In the comment thread of a two-day old (10.23) piece called “Hello, Claude…Where’d Ya Get The Midget?“, I said I’ve never had the slightest interest in seeing Brian G. Hutton and Alistair MacLean‘s Where Eagles Dare (’68). I have, in fact, avoided it like the plague all my life. HE commenters insisted I was missing a goodie and should watch it at the first opportunity, and that “if you don’t like Where Eagles Dare you don’t like movies” and so on.
Last night I decided to watch a few YouTube clips, and was fairly dumbfounded by the finale (below). It turns out that the actual motive of the Bavarian Alps rescue mission was about ferreting out a British double agent — someone high up who was actually serving the Germans.
While the film’s four chief players (Richard Burton, Clint Eastwood, Mary Ure, Patrick Wymark) are flying above the Austrian or Swiss alps, Burton’s Maj. John Smith informs Wymark’s Col. Turner that he’s been fingered as the Nazi rat. Smith suggests to Turner that in order to avoid being executed for treason, he might want to honorably jump out of the plane and thereby save his family the shame.
And Turner, who has a fleshy face and a conversational manner that procaims the virtues of accomodation and riding along, does that! He swallows, frowns, opens the hatch, stares at Burton for four or five seconds and jumps without a parachute. After which Burton, Eastwood and Ure sit there calmly and more or less shrug their shoulders…”c’est la guerre.”
If Hollywood Elsewhere had directed Where Eagles Dare I would have insisted on a different outcome. A chubby, gray-haired British Colonel willfully jumping out of a plane and splitting his skull open as he smashes into the rocky, snow-capped mountains below…that’s not an ending. It’s too civilized, too dull, too absurd.
HE alternate #1: Wymark/Turner pulls a knife, leaps across the aisle and stabs Burton/Smith in the heart, slugs Eastwood and wrestles with him on the floor of the plane, and they both fall out….whooooossshhh! Ure, the last survivor, pulls out a pack of Lucky Strike cigarettes and lights up, blase and unaffected.
HE alternate #2: Wymark/Turner grabs an inflatable raft before jumping out of the plane. He inflates it as he falls, Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom-style. He lands on a steep snowy hillside and slides to safety, thus setting up a sequel in which Burton and Eastwood are assigned to hunt Turner down and kill him.
HE alternate #3: Wymark/Turner crashes into the cockpit, knifes the pilot to death and steers the plane into the mountains….they all die.
HE alternate #4: Rather than share a flight with a despised traitor, Burton, Eastwood and Ure put on parachutes and leap out of the plane in tandem. Alas, Burton’s chute doesn’t open and his body is shattered and torn to pieces as he hits the rocks. Eastwood and Ure’s parachutes open, however, and after a short hike they find shelter in a warm mountain cabin that just happens to be stocked with cold beer, potatoes, weinerschnitzel and sauerkraut. Eastwood and Ure decide that “if you can’t be with the one you love, love the ones you’re with.”