In much the same way as there is a Christmas James Bond film (O.H.M.S.S., as if you needed to ask), there is also a Christmas war film: Where Eagles Dare. Actually, you could get almost as much enjoyment out of watching each during a heatwave; but still. There’s a lot of snow. The men and women in Where Eagles Dare are on a mission to rescue a US general from an impregnable* German schloss (‘looking like Castle Dracula in the day-for-night’) in World War Two. It is an implausible, colourful, utterly pointless mission.
Not by chance, Geoff Dyer’s book is equally superfluous: we obviously don’t need a book which recounts watching the movie shot-for-shot. We could just watch it. But then, that’s probably why ‘Broadsword Calling Danny Boy’ is so enjoyable. Where Eagles Dare was made in the late 1960s, which explains the anachronistic hair of Richard Burton and Clint Eastwood. Actually, Burton’s hairstyle in the film is, as Clive James memorably pointed out in Cultural Amnesia, ‘a flight into stupidity and away from the barber’.
They are certainly well-equipped for the mission, with endless explosives and ammunition. Dyer makes clear that their rucksacks are ‘Tardis-like given what they will later be seen to contain’. The author puts aside his most annoying writerly tics (Exhibit A: the whole second half of Jeff In Venice, Death In Varanasi) and just writes. Most of his sentences have a carefully chiselled, let throwaway, quality to them, e.g. ‘Burton is left looking rumpled, slightly headachey (again, nothing compared with some of the hangovers he’s had to wade through)’; or ‘Eastwood’s…Schmeisser is forever dangling or falling from his shoulder in a way that seems incompatible with fire-arm safety protocol.’
Dyer loves Eastwood and tennis, so to say that Clint ‘moves with the unhurried grace of Roger Federer in a German uniform’ is high praise. He describes a key scene in the film as ‘a combination of Frankie Howerd and Carry On Up The Schloss‘. To be honest, if that didn’t make you smile then this book is not for you. But I’d probably give the film a swerve as well.
*’Impregnable’ suggests ‘its extreme vulnerability to infiltration and attack’.