Where Eagles Dare

The basis for one of "his" most successful movies, 1967's Where Eagles Dare sees Alistair MacLean returning to a World War II setting. MacLean's service with the Royal Navy had given him an insider perspective of that war — experience that served him well in earlier works such as The Guns of Navarone. Its dramatic depiction of breathless action amid breathtaking surroundings made Where Eagles Dare a natural candidate for filming; in fact, MacLean wrote the screenplay even as he worked on the novel. The movie paired well-established star Richard Burton with a young Clint Eastwood, who had just acted in a string of "spaghetti Westerns."


Plot keypoints

Eight of Europe's best Allied agents fly to Bavaria for a suicidal mission: recovery of a captured general who knows the plans for the upcoming D-Day invasion. He is being held in Schloss Adler — "Castle of the Eagle" — a fortress accessible only by cable car, and defended by an elite garrison of Alpenkorps soldiers. As the southern headquarters for the German Secret Service and the Gestapo, Schloss Adler is virtually impregnable. Surely the Allied operatives would be doomed to fail even if there weren't traitors in their midst ....



  • First and foremost, MacLean's prose is among his best. Detailed and nuanced expositions of scenery, psychology, and [of course] action make the reading a pleasure.
  • The action itself is nearly relentless, as one would expect when agents try to invade a vitally important and heavily guarded enemy stronghold.
  • Just when you think you've figured out every plot twist, several more are tossed into the story like hand grenades.
  • MacLean makes his protagonists human and fallible, far more so than in his lesser works.



  • While I'm all for irony in the face of adversity, some protagonists (as in many of MacLean's other stories) have an unrealistic habit of exchanging sardonic bons mot while mortal peril is bearing down on them.
  • The two romantic subplots are pretty weak and hard to take seriously under the dangerous circumstances.
  • The story contains so many secret plans and double-crosses that even after finishing the book, I was unsure why the Allied leaders had added certain elements to their convoluted plans.



Where Eagles Dare is one of the toughest MacLean books to put down. After the first paragraph, you know he's in good form; after the first chapter, I could only marvel at the deftness of his setup, while burning with curiosity to see how he would continue and complete the tale. Other than the exceptions noted above, the rest of the book lives up to its brilliant start.



(8 out of 10)