Where Eagles Dare

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Where Eagles Dare
UK quad crown release poster
by Howard Terpning
Directed byBrian G. Hutton
Screenplay byAlistair MacLean
Based onWhere Eagles Dare
1967 novel
by Alistair MacLean
Produced byElliott Kastner
CinematographyArthur Ibbetson
Edited byJohn Jympson
Music byRon Goodwin
Color processMetrocolor
Winkast Film Productions
Distributed byMetro-Goldwyn-Mayer
Release date
  • 4 December 1968 (1968-12-04)
Running time
155 minutes
CountriesUnited States
United Kingdom
Budget$6.2 million[1]–$7.7 million[2]
Box office$21 million[3]

Where Eagles Dare is a 1968 American-British action war thriller spy film directed by Brian G. Hutton and starring Richard Burton, Clint Eastwood and Mary Ure. It follows a Special Operations Executive team of men attempting to save a captured American general from the fictional Schloß Adler, except the mission turns out not to be as it seems. It was filmed in Panavision using the Metrocolor process, and was distributed by Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer. Alistair MacLean wrote the screenplay, his first, at the same time that he wrote the novel of the same name. Both became commercial successes.

The film involved some of the top filmmakers of the day and was shot on location in Austria and Bavaria. Hollywood stuntman Yakima Canutt was the second unit director and shot most of the action scenes; British stuntman Alf Joint doubled for Burton in many sequences, including the fight on top of the cable car; award-winning conductor and composer Ron Goodwin wrote the film score; and future Oscar-nominee Arthur Ibbetson worked on the cinematography. Where Eagles Dare received mostly positive critical reaction, with praise for the action sequences and the performances of the cast (particuarly Burton and Eastwood), and is considered a classic.[4][5]


In the winter of 1943–44, a team of seven Allied Special Operations Executive commandos, led by British Major John Smith of the Royal Engineers, with one man being U.S. Army Ranger Lieutenant Morris Schaffer, are briefed by Colonel Turner and Vice Admiral Rolland of MI6 that U.S. Army Brigadier General George Carnaby, a chief planner for the Western Front, has been captured by the Germans and taken for interrogation to Schloß Adler, a mountaintop fortress accessible only by cable car. Disguised as Wehrmacht mountain troops, they are to parachute into the German Alps, and infiltrate the castle to rescue Carnaby before the Germans can extract any information from him. After their transport plane drops them off, agent Mary Ellison, comes out of hiding in the rear of the plane and parachutes out of sight of the others. On the ground, Smith and the others find one of the team, Harrod mysteriously dead, his neck broken by someone. Making their way to an outpost, Smith secretly meets with Mary, his lover, and arranges to meet her at a woodshed in Werfen the next night.

The next day, the men reach the village. Smith meets up with Heidi Schmidt, an agent posing as a barmaid and the top agent in the area since 1941. Heidi has arranged for Mary, posing as her cousin Maria, to work temporarily at the castle so the commandos can gain access. Smith continues the operation, keeping Schaffer as a close ally and secretly updating Rolland and Turner by radio. He reveals to Mary and Schaffer that the crash was arranged and that Carnaby is actually an American corporal named Cartwright Jones, an ex-actor and lookalike of Carnaby trained to impersonate him. Smith finds a dying MacPherson, and begins to reveal all to the suspicious Schaffer. Major von Happen, a Gestapo officer, attracted to Mary, offers to escort her and Heidi to the castle in the cable car. The Germans, tipped off to the operation, surround the commandos in a gasthaus. Smith and Schaffer decide to take their chances by surrendering. Smith and Schaffer are separated from the rest of the team, Thomas, Berkeley, and Christiansen. Smith and Schaffer kill their captors, blow up a supply depot, and prepare an escape route. They reach the castle by riding on the roof of a cable car and climb inside using a rope lowered by Mary. SS-Standartenführer Kramer and von Happen have a conflict.

German General der Gebirgstruppe Rosemeyer and Kramer interrogate Carnaby when the three operatives, who claim to be double agents working for the Germans, arrive. When Kramer suggests for his secretary, trained nurse Anne-Marie Kernitser to use truth serum, Smith and Schaffer intrude, weapons drawn, but Smith forces Schaffer to drop his weapon. He identifies himself as SS-Sturmbannführer Johann Schmidt of the SD, the SS intelligence branch and shows Kramer the name of Germany's top agent in Britain. Kramer affirms it and calls a high-ranking officer on Kesselring's staff who confirms that Smith is indeed Schmidt. To ensure the three agents are who they say they are, Schmidt proposes that they write down the names of their fellow agents in Britain, to be compared to the list he has in his pocket. After the three finish their lists, Schmidt reveals that he was bluffing; he is in fact a double agent for the Allies and that obtaining the list of agents was the mission's true objective.

Mary is visited by Major von Happen, who is suspicious of flaws in her cover story, and stumbles upon Carnaby's interrogation just as Smith finishes his explanation. The suspicious Happen orders Kramer to "Sit down, Colonel!" as Smith tries to say he and Schaffer have uncovered a plot to assassinate Hitler and the enraged Rosemeyer exclaims, "This is preposterous!" Smith keeps Happen occupied before Mary arrives. Schaffer seizes the distraction to kill von Happen and the other German officers and Kernitser with his silenced pistol. The group then make their escape with Jones and the German agents. Schaffer sets a series of explosives to create diversions around the castle while Smith leads the group to the radio room, where he informs Rolland of their success and asks for a transport plane home. During the escape, Thomas is sacrificed as a decoy, and Berkeley and Christiansen both attempt to escape before Smith kills them. The team reunites with Heidi on the ground, boarding a Reichspost bus they had prepared earlier. They battle their way onto a nearby airfield and take off in their transport plane.

On the plane, Smith reveals to Turner that Kramer named him as Germany's top agent in Britain. Rolland lured Turner and the others into participating in the fake mission so that MI6 could expose them; Smith's trusted partner Mary and the American Schaffer, who had no connection to MI6, had been assigned to the mission to ensure its success. Turner aims a Sten gun at Smith, who reveals that Rolland had the gun's firing pin removed earlier. Rather than have Turner face execution, and public humiliation for MI6, Smith permits Turner to jump out of the plane to his death, but not before he takes the books from him. Schaffer half-jokingly asks Smith to keep his next mission "an all-British operation", as the two men sit exhausted.



Festung Hohenwerfen, in Werfen, Austria, where the castle scenes were filmed


Burton later said, "I decided to do the picture because Elizabeth's two sons said they were fed up with me making films they weren't allowed to see, or in which I get killed. They wanted me to kill a few people instead."[6]

Burton approached producer Elliott Kastner "and asked him if he had some super-hero stuff for me where I don't get killed in the end."[7]

The producer consulted MacLean and requested an adventure film filled with mystery, suspense, and action. Most of MacLean's novels had been made into films or were being filmed. Kastner persuaded MacLean to write a new story; six weeks later, he delivered the script, at that time entitled Castle of Eagles. Kastner hated the title, and chose Where Eagles Dare instead. The title[8] is from Act I, Scene III, Line 71 in William Shakespeare's Richard III: "The world is grown so bad, that wrens make prey where eagles dare not perch". Like virtually all of MacLean's works, Where Eagles Dare features his trademark "secret traitor", who must be unmasked by the end.

Kastner and co-producer Jerry Gershwin announced in July 1966 that they had purchased five MacLean scripts, starting with Where Eagles Dare and When Eight Bells Toll.[9] Brian Hutton had just made Sol Madrid for the producers and was signed to direct.[10]


Eastwood and Burton reportedly dubbed the film 'Where Doubles Dare' due to the amount of screen time in which stand-ins doubled for the cast during action sequences.[4] Filming began on 2 January 1968 in Austria and concluded in July 1968.[11] Eastwood received a salary of $800,000 while Burton received $1,200,000.[11][12] This is one of the first sound films to have used front projection effect.[13] This technology enabled filming of the scenes where the actors are on top of the cable car.

Eastwood initially thought the script written by MacLean was "terrible" and was "all exposition and complications." According to Derren Nesbitt, Eastwood requested that he be given less dialogue. Most of Schaffer's lines were given to Burton, whilst Eastwood handled most of the action scenes.[14] Director Hutton played to his actors' strengths, allowing for Burton's theatrical background to help the character of Smith and Eastwood's quiet demeanour to establish Schaffer. Eastwood took the part on the advice of his agent, who felt it would be interesting to see his client appear with someone with seniority. Eastwood and Burton got along well on set.[15]

Derren Nesbitt was keen to be as authentic as possible with his character Gestapo Major von Happen. Whilst on location, he requested to meet a former member of the Gestapo to better understand how to play the character and to get the military regalia correct. While dressed in his SS uniform, he caused a Baron to faint with shock and found out that he was Himmler's driver. Nesbitt said that the "Jewish chronicle called me afterwards and said, “How could you play a German?” I said “I do it because I play them very badly”. That seemed to satisfy them." He was injured on set whilst filming the scene in which Schaffer kills Von Hapen. The blood squib attached to Nesbitt exploded with such force that he was temporarily blinded, though he made a quick recovery.[14][16]

The filming was delayed due to the adverse weather in Austria. Shooting took place in winter and early spring of 1968, and the crew had to contend with blizzards, sub-zero temperatures and potential avalanches. Further delays were incurred when Richard Burton, well known for his drinking binges, disappeared for several days, with his friends Peter O'Toole, Trevor Howard and Richard Harris.[17] As part of his deal with Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer, Clint Eastwood took delivery of a Norton P11 motorcycle, which he 'tested' at Brands Hatch racetrack,[18] accompanied by Ingrid Pitt, something that he had been forbidden from doing by Kastner for insurance purposes in case of injury or worse.[19]

Stuntman Alf Joint, who had played Capungo – the man whom 007 electrocuted in the bathtub in Goldfinger – doubled and was stand-in for Richard Burton, and performed the famous cable car jump sequence, during which he lost three teeth.[17] Joint stated that at one point during production, Burton was so drunk that he knocked himself out while filming and Joint had to quickly fill in for him.[20] Derren Nesbitt observed that Burton was drinking as many as four bottles of vodka per day.[21]

Visitors to the set included Burton's wife Elizabeth Taylor, and Robert Shaw, who was then married to Mary Ure.[17]

At one point during filming, Burton was threatened at gunpoint by an overzealous fan, but fortunately danger was averted.[22]

The Junkers Ju 52 used to fly Smith and Schaffer's team into Austria and then make their escape at the end of the film was a Swiss Air Force Ju 52/3m, registration A-702.[23] It was destroyed in an accident on 4 August 2018, killing all 20 people on board.[24][25][26]

  • The castle – Hohenwerfen Castle, Werfen, Austria; filmed in January 1968.
  • Cable car – Feuerkogel Seilbahn at Ebensee, Austria; filmed in January 1968.
    Note: the scenes featuring the castle and the cable car together were filmed using a scale model.[27][28][29]
  • Airport scenes – Flugplatz at Aigen im Ennstal, Austria; filmed in early 1968. The exact place of filming is the "Fiala-Fernbrugg" garrison, still used by HS Geschwader 2 and FlAR2/3rd Bat. of the Austrian Army. The big rocky mountain in the background of the airfield is the Grimming mountains, about 40 km east of the "Hoher Dachstein", or about 80 km east and 10 km south from Werfen.[30]
  • The village – Lofer, Austria; filmed in January 1968.
  • Other scenes – MGM-British Studios, Borehamwood, England; filmed in spring 1968.[31]


Where Eagles Dare received a Royal premiere at the Empire, Leicester Square cinema on 22 January 1969 with Princess Alexandra in attendance. Of the stars of the film, only Clint Eastwood was not present as he was filming Two Mules for Sister Sara in Mexico.[32]


Where Eagles Dare was a huge success,[33] earning $6,560,000 at the North American box office during its first year of release.[34] It was the seventh-most popular film at the UK box office in 1969, and 13th in the US.[35]

Though many critics found the plot somewhat confusing, reviews of the film were generally positive. Vincent Canby of the New York Times gave a positive review, praising the action scenes and cinematography.[36] Likewise, Variety praised the film, describing it as 'Highly entertaining, thrilling and rarely lets down for a moment… more of a saga of cool, calculated courage, than any glorification of war.'.[37] The film was particularly lucrative for Richard Burton, who earned a considerable sum in royalties through television repeats and video sales.[38] Where Eagles Dare had its first showing on British television on 26 December 1979 on BBC1.

Mad Magazine published a satire of the film in its October 1969 issue under the title "Where Vultures Fare." In 2009 Cinema Retro released a special issue dedicated to Where Eagles Dare which detailed the production and filming of the film.[39]

Years after its debut, Where Eagles Dare enjoys a reputation as a classic[40][4] and is considered by many as one of the best war films of all time.[41][42][43] General praise is given towards Burton and Eastwood's performances, as well as the various actions scenes.[44] Director Steven Spielberg cited it as his favourite war film.[45][46] Empire film critic Ian Nathan gave the film three out of five stars, citing it as "A fine example of that war movie staple" and calling it, a "Classic War caper with a few too many plot contrivances but high on adventure".[47]

Home media[edit]

Where Eagles Dare was released on Blu-ray in 2010.[48]


Where Eagles Dare
Soundtrack album by
Released4 January 2005
Film music
LabelFilm Score Monthly
ProducerLukas Kendall

The score was composed by Ron Goodwin. A soundtrack was released on Compact Disc in 2005 by Film Score Monthly, of the Silver Age Classics series, in association with Turner Entertainment. It was a two-disc release, the first CD being the film music, the second the film music for Operation Crossbow and source music for Where Eagles Dare. The release has been limited to 3,000 pressings. The soundtrack has received critical acclaim.[49]

Disc one
1."Main Title" 
2."Before Jump/Death of Harrod" 
3."Mary and Smith Meet/Sting on Castle/Parade Ground" 
4."Preparation in Luggage Office/Fight in Car" 
5."The Booby Trap" 
6."Ascent on the Cable Car" 
7."Death of Radio Engineer and Helicopter Pilot" 
8."Checking on Smith/Names in Notebook" 
9."Smith Triumphs Over Nazis" 
10."Intermission Playout" 
12."Encounter in the Castle" 
13."Journey Through the Castle Part 1" 
14."Journey Through the Castle Part 2" 
15."Descent and Fight on the Cable Car" 
16."Escape from the Cable Car" 
17."Chase, Part 1 and 2" 
18."The Chase in the Airfield" 
19."The Real Traitor" 
20."End Playout" 


The principal difference is that the 1966 novel by Alistair MacLean is less violent. One scene during the escape from the castle where Smith saves a German guard from burning to death presaged the non-lethal thriller vein that MacLean would explore in his later career. In the novel the characters are more clearly defined and slightly more humorous than their depictions in the film, which is fast-paced and has sombre performances from Burton and Eastwood at its centre. Three characters are differently named in the novel: Ted Berkeley is called Edward Carraciola, Jock MacPherson is called Torrance-Smythe, and Major von Hapen is instead Captain von Brauchitsch. The love stories between Schaffer and Heidi and between Smith and Mary were also cut.[50] Indeed, in the novel Smith asks London to arrange for a priest to meet them at the airport.

In the book the group is flown into Germany on board an RAF Avro Lancaster, whereas in the film they are transported in a Luftwaffe Junkers Ju 52. While in the film Kramer, Rosemeyer, and Von Hapen are shot dead by Schaffer, in the novel they are just given high doses of nembutal. 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 is killed and Berkeley (Carraciola in the novel) incapacitated by Smith on the cable car (he dies when the cable car explodes), and Thomas is shot and killed by a German while climbing down a rope.[51]



  1. ^ Webster, Jack (1991). Alistair MacLean: A Life. Chapmans. p. 133.
  2. ^ "Metro-Goldwyn Omits Dividend; O'Brien Resigns: Board Cites Possible Loss Of Up to $19 Million in The Current Fiscal Year Bronfman Named Chairman". Wall Street Journal. 27 May 1969. p. 2.
  3. ^ Hughes, p.194
  4. ^ a b c "Where Eagles Dare". TCM. Archived from the original on 11 November 2022. Retrieved 11 November 2022.
  5. ^ The Spinning Image, Where Eagles Dare https://www.thespinningimage.co.uk/cultfilms/displaycultfilm.asp?reviewid=3911 (Uploaded March 14, 2012)|access-date=2012-03-14}}
  6. ^ "3 Companies Offer to Bankroll Burton Film". Los Angeles Times. 22 February 1968. p. d16.
  7. ^ Aba, Marika (21 July 1968). "The Burtons... 'Just Another Working Couple'". Los Angeles Times. p. c18.
  8. ^ "Broadsword Calling Danny-Boy... the making of Where Eagles Dare". Film Review 1998: republished in The Cellulord is Watching. Archived from the original on 4 October 2013. Retrieved 1 October 2013.
  9. ^ Martin, Betty (30 July 1966). "Gene Kelly to Do 'Married'". Los Angeles Times. p. 18.
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  11. ^ a b Hughes, pp.191–192
  12. ^ Munn, p. 79
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  14. ^ a b A Conversation with Derren Nesbitt. "Major von Hapen" in "Where Eagles Dare" Archived 16 October 2016 at the Wayback Machine. YouTube (10 June 2013). Retrieved on 2015-11-20.
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  31. ^ Where Eagles Dare (1968) Archived 30 October 2014 at the Wayback Machine. Mitteleuropa.x10.mx. Retrieved on 20 November 2015.
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  33. ^ Preview: a young director and his $9 million cliff-hanger: 'Chat' pictures 'What's that?' 'Positive' alternatives By Roderick Nordell. The Christian Science Monitor 7 Mar 1969: 4.
  34. ^ "Big Rental Films of 1969", Variety, 7 January 1970 p. 15
  35. ^ "The World's Top Twenty Films." Sunday Times [London, UK] 27 September 1970: 27. The Sunday Times Digital Archive. accessed 5 April 2014
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  44. ^ Where Eagles Dare Reviews https://www.tvguide.com/movies/where-eagles-dare/review/2000045177/
  45. ^ Dyer, Geoff (6 December 2009). "Geoff Dyer on Where Eagles Dare". The Observer.
  46. ^ "Geoff Dyer Goes Deep on WWII Classic Where Eagles Dare". 26 February 2019.
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  48. ^ McEneany, Chris (23 June 2010). "Where Eagles Dare Blu-ray Review". AVForums. Retrieved 30 November 2023.
  49. ^ Craig Lysy, MovieMusicUK, 2021, https://moviemusicuk.us/2021/01/11/where-eagles-dare-ron-goodwin/
  50. ^ "I capture the castle". The Guardian. Archived from the original on 9 April 2019. Retrieved 20 April 2019.
  51. ^ "The War Movie Buff: BOOK/MOVIE: Where Eagles Dare (1967/1968)". 29 July 2015. Archived from the original on 21 October 2018. Retrieved 21 October 2018.


  • Hughes, Howard (2009). Aim for the Heart. London: I.B. Tauris. ISBN 978-1-84511-902-7.
  • Munn, Michael (1992). Clint Eastwood: Hollywood's Loner. London: Robson Books. ISBN 0-86051-790-X.
  • Dyer, Geoff (2018). Broadsword Calling Danny Boy. London: Penguin Books. ISBN 978-0141987620.

External links[edit]