Where Eagles Dared

Poster for "Where Eagles Dare" with Richard Burton and Clint Eastwood
Poster by Howard Terpning © MGM
This article is for once not about the locations of a Bond movie, but of an absolute classic of the spy thriller, 1968's WHERE EAGLES DARE. In this film, Richard Burton and Clint Eastwood enter the headquarters of the German secret service, located in a high alpine fortress. Their mission is to free an allied general before he can reveal details about the planned invasion. But in this film, nothing is as it seems.

Action on a snowy alpine mountain lair which is only accessible by cable car or helicopter - with that the film anticipated much of the one year later appearing ON HER MAJESTY'S SECRET SERVICE. Too much?

Where Eagles Dare - Location Festung Hohenwerfen
The driving force behind the film was the stepson of Richard Burton, who wanted to see him in a classic adventure film. Burton then turned to producer Elliott Kastner, who commissioned best-selling author Alistair MacLean in writing a screenplay. MacLean, author of THE GUNS OF NAVARONE and ICE STATION ZEBRA, wrote the script and a novelization within just six weeks. (What makes him my personal hero)

The unusual film title is a quote from Shakespeare's Richard III.: "The world is grown so bad, did wrens make prey where eagles dare not perch."

Schloss Adler - Festung HohenwerfenFor the role of the American Lieutenant Schaffer, Clint Eastwood could be engaged. Eastwood had just become a star with the dollar trilogy of Sergio Leone, and hesitated to accept the second main part beside Burton. Later Eastwood called the film often joking "Where Doubles Dared", as Richard Burton had many stuntmen to step in because of his alcohol consumption.

The real fortress Hohenwerfen was used as filming location for the fictitious Schloss Adler, located near the village of Werfen in the Austrian Salzach Valley. The film was also shot in Werfen itself, among others at the station. In the historical reality however, there was no SS base in a castle, only a prison camp for Allied officers - at Colditz Castle in Saxony. The escape of an officer from that castle during an orchestra playing inspired Fleming to his short story The Living Daylights (see Berlin Escape).

Castle Hohenwerfen - Where Eagles Dare, Clint Eastwood, Richard BurtonIf you visit the fortress Hohenwerfen however, you may be a little disappointed about the missing cable car. Unlike the film, the fortress is all but accessible only for eagles. A wide and comfortable path leads up, as well as a cog railway. But the fortress still lives up to the title of the film, since there is a remarkable show with vultures, bald eagles and other birds of prey.

Where Eagles Dare - Schloss Adler
The cable car scenes were shot more than 30 miles east at the Feuerkogel near the Traunsee. The river, in which Burton, Eastwood on the others jump towards the end of the film, is therefore not the Salzach, but the river Traun.

Model of Schloss Adler at
MGM backlot*
Scenes in which the cable car drives toward the castle, as well as the cable car station below the fortress, were solved with a large model of the castle, on the backlot of MGM. The combination of the model, set construction in original size and background paintings create a perfect illusion - especially in the famous scene when Burton and Eastwood climb from the cable car to the roof of the station.

WHERE EAGLES DARE is today regarded as one of the great classics of the war and spy genre. When asked about his favorite war movies, Steven Spielberg called it first. 

Cable car from "Where Eagles Dare" at the Feuerkogel mountain
The cable car of the film at the Feuerkogel
Many elements of WHERE EAGLES DARE resemble the one year later appeared Bond film ON HER MAJESTY'S SECRET SERVICE. First and foremost, of course, the alpine headquarters of the German villains. The scenes of the incoming cable car at night remind with their mood strongly of the Bond film. (The jump of a stuntman from one to another cable car up in the air was later also executed in MOONRAKER.)

Feuerkogel cable car from "Where Eagles Dare"The Schloss Adler itself also reminds of the Gloria Club described by Ian Fleming in the novel. With Terence Mountain there even was an actor from ON HER MAJESTY'S SECRET SERVICE on board. Unusual for films of this period is the character of Mary Ellison, played by Mary Ure. Ure (who was married to Robert 'Red Grant' Shaw) is never just a love interest that must be protected, but participates actively in the action.

Where Eagles Dare - Feuerkogelbahn valley stationTo what extent the film influenced ON HER MAJESTY'S SECRET SERVICE is not known. The interior of Blofeld's clinic appears at least far less quaint and traditional Alpine as described in the novel, and differs significantly from a castle-like atmosphere in WHERE EAGLES DARE. There is also not a blonde à la Mary Ure, although Tracy is blonde in the novel.


* Picture with friendly permission of TheStudioTour.com

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