Before I read this, I thought it was just me, but it turns out that a load of otherwise serious chaps, chaps who more usually get their kicks from Shakespeare or Schopenhauer, love Where Eagles Dare. Booker Prize-winner Michael Ondaatje, The New Yorker’s rarefied film critic Anthony Lane, top telly pundit Clive James – all of them take to the sofa when the Richard Burton/Clint Eastwood classic (above) is on TV.
And now, Geoff Dyer – novelist, literary critic, jazz aficionado, photography historian – is here to tell us that ever since he first saw it 50 years ago, he too has worshipped at the altar that is Alistair MacLean’s masterpiece. Yes, he says, Eagles is anachronistic, asinine and absurd. Still, ‘it’s better than Wim Wenders’ Until The End Of The World’.
Point taken, though I’d have been rather more impressed with ‘Broadsword Calling Danny Boy’ had it actually argued its case, rather than simply stating and restating it. Early on in his scene-by-scene analysis, Dyer talks of the movie’s theme music being ‘propelled by full Brucknerian orchestra’. Actually, Ron Goodwin’s pulsing score owes more to Benjamin Britten. But it would have been nice, in a book effectively premised on Noël Coward’s remark about the potency of cheap music, for Dyer to have wondered why it should be that neither Britten nor Bruckner get your blood racing as rapidly as Ron.
Don’t get me wrong. ‘Broadsword Calling Danny Boy’ is great company. Reading it is like watching a post-pub screening of Eagles with a wise-cracking mate. But despite some wonderful gags and ironic references to the likes of Heidegger and Nietzsche, the book is a missed opportunity. Dyer isn’t wrong when he claims that Burton was slumming it making such a movie. But what does he think he’s doing writing a book about it? And while I’m about it, why are there no pictures of Eagles’ eye-candy, Ingrid Pitt, in that divine dirndl?