000 tons of snow from higher regions was moved for the chase scenes and after it was gone, 11 tons of Epsom salt (magnesium sulfate) was used. Rain washed the salt into a stream at night, and the cows that drank from it suffered from diarrhea and gave no milk. MGM had to pay farmers $ 60,000 in compensation.
Does WHERE EAGLES DARE still fascinate viewers today?
Yes – it‘s a mix of the best movie stars, a thrilling story with surprising twists, the impossible mission of the suicide squad, the breathtaking scenery and dramatic use of the fear of heights, which still keeps re-releases sold out in large cinemas today. In Britain, Burton‘s ”Broadsword calling Danny Boy” message has become a household phrase.