"Love lift us up where we belong, where the eagles dare, on the mountain... there!" No, forget that, let's go with, "the blizzard goes on, but still they must fly! No one should go where eagles dare!" Yeah, sorry, Joe Cocker and Jennifer Warnes, but we need a more edgy song reference for a discussion regarding a war film starring Richard Burton and Clint Eastwood, which is why I'm sticking with Iron Maiden... you know, because they never get cheesy. Actually, that's a perfect reference, because considering that this is a Richard Burton and Clint Eastwood war film, it should be every bit as heavy metal as Iron Maiden typically is, and considering that it still came out in the '60s, it should also get to be as cheesy as Iron Maiden can get. I don't know if the era would so much defuse dramatic momentum, as much as it would be the fact that, at this time, Brian G. Hutton was also gearing up to make "Kelly's Heroes", which made a joke out of war, over the excessive course of almost two-and-a-half hours. This film is over two-and-a-half hours long, and it isn't even a comedy, at least as far as '60s films were concerned (Okay, this film isn't nearly that dated), but at least it has plenty of things to keep you entertained, though not enough to compensate for the shortcomings.
With all my jokes about dated dramatics of the '60s, this film has quite a bit of edge to it, yet not exactly to its narrative itself, which follows formula and, along the way, makes matters worse by hitting conventional, almost trite dialogue, if not characterization that is lacking is to begin with. This drama really is about the mission, so it wastes so little time in firing right in that, beyond the mission, immediate development is hardly touched upon in a script that goes on to have hold the audacity to say very little about the well-portrayed and somewhat memorable, but formulaically and thinly drawn characters, and take its time to say so little. Running over two-and-a-half hours in length, this film is simply too blasted long to place only so much attention to exposition and material, near-monotonously meandering along filler, if not some ultimately inconsequential plot layers so recurrently that momentum which should be consistently slick ends up rarely picking up to really, really entertain. Needless to say, it doesn't help that Brian G. Hutton's directorial storytelling hits its share of slow spells, with quiet, or at least thoroughly atmospheric spots that rarely retard momentum so greatly that dullness sets in, while engagement value is lost for an extended period of time, but still has a tendency to bland things up with its questionable thoughtfulness over thin material found both in Alistair MacLean's script and in concept. Once again, this drama is really about the mission, not the thematic and dramatic weight or scope of war, simply high-caliber military men who, for the sake of national security during wartime, take on a task that is rich in visceral tension, but even conceptually lacking in dramatic tension, no matter how much ambition is placed in the relatively minimalist story concept's interpretation. This ambition, of course, begets inspiration that goes quite a ways in driving this film as entertaining and reasonably compelling, perhaps to where the final product could have rewarded, despite its natural shortcomings, were it not for the consequential shortcomings, which render the final product formulaic, thinly drawn, draggy and all around underwhelming. Of course, the final product just barely falls short of what it could have been, delivering more than adequately of respectable strengths, even in production value.
Peter Mullins' art direction is pretty solid, doing close to nothing unique with its restoration of more remote regions occupied by the Nazis during WWII, but still doing enough to distinguish the time in an almost attractive manner, at least beyond a lovely, snowy backdrop that colors up visuals almost as much as smashing action, limited though it may be in quantity. As far as quality is concerned, the action stands out, with tense tighter sequences and grand, technically impressive pieces of broader scale that mark highlights in establishing a sense of consequence to a story whose consequentiality is more limited in concept than it probably should be as a war thriller. With that said, there is still some juice to salvage in the basic idea behind this film, which is genuinely intriguing in its tense study on military spies taking on a mission of great consequence, despite only fair cinematic consequence, often genuinely flavored up by highlights in Alistair MacLean's conventional, undercooked and overdrawn script which include some snappy dialogue and even plenty of surprisingly audacious set pieces that aren't afraid to reinforce what edge there is. There's plenty of bite to this film on paper, and when it comes to execution by director Brian G. Hutton, although many a hiccup is hit, thoughtfulness that thrives on quiet intensity, if not the tonal quality of Ron Goodwin's solid, if conventional score, upon finding material to draw upon, engages pretty commendably, particularly when tensions really arrive, handled with a kick was almost uncommon for films of the time. Its violence edgy and its atmosphere subtle, the intensity of this drama is typically pretty raw, highlighting an entertainment value which rarely abates to the point of losing you, and ultimately carries enough color to engage through and through. What endears about as much as anything is, of course, a cast full of charismas, most all of whom all but pale in comparison to the charisma of the subdued Richard Burton and the gritty Clint Eastwood, who also share a certain chemistry that makes the central leads particularly memorable, in spite of thin characterization. Yes, for every strength there is a shortcomings, thus, the final product falls short, but only of rewarding, to which it comes close enough to entertain and compel serviceably with a respectable, if limited array of strengths.
Bottom line, hardly anything new is done here, and only so much of anything at all is said about the characters, despite an excessive structure whose slow spells are made all the more bland by cold spells in direction and natural shortcomings to the story concept, which are ultimately to difficult to ignore for the sake of reward value, enough glimpses of which are seen through solid immersion value and action, decent and often edgy writing and direction, and plenty of charismatic performances - particularly those by Richard Burton and Clint Eastwood - to make Brian G. Hutton's "Where Eagles Dare" a somewhat inconsequential, but ultimately perfectly decent and often tense military thriller.
2.75/5 - Decent