Where Eagles Dare - Plot

Plot

In the winter of 1943-44, U.S. Army Brigadier General George Carnaby (Robert Beatty), a chief planner of the second front, is captured by the Germans when his aircraft is shot down en-route to Crete. He is taken for interrogation to the Schloss Adler, a fortress high in the Alps of southern Bavaria. A team of commandos, led by Major John Smith (Richard Burton) and U.S. Army Ranger Lieutenant Morris Schaffer (Clint Eastwood), is briefed by Colonel Turner (Patrick Wymark) and Admiral Rolland (Michael Hordern) of MI6. Their mission is to parachute in, infiltrate the castle, and rescue General Carnaby before the Germans can interrogate him. MI6 Agent Mary Elison (Mary Ure) accompanies the mission in secret, her presence known only to Major Smith.

Early in the mission, two of the sergeants, MacPherson (Neil McCarthy) and radio operator Harrod (Brook Williams), are mysteriously killed; but Major Smith is unperturbed, keeping Lt. Schaffer as a close ally and secretly updating Admiral Rolland on developments by radio, using the call sign "Broadsword." After seeming to give up and allowing themselves to be captured, Maj. Smith and Schaffer, being officers, are separated from the three remaining NCOs—Thomas (William Squire), Berkeley (Peter Barkworth) and Christiansen (Donald Houston). Smith and Schaffer kill their captors and blow up a supply depot before hitching a ride on a cable car—the only approach to the castle. Mary, posing as a maid, had been brought into the castle by Heidi (Ingrid Pitt), a deep-cover MI6 agent working as a barmaid in the nearby village; Maj. von Hapen (Derren Nesbitt), an SS officer whom Heidi has been cultivating, becomes infatuated with her. Mary helps Schaffer and Smith to climb up a rope and in through a window overlooking the castle's tramway station.

Carnaby's interrogation, carried out by Gen. Rosemeyer (Ferdy Mayne) and Col. Kramer (Anton Diffring), is underway when the three NCOs arrive and reveal themselves to be German double agents. Smith and Schaffer intrude, but Smith then forces Schaffer to disarm and establishes himself as Maj. Johann Schmidt of the SD, the military intelligence branch of the SS. He exposes the identity of "General Carnaby" — that of Cartwright Jones, an American Corporal. He also claims that Thomas, Berkeley and Christiansen are British impostors. To test them, Smith/Schmidt proposes they write down the names of their fellow agents/conspirators in Britain, to be compared to the personal list in his pocket (having discreetly divulged the name of Germany's top agent in Britain to Kramer, who silently affirms it). After the three finish their lists, Smith reveals his list to Kramer, which is in fact blank. With the room now covered by Smith and the re-armed Schaffer, Smith then reveals the rescue operation was a cover for the real mission — to discover the identities of German spies in Britain.

Meanwhile, Mary, while preparing the explosives, is visited by von Hapen. He takes her to the castle's cafe and persuades her to recite the tale of her assumed identity. Finding faults in her story, he investigates and happens upon the meeting over Carnaby's interrogation just as Smith finishes his explanation. Von Hapen puts the room under arrest, but is distracted by Mary's entrance, enabling Schaffer to kill him and the other German officers. The group then escapes with Thomas, Berkeley and Christiansen as prisoners. Schaffer sets explosives to create diversions around the compound, while Smith leads the group to the Radio Room, where he informs Rolland of their success. They then battle their way to the cable car station, sacrificing Thomas as a decoy. Berkeley and Christiansen attempt their own escape in a cable car, but Smith, after a roof-top fight with its passengers, destroys the car with an explosive, hurling himself onto a returning cable car and subsequently riding back down with the others. They abandon the car mid-descent to avoid a party of armed Germans and to reunite with Heidi and board a bus as their escape vehicle. With soldiers in hot pursuit, they wreck havoc in an airfield before escaping on a disguised extraction plane, where Col. Turner is waiting for them.

Smith briefs Turner on the mission and confirms a suspicion he and Rolland had shared since before the start—that Turner is the top Nazi agent in Britain, whose name the late Colonel Kramer had agreed to before. Turner had been lured into participating so MI6 could expose him, with Smith's trusted partner Mary and the American Schaffer, who had no connection to MI6, specially assigned to the team to ensure the mission's success.

Smith elaborates further on Rolland's awareness of Turner's duplicity as the exposed spy brings the Sten gun cradled in his lap to bear on Smith, saying the Admiral made sure that he had that particular gun given to him before he boarded the escape plane: Turner attempts to shoot Smith, only to discover the firing pin has been previously removed. Deciding to save face, Turner commits suicide by jumping out of the plane without a parachute. The film ends with Schaffer (Clint Eastwood) saying to Smith (Richard Burton): "Do me a favour, will ya? The next time you have one of these things, keep it an all-British operation," to which Smith replies, "I'll try, Lieutenant."

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