The best (in my opinionated view) 100 films of all time - in no particular order.

Friday, 13 June 2014


“Broadsword calling Danny Boy. Broadsword calling Danny Boy. Over.”
We quoted this as kids in the playground of Highfield School in Blackpool in 1968, after we had seen Where Eagles Dare. Our kids can quote it because we made them watch Where Eagles Dare when they were kids and when our kids are adults they will make their kids watch it and they will be able to quote it, and it will go on in perpetuity because it just sounds so great when it trips off the tongue. Even people who have never seen Where Eagles Dare can quote it because they have it as a ringtone on their mobile phones.

Richard Burton with his deep, resonant voice will be forever remembered for this, the most famous call-sign in movie history. He’ll probably be remembered more for this one quote than for his masterly reading of Dylan Thomas’ Under Milk Wood or his narrator in Jeff Wayne’s musical adaptation of War of the Worlds.

When I walked out of the cinema in 1968 after seeing what had probably been the longest and most exciting film in the history of long and exciting films it felt like I was walking on air. All my friends – the boys, anyway – felt exactly the same, and when we were off school we would attach two empty cans to a length of string, stretch it tight and say, “Broadsword calling Danny Boy. Broadsword calling Danny Boy,” to each other over and over and over again. We never got tired of saying it – it was like a magic charm.

Where Eagles Dare isn’t perfect though, and over the years and the countless times I’ve watched it I have noticed that it is littered with mistakes. Here are just five of them:

·       The helicopter in the Schlöss Adler couldn’t have been there because the Germans didn’t own any helicopters.

·        A vehicle explodes for no apparent reason after being pushed over a cliff.

·        The black Gestapo uniform that Derren Nesbit wears was no longer in service.

·        The Alpen Corps that guarded the Schlöss Adler had been disbanded in 1918.

·       The truth drug that was going to be used on the captured General wasn’t invented until the 1950s.

So, how did this 148 minute film with hundreds of factual errors, historical inaccuracies, anachronisms, continuity mistakes and enough holes in the plot to fill a gruyere factory ten times over become a classic that has been lapped up by three successive generations?

The answer is so simple that you’ll kick yourself for not thinking of it first.

Nobody cares.

Nobody cares because the pace of the film is so fast that you hardly notice any of them. It’s a Boy’s Own fantasy of epic proportions, where the heroes never run out of bullets and the villains couldn’t hit a barn door at ten paces. It’s the original Men on a Mission Action Blockbuster and it has never been bettered. Oh, and one more thing, it’s great fun to watch.

It’s a war film, a thriller and a spy story all rolled into one. Alistair MacLean, the most popular thriller writer in the world at the time delivered the story and screenplay in a mere six weeks after being approached by Richard Burton because his son had wanted him to be in an action film where he was the hero.

And wow! What an action film he delivered! It’s a tale of double agents and triple agents, double crosses and triple crosses, explosions and gunfire. More bullets were fired and more people were killed in Where Eagles Dare than in any other film up to that point. As I sat, aged fourteen, wide-eyed and glued to my seat, watching this film in the Odeon cinema in Blackpool, I was in a state of delirium. It was the most violent film I had ever seen – and it was great! If this had been a true story then the Second World War would have been over in a matter of weeks because in just over two hours Clint Eastwood had single-handedly killed off three quarters of the German Army. There must have been more dead Germans left in the Schlöss Adler and its immediate surroundings than there were Imperial Stormtroopers vaporised when the Death Star exploded at the end of Star Wars.

One brief, five minute flashback is all that’s given to explain the mission and introduce the characters, but that was all that was needed in a film that was first and foremost about killing as many of the enemy in as many ways as humanly possible – they were stabbed, shot, strangled, bludgeoned, run over, blown up and one was dropped from a great height (actually, two others dropped from a great height, but one committed suicide by jumping out of an aeroplane without a parachute and the other was shot first so technically (as they fell rather than were dropped) they don’t fall into the ‘dropped from a great height’ category).

Granted, the story moves along so swiftly that there’s little time for character development. Clint Eastwood plays The Man With No Name, except this time he’s in a uniform and he has a name. Derren Nesbit, who had up until then made a career out of playing unpleasant, devious and untrustworthy villains plays an unpleasant, devious and untrustworthy Gestapo officer. Ingrid Pitt, famous for playing Hammer vampires with large breasts in low-cut dresses, plays a British agent with large breasts in a low-cut dress. And then there was Anton Diffring (who was usually typecast as a Nazi officer) playing a Nazi officer.

The film, though, belongs to Richard Burton – it was written for him and it shows. He has the most dialogue and it’s his actions that move the story along – and there’s nothing wrong with that at all. In fact, I can’t think of many things that would be better than spending two and a half hours in his company – listening to that wonderful voice of his – and I have no doubt that if he had ever been recorded reading aloud the names and addresses in a telephone directory it would have been a cause for celebration.

There are so many other things that set this film apart – there’s the breath-taking scenery, Ron Goodwin’s excellent score, the final forty-five minutes of breakneck real-time action and, of course, there’s the brilliantly choreographed fight on top of the cable car.

But it’s that call sign that everyone remembers so well.

“Broadsword calling Danny Boy. Broadsword calling Danny Boy. Over.”

“Danny Boy to Broadsword. What’s your message? Over.”

“If you haven’t seen it, watch Where Eagles Dare now. If you have seen it – watch it again. Broadsword out.”