A literary heavyweight escorts us through Where Eagles Dare, the 1968 film that somehow managed to catch him by the necktie and not let go—for decades.
In his latest book, Dyer (Writer-in-Residence/Univ. of Southern California; The Street Philosophy of Garry Winogrand, 2018, etc.), who has won the Somerset Maugham Prize and the Windham-Campbell Literary Prize, among many others, wastes little time getting down to business. He chronicles the principal players in the film, Richard Burton and Clint Eastwood, reminding us of the former’s problems with alcohol and Elizabeth Taylor and of the latter’s Dirty Harry films and his limitations as an actor: “Squinting is pretty much the limit of Eastwood’s facial range.” Although the author is a bit puzzled by his fondness for a World War II action flick, he confesses he watches it whenever it appears on TV, and he has clearly memorized the plot and much of the dialogue. Along for the tour is William Shakespeare. Dyer reminds us early on that the film’s title is from Richard III; he offers allusions to Hamlet and Othello, and the final line of the book (before a backmatter note) echoes Prospero in The Tempest. Other notables pop up throughout the fluid narrative, from Charles Bronson to Ken Kesey. Dyer also displays his sense of humor, telling us that Lady Macbeth cleans her bloody knife “before she goes all PTSD.” Speaking of knives, the author also reveals the quickest way to dispatch someone with a blade. Ever the sharp-eyed observer, he also points out a number of anachronisms that escaped the filmmakers. Finally, he endeavors to place the final portion of the film (when the successful heroes flee the Nazi castle) in the tradition of other getaway films.
An erudite and amusing love song to a loved one the writer knows is not all that deserving.