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by CEJ


(or, for the traditionalists out there ...)
Tracing ROGUE ONE's DNA Through The History of the "Impossible Mission" Film

Also check out:



     History in general, and that of film, music, TV, etc.  in particular is a damnably odd thing, simply because it’s so subjective, and ultimately at the mercy of the generation which happens to be doing the observing.  Case in point, … and we're certain some of you older folks will relate:

     Some years back, while working a slower night at a restaurant job, a number of us got into a humorous debate about a topic which, well, … which today we honestly don’t even recall. But what we do remember is when one person got particularly stomped (their argument blown to bits by a string of brutal "in yo face!"- like facts), and someone else started jokingly singing the chorus to “These Boots Are Made For Walking” - in particular that part about how “these boots are gonna walk all over you!”, one of the much younger members of the group said, “Oh yeah, that Jessica Simpson song, right?”.

"Boots" -  via Sinatra (1966) and Simpson (2005)  

      If it was a Warner Bros. Looney Tunes cartoon, that would have been the part where it went deathly silent and you heard a cricket chirping in the distance ... until someone clobbered it with a mallet. That's how quiet it got until someone (it may have even been us) said, “Ehhh, no the Nancy Sinatra song”.  And we won’t even go into how the young pup (actually a musician if we recall correctly) not only didn’t realize there had been an earlier version of that famous little ditty, but also wasn’t even aware that Frank had a daughter who was a vocalist. See, told 'ya you'd relate. Makes you feel kind of old(er) , doesn't it? Heh, heh! And, make no mistake, it's not just music. As for film, Noah Baumbach and Jake Paltrow’s 2015 documentary DE PALMA is another good example.

     When one speaks about the DE PALMA doc with older film fans, the reaction is usually somewhere along the lines of “Yeah, it was good, ... but it didn’t really contain any info you didn’t already know”. Whereas, when speaking to younger film buffs about it, one tends to get a more wide-eyed and energetic, “Wow, it was sooo revelatory!”  kind of response. Y’know, perhaps indicative that maybe they were never aware of certain (what others might consider) canonical info, like the fact that the Union Station gun battle in 1987’s THE UNTOUCHABLES was DePalma's (bad-assed) reworking of the “Odessa Steps” sequence from Eisenstein’s BATTLESHIP POTEMKIN (1925).

  "The Odessa Steps" - via Eisenstein (1925) and De Palma (1987)

     Now, before you roll your eyes and make that face, thinking this is going to devolve into one of those “These young'uns don’t know sh*t about what came before them; … Oh, and get off my damn lawn too!” tirades, ehhh no, it isn’t.  In fact, as life-long fans of the arts we very much relate to the “stepping from the black & white world of Kansas into the technicolor land of Oz”  excitement inherent in ongoing discovery.

     So yes, contrary to what so many of us believed back in school, learning really is exciting, ... especially if it's about that which you genuinely love.

     We can relate to being James Bond fans since childhood, but not being aware until we grew older how Ian Fleming based his character more on the model of the rough-and-tumble American gumshoe (cut from the Hammett / Chandler cloth) than on the more elegant British “clublands” hero like Bulldog Drummond or Sherlock Holmes.  

                       Shakespeare via sci fi: STAR TREK: Shore Leave ('66), SPHERE ('98), EVENT HORIZON ('97)

     We can relate to being life-long STAR TREK fans, but (once again) not learning / realizing until we grew older, after becoming more exposed to classic literature, that one of our favorite original TREK episodes, “Shore Leave”, was a clever reworking of Shakespeare’s THE TEMPEST. 
Years later Michael Crichton’s SPHERE (novel '87 / film '98) and Paul W. S. Anderson’s EVENT HORIZON (’97) would similarly borrow narrative and thematic “donor cells” from that same Shakespearean gene pool. Oh, and today we still look back with equal bemusement and painful embarrassment when, as fans of film composer Jerry Goldsmith from an early age as well, we one day (waaay back when) heard "The Rite Of Spring" by Igor Stravinsky and said aloud, “Why is this guy trying to rip off Jerry Goldsmith?”. Yeah, we still wince at that one. All of which brings us to the STAR WARS films in general, ... and ROGUE ONE: A STAR WARS STORY in particular.


     Few films have reworked classic literature, religion, and good ‘ol fashioned pulpish yarn spinning as cleverly as the STAR WARS series. In fact since the first cinematic entry in 1977, “A NEW HOPE” (though some of us will forever refer to it as “the original STAR WARS”), those grand scale, operatic, “We're-making-the-jump-to-light-speed-so-shut-up-and-strap-yourselves-in!” action / adventures taking place “A long time ago” in that “Galaxy far, far away”, have been so deliberately pulp novel-ish you can damn near at times see and smell those wonderful yellowing pages from which the films take so much of their tonal (and visual) inspiration.


     We watch Han, Luke, Leia, Vader, Chewie, Rey and Finn, … and now those newest kids on the block, Jyn and Cassian. But we see those wonderfully cheesy paperbacks we used to pick up at the library book exchange, farmer’s market, Goodwill store, or local mart ... where you'd get ‘em four for a buck because they'd torn the covers off.  Momentarily we're transported in time to the back seat of Mom and Dad's car during a long trip, or we're snuggled up on the couch with those pages folded back on a Sunday afternoon too rainy to play outside. We catch a whiff of that cheap glue and card stock they'd use to hold those books together. And it's then we remember where the STAR WARS films really come from.

     Perhaps only behind myth, religion and political history, the biggest influence on STAR WARS canon is (arguably more than the BUCK ROGERS / FLASH GORDON-esque aspects) the series’ indebtedness to the pulpish war yarn. Not the modern war film, mind you. Not the realistic PLATOON, SAVING PRIVATE RYAN, LETTERS FROM IWO JIMA depiction. But the more larger than life, “good guys vs. the bad guys”, pulp genre spin. Not so much BORN ON THE FOURTH OF JULY as THE RAT PATROL. Less like FULL METAL JACKET or even FROM HERE TO ETERNITY, and more tonally akin to say VON RYAN'S EXPRESS or KELLY'S HEROES.    


     From Darth Vader’s “coal kettle” helmet, to Kylo Ren's medieval knight design. From the Stormtroopers (in name, appearance and action) resembling the German foot soldiers of World War I and II, to TIE dogfights and Death Star runs being patterned after air combat footage, the STAR WARS films have very often taken their narrative and tonal leads from old-school / he-man cinematic faves like the THE GUNS OF NAVARONE, WHERE EAGLES DARE and OPERATION CROSSBOW.


     Upon first viewing of the first teaser trailer it was readily obvious ROGUE ONE: A STAR WARS STORY was to be at its thematic core a sci fi / space opera-ish / action-adventure rift on THE DIRTY DOZEN – wherein a group of dispossessed fighters and scoundrels embark on what very well may be a suicide mission; and in the process they discover a renewed sense of self worth and hope. By the time the third trailer was released we were certain of it. Oh, and speaking of the THE DIRTY DOZEN, we thought it rather interesting (and not really unexpected) that, when discussing ROGUE ONE with a group of 9 - 14 yr. olds who live up the block from us (we all dug the movie, by the way), when we mentioned THE DIRTY DOZEN, ... they had absolutely no idea what the hell we were talking about.

     Chuckling to ourselves, we said, "Ask your dad; he’ll know”.    


     So, for the youngbloods up the street, and maybe a few other uninitiated around the world, we offer up our own “Dirty Dozen” of twelve films - some classics / some not - which directly or indirectly influenced (have left a distinct cinematic DNA imprint upon the genome of) ROGUE ONE: A STAR WARS STORY.

     “Who’s your daddy, ROGUE ONE?”. We answer with our (no shame in our game) testosterone filled, great big sweaty, hairy chested, beard scratching, G.I Joe with the Kung Fu Grip, pulp war film version of MAMMA MIA!’s poppa search.

     “May the Force be with you”.


                                                                                                                                                                      CEJ  (Dec. 2016)




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  WHERE EAGLES DARE (1968) score - "Main Title" (R. Goodwin)

1) THE GUNS OF NAVARONE (1961 / dir. - J. Lee Thompson)

     The first of three films on our list based on novels by legendary author Alistair MacLean, one isn’t going to find too many film historians, dyed-in-the-wool war film buffs, or even casual Saturday afternoon movie-watchers, who don’t agree that THE GUNS OF NAVARONE is the “granddaddy”, “big bang”, “ground zero” (pick your term, ... they all work!) origin, and perhaps even apex, of the impossible mission adventure epic as we know it. 

     The story: in 1943, at the height of World War II, Germany intends to bully the neutral nation of Turkey into joining the Axis powers via a display of force wherein it will invade the neighboring Greek island of Keros, where 2,000 Allied soldiers are stranded and in need of evacuation. Such an evacuation is impossible to execute by sea or air, however, as a pair of massive Nazi cannons, sequestered within a cavernous overhang inside the Greek isle of Navarone, threateningly menaces the Aegean strait.

      With only days before the invasion, Allied intelligence forms a “Hail, Mary!”, near-certain-suicide op wherein a British spy and mountaineer (Gregory Peck – in perhaps his most signature role after Atticus Finch), a group of Greek resistance fighters (Anthony Quinn, Irene Pappas, James Darren and Gia Scala), an English demolitions expert (David Niven), and assorted soldiers and assassins (Anthony Quale, Stanley Baker and Peter Grant), will cross the Aegean disguised as fishermen, link up with other members of the resistance, scale Navarone’s rocky cliffside, plant explosives at the base of the huge guns, then (hopefully) make their escape with the evac of the 2,000 Allied soldiers once the titanic weapons have been spiked. Whew!

     With a pursuing German army constantly on their heels, a possible traitor in their midst, and more than a few phenomenally staged chiller-diller, Republic Serial-like cliffhanger (pun entirely intended) sequences, all of that alone would make THE GUNS OF NAVARONE one of the greatest action / adventure films ever made, … which it certainly is! But the screenplay, by award winning writer Carl Foreman (HIGH NOON, THE BRIDGE ON THE RIVER KWAI) – who was blacklisted during the McCarthy Communist witch hunts of the 1950s, goes a few steps further in having the members of NAVARONE’s mission force faced, and forced to contend, with matters of social (and sociopolitical) conscience. This band of heroes sees themselves as anything but heroic - they every few scenes faced with that often ignored grey area between heroism and vengeance; and they constantly grappling with the eternal debate between whether or not in order to defeat one’s enemy, one must become like him.

     Yeah, there’s a lot more going on here than just slam-bang action. And because of this THE GUNS OF NAVARONE remains as timeless and exciting now as the day it was released. 

TRIVIA: THE GUNS OF NAVARONE would be the first of four films directed by J. Lee Thompson to star Gregory Peck (CAPE FEAR – in 1962, MACKENNA’S GOLD – ’69, and THE CHAIRMAN – '69 would follow). It would be the first of three Thompson films with David Niven (followed by EYE OF THE DEVIL – ’67, and BEFORE WINTER COMES – ’69). And the first of three with Anthony Quinn (with 1978’s THE GREEK TYCOON and ‘79’s THE PASSAGE yet to come). A veteran of every imaginable film genre - from the British drama TIGER BAY (’59), to sci fi’s CONQUEST OF THE PLANET OF THE APES (’72) and BATTLE FOR THE PLANET OF THE APES (’73), the musical HUCKLEBERRY FINN (’74), TV’s THE BLUE KNIGHT (’75), and the thriller THE REINCARNATION OF PETER PROUD (’75), actors - among them Yul Brynner, Tony Curtis, Shirley MacLane and Robert Mitchum,  all loved working with director Thompson.

     The performer with whom Thompson collaborated with most, however, was Charles Bronson - the two teaming on the first of nine projects with the Chandler-esque mystery ST. IVES (’76) and the speculative western THE WHITE BUFFALO (’77), then going on to a series of action / revenge programmers during the later career years of both men – among them 10 TO MIDNIGHT, MURPHY’S LAW, MESSENGER OF DEATH and KINJITE: FORBIDDEN SUBJECTS, which was Thompson’s final feature film before retirement. J. Lee Thompson passed away in August of 2002 at the age of 88.  

2) THE DIRTY DOZEN (1967 / dir. - Robert Aldrich)

     If THE GUNS OF NAVARONE helped invent the action / adventure “bromance”, Robert Aldrich perfected it with films like VERA CRUZ (1954), THE FLIGHT OF THE PHOENIX (’65), EMPEROR OF THE NORTH (’73), THE LONGEST YARD (’74), TWILIGHT’S LAST GLEAMING and THE CHOIRBOYS (both released in 1977), and THE FRISCO KID (’79). Not that he didn’t also helm female-centric films as well (among the most notable 1962’s WHATEVER HAPPENEND TO BABY JANE? and 1968’s THE KILLING OF SISTER GEORGE – one of the first features to depict a lesbian nightclub). But THE DIRTY DOZEN would go down in history as Aldrich’s testosterone filled magnum opus; one which still influences popular cinema today.

     In the Spring of 1944, with D-Day fast approaching, Allied Command comes up with a plan to disrupt Germany’s response to the impending Normandy invasion by assassinating (the night before the landing)
many of the Vermacht’s top officers in France as they gather for an evening of R&R at a popular chateau near Rennes in Brittany. Who better (or more expendable) for such a mission than a “suicide squad” comprised of twelve military inmates, most of whom await the gallows. With “Project Amnesty” Major John Resiman (Lee Marvin) – who has problems with military authority, and is considered one step away from the stockade himself, is able to offer a reprieve for crimes committed to any one of the twelve who survives the op. Among this “Dirty Dozen” are Charles Bronson, Jim Brown, John Cassavetes, Donald Sutherland, Telly Savalas and Clint Walker - all in star making roles.

     With a murderer’s row (heh, heh!, couldn't help it) supporting cast including Ernest Borgnine, Robert Ryan, Richard Jaeckal, George Kennedy, Ralph Meeker and more, THE DIRTY DOZEN became a worldwide smash, and MGM’s most successful film of the year. But it was also a controversy-laden hot potato for its pull-no-punches,
raw depiction of decidedly violent (considered at the time) "un-Gary Cooper / un-John Wayne”-ish actions perpetrated by the “good guys”. As such THE DIRTY DOZEN became one of the first ever depictions of the cinematic “anti-hero”, and helped to later usher into the mainstream such barrier-breaking ensemble films as Sam Peckinpah’s THE WILD BUNCH. Fast, furious, damned funny, ... and at times genuinely poignant (you really do grow to love these guys), THE DIRTY DOZEN is an action film still unlike any other.

     TRIVIA:  While spawning a slew of similarly themed filmic knock-offs (Michael Caine’s PLAY DIRTY - 1969, Aldrich’s own TOO LATE THE HERO – ‘70, Enzo Castelleri’s THE INGLORIOUS BASTARDS – ’77), along with three popular TV movie sequels from 1985 – ’88, and even a short lived weekly series on the Fox network, the original Aldrich film’s greatest contribution to film history is perhaps in it’s (now near borderline clichéd) narrative paradigm in which a disparate group of societal underdogs / outsiders, with no reason to get along, are thrown together, usually under an authority-snubbing leader. Then, against all hope and common sense, they learn to set aside their differences in order to find self-respect and worth in the execution of a task most of the world never believed they could accomplish.

     School inspirationals such as DANGEROUS MINDS (1995), sports inspirationals like GRIDIRON GANG (2006), and even Joss Whedon’s comic book based THE AVENGERS (with Samuel Jackson’s Nick Fury fulfilling the Major Reisman role) are but three of the more popular examples of the continued updating of the “DIRTY DOZEN narrative structure”. And oh yeah, director Joe Dante would offer perhaps filmdom’s greatest shout-out to the original Aldrich classic by having original DIRTY DOZEN cast members Brown, Borgnine, Jaeckal, Kennedy and Walker provide the voices for the “Commando Elite” - the CGI realized toy military men who come to life in the Steven Spielberg produced 1998 fantasy adventure SMALL SOLDIERS.


(orig. airdates 10/22/78 & 10/29/78 - dir. Alan J. Levi)

1978 ABC Network promo art by Frank Frazetta

     While the 2003 – 2010 BATTLESTAR GALACTICA reimagining by STAR TREK: THE NEXT GENERATON’s Ronald D. Moore is certainly the more successful and critically acclaimed rendition, we’ve always felt Glen Larson’s late 1970s era original – which was less serious, and more fun and pulp-like in its execution, far better suited the series’ basic premise.  For the uninitiated … 

     In the far reaches of the cosmos, and in a distant past (yes, you can say, “A long time ago, in a galaxy far, far away”), the robotic Cylon race offers peace to the “Twelve Colonies” of humans with whom they’ve been at war for nearly a thousand years. The peace offer, however, turns out to be a ruse luring the Colonial leaders into a Pearl Harbor-like trap which causes the near extinction of the entire human species.

      Having heard stories of a (some say mythical) “13th Colony” of humans on a distant planet called “Earth”, the refugees, with 200+ rag tag vessels under the leadership and protection of the last remaining Colonial warship - the “Battlestar Galactica” (it’s Commander Adama is BONANZA’s own patriarchal Lorne Greene), sets interstellar sail in search of the long fabled sister planet said to be home to members of their own race with whom they may join in the continuance of their existence.

     Our favorite GALACTICA episode, the two part GUN ON ICE PLANET ZERO, essentially plays as a sci fi mash-up (long before that term was coined) of both THE GUNS OF NAVARONE and THE DIRTY DOZEN. When the Cylons manage to herd the convoy into a narrow course trajectory taking them dangerously close to an Arctic planet where the robot race has assumed control of a massive pulsar cannon, there’s no turning back. The only recourse for the refugees is to launch a stealth infiltration mission – headed up by Galactica officers Capt. Apollo (Richard Hatch), Lt. Starbuck (Dirk Benedict) and Lt. Boomer (Herbert Jefferson) to the planet surface in order to take out the intergalactic super weapon.  But that's just the beginning.

     In the best of sci fi pulp novel narratives, those with the most useful knowledge of demolitions and Arctic survival skills happen to be convicts aboard the convoy’s prison ship; and who are offered (DIRTY DOZEN-like) amnesty from their crimes if they agree to partake in the mission, … and come back alive. Of course, once on the planet surface, some of the prisoners have alternate plans for both themselves and their Galactica commanding officers.

     Produced by Oscar winning FX maestro John Dykstra, PLANET ZERO also contains an intriguingly intelligent subplot concerning clones who (a'la BLADE RUNNER) begin to develop independent thought, and who, believed to be sterile, surprisingly even begin to procreate. It's also graced with an all star guest cast which includes James Olson, Britt Ekland and Dan O’Herlihy. And as such this WWII-ish throwback installment plays more like a big screen feature film than any other GALACTICA episode, with the possible exception of the original two part pilot which was re-released theatrically, ... and in Sennsuround no less!

An extremely successful writer and creator / producer of some of television’s most popular series (IT TAKES A THIEF, QUINCY M.E., BUCK ROGERS IN THE 25TH CENTURY, THE HARDY BOYS / NANCY DREW MYSTERIES, B.J. AND THE BEAR, THE ROCKFORD FILES, MAGNUM P.I. and more) BATTLESTAR GALACTICA creator Glenn A. Larson was also one of the most controversial, with many claiming his most famous series were knock-offs of popular Hollywood features. According to some GALACTICA was sifted from STAR WARS, while ALIAS SMITH AND JONES was snatched from BUTCH CASSIDY AND THE SUNDANCE KID; MCCLOULD from COOGAN’S BLUFF; THE FALL GUY from HOOPER; and B.J. AND THE BEAR from ANY WHICH WAY BUT LOOSE. In fact sci fi literary legend Harlan Ellison once disparagingly referred to him as "Glen Larceny". 

     In the wake of BATTLESTAR GALACTICA's debut Universal Studios and Larson found themselves the defendants in a plagiarism suit brought by 20th Century Fox, the later studio claiming elements of BATTLESTAR were lifted from STAR WARS. The case was eventually settled out of court, however, when Universal counter-sued, claiming that STAR WARS had lifted elements of its earlier film SILENT RUNNING - particularly in it's presentation of the humorous side-kick robots “Huey,” “Dewey” and “Louie”, whom they claimed were reconfigured into STAR WARS’ “C3PO” and “R2D2”. 

4) FIREFOX (1982 / dir. - Clint Eastwood)

     At the height of the Cold War, the Soviet Union designs and constructs the aeronautical world’s version of an “alpha predator” (the bird of prey at the top of the food chain) in a prototype fighter craft - the MiG 31. Invisible to radar, capable of achieving speeds exceeding Mach 6, and with a thought-controlled weapons tracking and firing system, not since the advent of the atomic bomb has a single invention held the potential to alter the world balance of power. Since learning of her existence NATO has come to call her the “Firefox”. And British and American intelligence, with the assistance of an underground network of dissidents behind the Iron Curtain, have devised a daring stealth op (some consider it a suicide mission) to smuggle an infiltrator into Russia to steal the super weapon and bring her to the west. Chosen to be that infiltrator is an American former Vietnam war pilot / former POW named Mitchell Gant – who now lives a quiet rural existence, attempting to put war and conflict behind him.  

     So begins Craig Thomas’ 1977 novel FIREFOX. While Tom Clancy would come to be known as the “Father of the military techno-thriller”, the actual fact is the late Thomas (a former radio script writer and teacher who passed away in 2011) beat Clancy’s THE HUNT FOR RED OCTOBER (1984) to the publishing punch by seven years, thus making him the actual bearer of that much respected crown.

     Taking on the dual roles of director and star protagonist Mitchell Gant, Clint Eastwood assembled for FIREFOX a sterling line up of respected American and European character actors to bring flesh and blood (and at times unexpected humor) to the roles created by Thomas in his 1977 novel, some of those characters going on to become literary icons in the author’s later off-shoot and sequel novels.

     At the top of that list is Freddie Jones (THE ELEPHANT MAN, DUNE) as Mi6 operative Kenneth Aubrey. Though Nigel Hawthorne (THE MADNESS OF KING GEORGE), David Huffman (THE ONION FIELD), Warren Clarke (A CLOCKWORK ORANGE), Ronald Lacey (RAIDERS OF THE LOST ARK), Klaus Löwitsch (THE ODESSA FILE), Eastwood stalwart Michael Currie (ANY WHICH WAY YOU CAN) and others also turn in believable, and at times even genuinely moving, performances. In fact this cinematic tonal duality of two concepts often mutually exclusive ("genuinely moving" and "an action film") was perhaps both FIREFOX the movie’s greatest simultaneous asset and debit.

     Many critics weren’t kind to FIREFOX at the time of its summer 1982 debut. While admiring many of its performances, the gritty detail of its Austrian locations (doubling for Russia), and the excitement of its third act climax – when another prototype “Firefox” (which the dissidents failed to destroy) takes off in pursuit of Gant, then engages our hero in a spectacular dogfight over the Arctic, more than a few reviewers found the “lead up” to that third act maddeningly slow and boringly talky.

     Others, however (and we count ourselves among this group) felt that same “lead up” to be refreshingly and realistically paced – it granting the audience the time to understand the patriotic, religious and / or other deep ceded personal reasons as to
why each of the characters with whom Gant comes into contact is willing to give up their life for a cause.  After the contradictory nature of Gant’s Vietnam era experiences (his sentiments echoing those of an entire nation), such dedication to a personal ideal is an eye (and heart) opener for someone determined to put all manner of conflict behind him. 

     We weren't alone in appreciating this subtext. Among some of FIREFOX’s most outspoken and noteworthy fans at the time were film critic Roger Ebert, and (surprisingly to many) the legendary Orson Welles, who, taking FIREFOX under consideration with other (at the time considered atypical) recent Eastwood endeavors such as BRONCO BILLY, saw the film’s focus on character and the aforementioned subtext to be indicative of a new thematic trajectory in Eastwood’s cinematic career.  Within the next few years more personal films such as HONKYTONK MAN, PALE RIDER and BIRD would follow, and indeed begin to take a more prominent place on Eastwood's directorial resume. At the time of FIREFOX, however, many were simply still refusing to allow Eastwood to break out of DIRTY HARRY-esque "ass-kicker" mode. 

TRIVIA: FIREFOX was Clint Eastwood’s first foray into the world of complex cinematic FX. And while he was pleased with the final dogfight footage under the helm of supervisor John Dykstra (STAR WARS, BATTLESTAR GALACTICA), the process was so long and laborious Eastwood wouldn’t direct another heavily FX dependent film for another 18 years. That film was 2000’s SPACE COWBOYS. 


5) ZEPPELIN (1971 / dir. - Étienne Périer)

     At the height of World War I, as massive German dirigibles regularly carpet bomb London far beyond the retaliatory reach of British surface-to-air weapons ... and even fighter planes, British Army Lieutenant Geoffrey Richter Douglas, a Scotsman of German descent (portrayed by LOGAN’S RUN and THE THREE MUSKETEERS' Michael York), is seduced by a Mati Hari-like spy, and given the opportunity to defect to Germany that he might reunite with long lost family and friends.  After Douglas brings this information to his army superiors, the Admiralty reveals to him that they’ve learned of the construction of the Kaiser’s new super weapon, the LZ-36 - an aerial warship larger, more powerful, and with a far greater flight range and altitude ceiling than anything yet to come out of the Zeppelin factory in Friedrichshafen.

     British intel knows that the elderly Professor Altschul
(THE RED SHOES' Marius Goring) – the designer of the new warship, and his young wife Erika (Elke Sommer), are close friends of the Richter-Douglas family from years past. The British Admiralty is also aware that the German army’s desire to have Douglas defect is somehow related to the construction of the new battlecraft. And Douglas is therefore convinced to enter Germany as a double agent, where he is then taken into the heart of Friedrichshafen, and invited aboard the LZ-36 for its maiden test voyage. The flight turns out to be a clandestine war operation, and the reason for Douglas' presence is revealed. His knowledge of military intel, and the Scottish highlands, will be used to help the German army invade British soil, and seize a cherished national prize from a secret vault sequestered within an ancient castle. 

     Directed with great style and old-school brio by Belgium’s Étienne Périer  (BRIDGE TO THE SUN – 1961, and the Alistair MacLean adaptation WHEN EIGHT BELLS TOLL – ’70), ZEPPELIN was a labor of love from writer / producer (and aeronautics expert) Owen Crump – formerly of the (then called) First Motion Picture Unit (FMPU) of the U.S. Army Air Forces. This was the WWII film production division of the military responsible for classic wartime theatrical shorts such as MEMPHIS BELLE: A STORY OF A FLYING FORTRESS and RESISTING ENEMY INTERROGATION.

     While ZEPPELIN has long been a popular fixture with audiences (both those who saw it upon initial release, and those who grew to love it over the years via late night TV and VHS viewings) this deliberately pulp style "impossible mission" war yarn was never as popular with critics, even with those who found much to praise in the elegance of its production design, impressive visual FX and aerial combat sequences, and the stunningly choreographed and photographed (with documentary-like verisimilitude) climactic German raid on the Scottish castle.


     TRIVIA: The working S.E.5a biplane replicas used in the climactic “Zeppelin vs. fighters” finale were from the same collection used in John Guillerman’s 1966 aerial war drama THE BLUE MAX. Tragedy struck the unit when one of the war planes struck a camera helicopter during filming, and five crew personnel were killed.  To supervise construction of the Zeppelin models, interiors and gondola sets, Crump secured the services of Dr. Frederich Sturm, who had been a Chief Designer with the actual Zeppelin manufacturing company during WWI.

6) WHERE EAGLES DARE (1968 / dir. - Brian G. Hutton)

     “’Broadsword’ calling ‘Danny Boy'! Broadsword’ calling ‘Danny Boy’! ...” 

     That’s all one has to say to be recognized by (and welcomed into) a worldwide fraternity of millions who still agree with film critics of the day that WHERE EAGLES DARE ranks among the “Whoppingist chiller diller thrillers of them all!”.  The plot? Well, that’s the rub. Attempting to capsulize it without giving away any spoilers, we’ll say …

     During the winter of 1943 a plane carrying an American General – who possesses information vital to the success of the D-Day invasion, is shot down; and the General is taken by the Nazis to the “Schloss Adler”, a high alpine castle in Bavaria, where he will be interrogated (with drugs if necessary) by the German high command. Sent in to effect a rescue from the impregnable fortress is a small Allied commando unit lead by British Major John Smith (Richard Burton) and U.S. Ranger Lt. Morris Schaffer (a young lean and mean Clint Eastwood) – who is an assassin, and the only American in the all British op.

     Schaffer (and the audience) soon learns all isn’t as originally divulged when one of their unit is murdered during the initial parachute drop behind enemy lines, then Smith secretly brings into the ever-evolving fray two female operatives (supposedly authorized by British intelligence) to help unfurl a twisty-turvy plot wherein no one (Smith included) is above suspicion of being a traitor, murderer and / or double agent. But if Smith is indeed a double agent, for which side is he working? 

     Film critic Leonard Maltin quite accurately referred to EAGLES as a “Modern day version of a Republic serial”. And with enough cliffhanger sequences to make Indiana Jones do a “WTF!” double-take; enough twists and turns to make Sherlock Holmes place a call for assistance to Agatha Christie; and enough super duper high-flying ... and literal high wire ... action to make 007 put in an emergency order for a pack of Depends (the cable car fight, and the final explosive race to the airfield are particularly thrilling), WHERE EAGLES DARE - a thematic “mash up” of the MISSION: IMPOSSIBLE psychological “mind f**k” and the classic WWII secret mission adventure, would be one of the last and greatest "impossible mission" yarns to come out of old school Hollywood during the 1960s.

     TRIVIA: WHERE EAGLES DARE the film is often incorrectly referred to as being “based on” the novel by Alistair MacLean (THE GUNS OF NAVARONE, ICE STATION ZEBRA). But MacLean actually wrote it as an original script at the behest of producer Elliot Kastner - the mogul responsible for HARPER, RANCHO DELUXE, THE MISSOURI BREAKS and ANGEL HEART, specifically for actor Richard Burton. MacLean wrote the book version of EAGLES simultaneously, and it was published a year before the film's debut. Kastner later produced three more MacLean film adaptions: WHEN EIGHT BELLS TOLL (1971 – starring Anthony Hopkins), FEAR IS THE KEY (’72 – with Barry Newman), and the western spy mystery BREAKHEART PASS (’75 – starring Charles Bronson).

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