Review: Where Eagles Dare / Operation Crossbow
4 / 5 Stars
The masculine genre of combat films have often provided the most textured and enveloping music. Along with Westerns, the dramatized war film has been a mainstay on the big screen, presented in as many varieties as sardonic, comedic, gritty and glossy, just as the Western genre. There are never any shortage of identifiable villains and heroes and the inherent drama of narrow escapes and impossible missions prove almost irresistible to most audiences. Film composers have equally been inspired to enrich the film's heroics and villainy with bombastic, melodic and often thoughtful scores, many of which stand apart as great pieces of music. Ron Goodwin is just such a composer and one of most famous achievements, Where Eagles Dare, finally receives deluxe treatment, accompanied in a 2-disc set by a lesser known yet still stellar score, Operation Crossbow.
Where Eagles Dare tops many of film buff's list as one of the great WWII espionage films of all time, starring two legends, Richard Burton and Clint Eastwood. It is a film I will forever identify with my father, him being a huge fan of WWII era movies. Even as a kid, the "Main Title" gripped my attention and I reveled in hearing it again on disc now. An earnest tune began by sneaky, unassuming snare drums which soon grow in persistence is then followed by a bleak yet still strident melody in the horns. It is a very direct, no-nonsense type of theme, even in its string fugue midsection, that perfectly conveys the intentions of the film and its characters – they mean business, they are playing for keeps and they are not joking around. This mindset drives the score from start to finish and Ron Goodwin's music never lets the audience forget this, never lets the listener out of the vice-grip for the duration of Where Eagles Dare. In the brooding suspense and preparation cues such as "Before Jump/Death of Harrod" and "Preparation in Luggage/Fight In Car", Goodwin has the orchestra churn away in its lowest ranges, though the mid-range fugue midsection from the "Main Title" is reprised in "Preparation In Luggage". "Ascent on the Cable Car" is the first real set piece of the score, the tension steadily over its seven minute length. More brooding suspense follows in "Death of Radio Engineer and Helicopter Pilot", low strings tenuously setting out as our heroes do the same in the cliff-side German castle. The dark-hued string fugue opens "Checking On Smith/Names in Notebook" before pulsating tension carries out the remainder of the track. "Intermission Playout" builds on this tension before finally exploding into the snare drum/low brass main theme, ringing the first act of the film to a close. The "Entr'acte" is a welcome, marvelous reprise of the "Main Title" material.
The action in the second half immediately begins to amp up with "Encounter In The Castle", building on the sharp staccato snare drum and brass combo. From here on out is a constant battle to the finish of the film and escape from the German castle and Goodwin leads the way, with all guns blazing in the form of richly textured, melodic, propulsive music. Both parts of "Journey Through The Castle" reward any film music fan who us a fan of full-blooded, unashamedly exciting orchestral scoring. The strings are furious, the brass punchy and the rhythm insistent, as it should be for a film of this kind, as it strives to reach its peak. Another set piece arrives in the form of "Descent and Fight on the Cable Car", reprising some material from "Ascent on the Cable Car" then we plunge straight into the "Escape from Cable Car", confidently led by the blazing main theme and which continues its staccato support throughout the track and into "Chase, Part 1 and 2". The theme has been absent in its fullest form from much of the early part of the score, so it is great that it is fully in the driver's seat for the final quarter. The orchestra pulls out all the stops in terms of ferocity, volume and determination in these climactic cues, with all the various bits of thematic and action material being revisited through each section and in various guises. One could make the observation that these cues can be a bit monothematic at times, that perhaps some new melodic material might help here, but the main theme really needed to reclaim the dominant position at this time and not fight with new contrasting themes and motifs. It all comes to a grand close with the "End Playout", where the familiar main theme finally makes the shift to a resolving major key and fans of the both the genre and Ron Goodwin can now rejoice in experiencing the cumulative musical effect of Where Eagles Dare.
The second WWII era score included in FSM's 2-disc set begins with a grander, brighter theme then its companion score, Where Eagles Dare. The two works do share some qualities, though, besides both being composed by Ron Goodwin, in that ideas germinated in this 1965 composition blossom to their height in 1968's Where Eagles Dare. The dark, low range strings and staccato brass and percussion are utilized heavily here in Crossbow, immediately from the outset in two powerful cues, "Flying Bomb" and "Peenemunde", This is alternated with the soaring, optimistic main theme recapitulated in "Funeral/Spitfire/Photograph" and "Reitsch's Flight". At times I am reminded of much of Richard Wagner when hearing this theme at its fullest. "Parachute Training" offers lighter fare, tumbling woodwinds and strings no doubt mimicking the lopsided descent of a first time jumper, but then we return to earnest determination in "Up The Rhine/Air Raid".
Tension is played to the hilt at the start of "Erik/Promises", but the second half turns into a marvelously pure string-led love theme, with warm harmonies abounding. "Confession/Execution" opens with the same slamming chords as does "Flying Bomb" before the low ranges begin churning again. A worrisome, swaying yet oddly pleasant woodwind motif runs through "Secret Base", keeping the tension high, and is a motif echoed ominously in the low winds and strings in the next cue, "Research/Rocket Launch". The tension finally explodes with a crash in "The V-2" forcefully driven along by the low basses.
"Launching Section" has hesitantly positive tones in its woodwinds and chimes, the cue somehow hoping it gets to sing forth its optimism soon, but the dark, churning material returns again to change the tide. "Powerhouse/One Minute" opens with the staccato brass and percussion not unlike the later action cues in Where Eagles Dare. The action continues with swirling flutes and strings, balanced by a ticking harp and chime motif, as the one minute countdown begins. The low basses provide constant motion in "Countdown/Switch", the climactic track, accented by the staccato brass, then the mood starts to brighten a bit as the orchestra reaches for upper registers, and finally all the sections signal in pounding chords the blazing finish of the film. "End Title" is a less-strident version of the main theme, but no less optimistic.
Also included on this disc are two original versions of cues from Where Eagles Dare, "Ascent on the Cable Car" and "Descent and Fight on the Cable Car", both pretty much the same length as their alternate counterparts. Much of the material is similar, such as the queasy strings, but this version lacks the exciting snare rhythm driven action in the midsection of what was finally utilized. The original version of "Descent and Fight" is bit more pulse-pounding, relying less on the uneasy string textures, rising in intensity more than the alternate. Overall, this is a great Ron Goodwin extravaganza, especially for someone like me who up to this point had no Goodwin in my collection. This certainly is for old school fans of large scale, thick orchestral music, indelible from the first listening onwards.
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