The next recommendation from the Great Movies – 100 Years of Film book following my screening of The Dam Busters features a story and script by Alistair MacLean and stars Clint Eastwood and Richard Burton.
Burton is Major Smith, Eastwood is Schaffer an American Ranger working with a British squad that is coming up with a plan to infiltrate a remote Nazi-held castle in an attempt to rescue a captured American General, Carnaby (Robert Beatty) who is being held there by the Nazis.
The film jumps right into the mission, and the viewer settles into a two and a half hour thrill ride as the Allied forces brave the elements, climb walls, take on Nazis, and perhaps learn what is really going on.
There is a tension between Smith and Schaffer once they parachute in, as Schaffer knows Smith is lying about something. And he is. He has more help on site in the form of Mary (Mary Ellison), but what side are the working for?
Both the members of the squad and the commanders waiting at home know that one of them is not all that they seem, but the mission must go on. All of these things up the tension of the film, and keep the viewer on edge throughout.
The entire team is whittled down, or captured until just Schaffer and Smith are left, and must rely on one another to break into the castle, where Mary has made herself part of the staff.
The cable car sequences shows off a stunning location, while giving glimpses of a dizzying drop, and leads into a climbing sequence which is fraught with nerve-wracking moments. Those moments don’t end there, the story is filled with betrayals, revelations and the real plan behind the group mission.
The subsequent escape from the castle is just as thrilling as the breaking in, but with much more gunfire as everything starts to come apart. There are gun battles (with Eastwood taking on squad after squad, which fall before him), explosions, alarms, all set against the grey painted castle sets.
Wonderfully exciting, engaging in a little healthy melodrama, letting Eastwood perfect his tough guy act, and featuring a twisting tale that sees our heroes taking on a whole Nazi castle this one is a helluva romp.
Eastwood is in top form, and easily outshines Burton, though he has much less dialogue (at his own request) and the action movies along at a brisk pace, as the Allied agents take on all comers, make fairly easy work of them, and escape with their mission an easy success.
They don’t make these type of films anymore, there’s a… not necessarily glorification of World War II, but there’s almost a joie de vivre as these strong-jawed heroes take on an easily identifiable and villainous enemy. You know they are going to win against all odds, and make the Nazis look like goofs while they do it.
But sometimes you want Hollywood icons making light work of reviled baddies just so you can cheer along and mow down on popcorn.