Lieutenant Morris Schaffer (Clint Eastwood) is confused. His partner, on a daring mission to kill Nazi high command members barricaded inside a castle defense, has just pulled a double agent routine. Major Johnathan Smith (Richard Burton) has crossed Schaffer, apparently revealing himself as a German spy, before turning on them to reveal himself as a member of the British army. Schaffer sums this up pretty well, stating, “Major, right now you got me about as confused as I ever hope to be.”
The audience too. Where Eagles Dare is deliberately bloated and convoluted. Early scenes show Schaffer giving his commanding officer an awkward glance, certainly untrustworthy of his own man commanding this mission. The film delivers a wonderful level of uneasiness, the script by Alistair MacLean purposefully misguiding the audience at every turn.
By the time it is over, this thing has taken so many turns, even as imposters are revealed you’re still not sure it is safe to believe anyone. This is hardly a straightforward war effort, the Nazis playing more of a bit part in international espionage.
Between the crisscrossing soldiers, Where Eagles Dare is setting up a grand escape, a plan so complex and absurd as to be laughable. Schaffer and Smith need a way out once inside the German castle, and what seemed like a waste of time early in this 150-minute epic plays a major role during the elongated finale. It is utterly amazing how much dynamite they have with them, blowing up portions of the castle, the road, and smaller structures, all while managing to avoid being killed by hundreds of Nazi soldiers firing at them.
The stuntwork, despite the obvious nature of the stuntmen, is impressive. A tense chase across some cable cars high in the mountains is intense, generating a unique scenario to put a cap on the film’s ridiculousness. This is Clint Eastwood’s highest kill count, mowing down incoming Nazis with the grace of Rambo, with the calmness only Eastwood could provide. This is a film trying to rekindle some of the magic from The Dirty Dozen (released one year prior), but lacks the characterization that made the earlier MGM classic work. Where Eagles Dare is built upon misdirection, maybe too much so, making the first portions of the film difficult to get through.
This is a complex transfer, oddly suffering the same fate as The Dirty Dozen. Dissolves carry a softer, muddy tone, unavoidable for the era. You can instantly tell when the film is about to fade into an edit. Notable haloing is a source issue as well, the film stock surrounding high contrast edges with notably analog lines. You can see this often, such as 10:58 around the guns, and at 1:11:54.
The softness and slightly processed look, still almost certainly the source, does occur often outside of the fades. At 16:15, everything appears murky and completely lacking in refinement. The VC-1 holds a generally stable bitrate, and no artifacting is evident. Maybe these scenes, occurring again at 1:20:51 and 1:54:55 are from a different print, are in need of restoration, or were simply captured on a different film stock. Regardless, they stand out, and the sharper defined scenes are not really enough to save it.
Black levels vary greatly, including the first shot of the soldiers on the plane at 3:15. Here, they appear washed out and flat. When the film flashes back to their mission instructions at 5:30, crush is evident on the Captain’s black uniform. These fluctuations continue throughout, although the crush is limited to those scenes. Where Eagles Dare utilized Metrocolor, resulting in slightly elevated color, yet still natural. The location shots in the snow-covered forests and mountains carry a heavy blue tint, adding to the atmosphere. Explosions are vibrant and bright.
This transfer cannot be completely underestimated. In close, at least when it wants to, it can produce exceptional facial detail. A series of close-ups around 46:46 are amongst the best, wonderfully textured and defined. The mountainside photography has some glamorous moments as well, such as 28:43 as a helicopter lands. Grain is intact and generally barely even noticeable. The encode keeps it in check, with the exception of some of the early scenes after the jump, such as 15:58 where some chroma noise is visible. The print itself is in immaculate shape, with only a small number of imperfections that can be counted on one hand.
The richness of this DTS-HD 5.1 effort is evident through Ron Goodman’s score. It carries superlative clarity and power, never coming through distorted or flat. A hefty bleed into the surrounds is wonderful, the only work the rear channels will receive.
Action is firmly planted in the center, along with cleaner dialogue than the age would suggest. Explosions are treble-heavy with limited distortion. Just a hint of bass can be heard, including some dynamite going off around 58:39. It barely registers.
Gunfire comes through hollow and tinny, although not distractingly so. Everything is in balance, dialogue noted over the intensity of the action and score.
A vintage 12-minute featurette simply titled On Location is the only extra besides a trailer.