Home > Reviews > WHERE EAGLES DARE – Ron Goodwin


January 11, 2021 Leave a comment Go to comments


Original Review by Craig Lysy

The genesis of Where Eagles Dare lay with actor Richard Burton, whose career was in decline. His two sons exhorted him to do an adventure film where he was the hero, and did not die in the end. Burton approached producer Elliot Kastner and asked if he had any projects that would fit the bill. He did not but Kastner asked novelist collaborator Alistair MacLean for a new original script to showcase Burton. Well, MacLean delivered the goods, and financing was provided by Winkast Productions with a budget of $6.2 million. Brian Hutton was brought in to direct and a stellar cast assembled to join Richard Burton as Major Jon Smith, including Clint Eastwood as Lieutenant Morris Schaffer, Mary Ure as Mary Ellison, Patrick Wymark as Colonel Wyatt Turner, and Michael Hordern as Vice Admiral Rotland.

The story is set in WWII during the winter of 1943. A key U.S. army brigadier general George Canaby has been captured by the Germans and sent to Hohenwerfen Castle in Bavaria for interrogation. Given that Canaby is part of the planning team for Operation Overlord it is imperative that he be retrieved before German interrogators crack him. A Special Ops team of seven commandos consisting of Major Smith, Lieutenant Schaffer, Captain Thomas, Captain Berkley, Captain Christiansen and Sergeants Harrod and MacPherson. The team encounters obstacles with significant plot twists, which include, misdirection, deception and betrayal. They eventually succeed in the true mission – to expose German spies operating in the British command. The film was a smashing commercial success earning $21 million for a profit of $14.8 million. Critics were generally positive, praising the film for its cinematography and action scenes. The film did not receive any Academy Award nominations.

The decision was made to hire English composer Ron Goodwin, who has previously written scores for popular war films such as 633 Squadron (1963) and Operation Crossbow (1965). Unlike his heroic major modal main themes for these films, Goodwin conceived a different approach, instead using an ascending minor modal Anthem and fugato theme to better align with the suspenseful covert rescue mission. Goodwin understood that he would have to infuse his soundscape with contemporaneous source music to provide cultural authenticity. His conception was to provide a main theme and one motif to drive the film’s narrative. The Mission Theme serves as the score’s main theme, which supports the Special Ops mission. It offers a martial ABA construct with the A Phrase declared powerful by an ascending statement by resolute horns dramatico with a recapitulation by strings forte. The B Phrase offers a fugue structured as a stepped ascent from bass, to celli, to violas to violins, which is then joined by resolute horns and snare drums. Remarkable is how Goodwin masterfully created set pieces, which consisted of ever shifting variations of either the A and B Phrases. I believe the theme to be iconic, one of the finest military anthems in cinematic history. Supplementing this is the Tension Motif, which offers a four-note ostinato by strings or woodwinds empowered by horns bravura and martial snare drums. The motif is very malleable and I must say very effective in driving their espionage and in sowing tension and suspense. Goodwin did not compose any German identities, but I believe the Tension Motif served as their de facto theme as most of the film they are vulnerable deep behind enemy lines.

“Main Title” offers a powerful score highlight where Goodwin masterfully sets the tone of the film. We open with snare drums militare as the red script opening credits roll against a backdrop of an aerial view of snow draped mountains. An intensification at 0:32 supports the Film’s Title, which at 0:43 ushers in a powerful declaration of the A Phrase of the Mission Theme by resolute horns dramatico as the German marked a plane crosses the screen. As the plane flies through the mountain passes the theme transfers to and fro from horns to strings energico, still charged with snare drums. At 1:32 the classic B Phrase fugue enters with a stepped ascent from bass, to celli, to violas to violins. It is joined by resolute horns and snare drums in a powerful martial exposition as the plane continues to fly low weaving through the mountains to avoid detection. At 2:53 we return to background snare drums as the camera enters the craft to reveal the Special Ops team.

In “Before Jump” a flashback reveals the team being briefed by Colonel Turner and Vice Admiral Rolland. They explain the urgency of retrieving General Carnaby and the challenge presented by Hohenwerfen Castle. Music enters with a return to the present with snare drums militare fortified with the horn declarations of the Mission Theme A Phrase. The Team parachutes out, and then later a mysterious woman is brought out of hiding and she too parachutes out. We see that the team has landed with Smith ordering a search for Harrod who is unaccounted for. We segue into “Death of Harrod” at 0:49 atop three dire horn blasts when they find him dead of an apparent broken neck. Smith orders the team out to prepare their supplies while he inspects the radio. A string stinger at 2:46 supports Smith’s discovery that Harrod’s neck injury was man-made due the bruising and soft snow of the impact area. Goodwin sow tension with grim three-note statements of the Mission Theme A Phrase draped with harp misterioso adornment. At 4:03 Smith then leads them through deep snow to a deserted shelter supported by the Mission Theme fugue buttressed with snare drums.

“Mary and Smith Meet” reveals Smith feigning that he forgot to retrieve Harrod’s codebook and departing to retrieve it. He instead goes to an adjacent building where he meets with his lover, the covert operative Mary, who parachuted out of the plane last. Goodwin supports the rendezvous with a tension string tremolo and pulsing woodwinds as he lights an oil lamp. Cyclic strings enter ominously at 0:29 as a woman speaks “Halt!”. The Tension Motif’s recurring four-note string figure of unease supports his briefing, which ends with a kissing embrace. The next day in “Sting on Castle” the team sets out to the castle. Smith and Schaffer reconnoiter ahead, and a grave statement of the A Phrase of the Mission Theme resounds as they view the castle in the distance. We segue atop an ominous chord at 1:21 into “Parade Ground” where Schaffer scans the castle grounds with binoculars. A dramatic exposition of the A Phrase of the Mission Theme supports the scene, joined by menacing snare drums when Smith informs him the German Alpine regimen is stationed here.

In “Preparation in Luggage Office” the team sneaks into the luggage office where they change into German uniforms. Goodwin supports texturally with a tension string tremolo, horn pulse, chattering snare drums and dark woodwind figures. They exit the office and walk into the town. As they enter a café Goodwin supports with a festive Polka, CD-2 cue 20. Heid, a German resistance agent, is a waitress. He pulls her on his lap and whispers to meet him in a shed in 5 minutes. An accordion from Cue 21 of CD-2 carries his departure. Smith informs Mary that she will enter the castle as a domestic and that General Canaby is a planted hoax, a corporal impersonating him for a plan yet unrevealed. After departing he finds Sargent McPherson murdered in the snow. He returns to the café and Heidi escorts Mary upstairs to provide her identity papers, supported by the accordion play of CD-2 cue 22. An SS Colonel arrives and declares they are seeking five officers accused of murder in Stuttgart. Smith believes they have a better chance to survive outside and surrenders the team. We segue into “Fight in Car” at 1:42 where Smith and Shaffer overpower their captors, killing them all, supported by dire muted trumpets and a swirling orchestral torrent. After disposing of the car and bodies, Schaffer sets wire trigger booby traps on several large tress and telephone poles along the road.

“The Booby Trap” reveals Smith and Schaffer returning to town where they set a trip wire explosive charge in the luggage office. Music enters as a platoon of Germans arrive. Goodwin sow tension using an ominous, slowly building Mission Theme joined by recurring horn blares. They arm the device and exit through the back window as the Germans enter. At 1:37 a crescendo commences as the German Captain walks towards the trip wire, cresting with horn blasts at 1:47 as he trips the wire and the building explodes. A new ascent crescendo carries the destruction and aftermath. After 2:15 the music was dialed out of the film. It consists of a suspense build upon a repeating fragment of the Mission Theme.

“Ascent on the Cable Car” offers a superb score highlight. A prelude of tension supports Smith and Schaffer successfully stealth arrival at the cable car station. As their captured teammates board below for transport to the castle, they climb aboard atop unnoticed. Goodwin sow tension with unsettling chromatic string patterns with harsh orchestral utterances, which unnerve and never resolve as the car begins its ascent. An interlude at 1:27 borne by suspenseful string tremolos with a harp misterioso ostinato support Mary’s covert movement in the castle as she prepares a rope for them to climb off the docking roof into the castle. At 3:21 we return to Smith and Schaffer who climb to position themselves to leap onto the docking station roof. Goodwin heightens tension by amplifying the chromatic string patterns and augmenting them with snare drums. At 4:46 they leap and land with an orchestral thump, yet Schaffer’s ice pick fails to hold and he begins sliding off the roof. Grim strikes by timpani, surging strings and dire horns portend his doom. A crescendo of terror rages as his life hangs in the balance. Yet he manages to hold on, climb, and at 5:49 the music subsides with relief as he reaches Smith’s outstretched hand. At 6:08 the Mission Theme fugue carries their roof ascent to reach the rope placed by Mary, as well as their climb to safety. In “Death of Radio Engineer and Helicopter Pilot” Smith and Schaffer move to disable the radio and kill the helicopter pilot. A slow, purposeful and suspenseful Mission Theme fugue supports Schaffer’s journey to the radio room. At 1:08 we transition to a suspenseful three-note string ostinato as Schaffer arrives and silently enters. At 1:23 we swell on a crescendo of death as he kills the man on duty. Smith advises the helicopter pilot to report to the radio room and be briefed by the man on duty. Goodwin reprises the same suspense music to support his journey and murder by Schaffer.

“Checking on Smith/Names in Notebook” reveals Smith and Schaffer intruding into a meeting by Colonel Kramer and his command staff. Smith offers a ruse, advises Kramer that he is a member of the SS masquerading as a British agent, and that the three remaining members of his team sitting at the table (who are in reality loyal Germans) are also British agents. As he presents his proof and his identity is verified by a telephone call to German Intelligence, Goodwin supports with a most impassioned exposition of the Mission Fugue. Regretfully Hutton dialed it out of the film preferring Burton’s mellifluous soliloquy to carry the scene. In another scene Major Von Happen of the Gestapo suspects Mary of being a spy when her knowledge of her home town proves faulty. At 0:59 as he says goodnight and departs her room a tension string tremolo and cyclic strings evoke danger and menace. The string tremolo and four-note string ostinato is sustained with a return to the dining room where the German agents are writing the names of German spies embedded in British Intelligence (M16). A crescendo commences at 1:17 as we see the German spies writing the names of their agents in M16. Further intensification of tension arrives at 2:04 as Smith hands their books to Colonel Kramer. We finally crest at 2:35 as Smith gives him his own book, with nothing but blank pages. As Kramer reacts, Smith shoots the guard and Schaffer rearms.

“Smith Triumphs Over Nazis” opens with a stinger as von Happen enters. A soft four-note timpani tension ostinato supports as von Hapen tries to determine whether Kramer or Smith are telling the truth. At 1:44 a tense string tremolo supports Mary’s arrival and distraction of von Happen, allowing Schaffer to shoot him, Kramer, Rosemeyer and each of the German Command team beginning at 2:05, with each shot supported by orchestral blasts. “Intermission Playout” offers a tension driven score highlight. It reveals Schaffer setting charges in the meeting hall as Smith, Mary and Jones escort the German spies out at gunpoint. Goodwin sow tension with tremolo strings, the Mission Fugue buttressed by snare drums and the a three-note ostinato. The Tension Motif on woodwinds enters at 1:00 as Smith plants explosives in the radio room. At 1:15 snare drums initiate a slow swelling crescendo as Schaffer sets the trip wires. A diminuendo on the Tension Motif support Schaffer tying the trip wire to the door handle. The Tension Motif sustains the suspense as the team seeks escape. In a scene unsupported by music, Schaffer enters the armory, kills the guards and plants explosives. We commence a crescendo at 2:15 on the Tension Motif empowered by snare drums, which swells for a powerful and dramatic statement of the Mission Theme as the team is forced to evade Germans in the castle, and Entr’Acte displays on the screen.

“Entr’Acte” offers a powerful reprise of the Mission Theme in all its martial glory. Smith and Schaffer join up and lead the team to the radio operator’s console. We see a bored operator channel surfing with brief quotes of CD-2 source music cues 25-28; “Beguine” “Slow Waltz” “Fox Trot” and “Polka”. Yet the guard sets-off the klaxon alarm before Schaffer can kill him, which mobilizes the castle soldiers. In “Encounter in the Castle” Smith successfully calls London for extraction, but the power is soon cut to the radio console as Schaffer holds off the Germans in a firefight. As they depart Goodwin supports the escape with the woodwind emoted Tension Motif buttressed by tension strings, rumbling drums and blaring staccato horns. At 1:42 The Germans force their way in and a crescendo is unleashed as they discover a rope. They reflectively kill the German spy climbing down, thinking he was an escaping British spy. A descent motif carries him to his doom.

“Journey Through the Castle, Part 1” (12M1A) and “Journey Through the Castle, Part 2” (12M1, 12M1B and 12M1C) constitute all original music as well as rescored music for the escape to the cable car. The final film sequence was 12M1A. Goodwin stokes a mounting tension and creeping desperation with ascending stepped strings, dire horns and snare drums perpetuo. A crescendo climax occurs at 1:14 when Schaffer ambushes troops on the stairs and mows them down. The martial snare drums resume joined by ascending strings energico and dire horns, which relentlessly propel the team forward to the cable car dock with Germans in hot pursuit. Horn declarations of the Mission Theme resound as they begin their climb down at 2:45. A diminuendo at 3:35 supports the approach of Germans, but they trip a wire and explosions destroy them. The tension driving music resumes as they reach the cable car depot and Schaffer secures the entrance door.

“Descent and Fight on the Cable Car” offers a riveting action cue. The two German spies climb down first supported by a fast-paced Tension Motif, which stokes a rising tension. At 0:38 orchestral blasts sound as they manage to overpower Schaffer and take his pistol. They barter with Smith – let them descend and they will spare Schaffer. Smith stalls and prepares a counter move with the Tension Motif driving the narrative. He agrees and a descent motif enters at 1:48 as the two spies begin their descent. Smith jumps on the roof and prepares to set explosives. The two spies climb aloft from opposites ends and Smith fights for his life, forcing one back into the car injured. While the other falls to his death. Goodwin reprises his chromatic string writing from “Ascent on the Cable Car” cue but now fortified with grim drums until 2:53 when the fight commences with orchestral strikes supporting Smith’s strikes with an ice pick. A dire ascending string driven crescendo buttressed with staccato horns commences as Smith fights ahead and behind. It crests at 3:35 whin Smith impales the arm of the front man, which causes his downward retreat by strings of pain. Chromatic string cycles with horn blasts support Smith’s fight with the remaining man, joined by snare drums at 4:46, which amplify tension as he holds on to Smith’s leg for dear life until he falls at 5:06 to his doom. The tension Motif returns on horns with a drum pulse as Smith sets the explosive timer and prepares to leap to an ascending cable car. He does so at 6:13 supported by trumpets and the desperately tries to climb to safety on the roof supported by a crescendo of desperation. He succeeds and we crest 6:52 with the descending car exploding.

In “Escape From the Cable Car” Goodwin again demonstrates mastery in suspense writing, which I believe really makes this scene. It reveals the team escaping on a descending cable car. Music enters with a dramatic statement of the Mission Theme as German troops travel in force to the cable car depot in town. A diminuendo at 0:26 ushers in the Tension Motif as Smith sets the charges, they prepare to jump, and Heidi prepares the bus for travel. A crescendo slowly builds on the Tension Motif, cresting at 1:46 when they all jump into a river below carried by a descent motif. Staccato horns propel them to the river bank with a celebratory Mission Anthem supporting their climb to safety from the frigid waters. The anthem continues unabashed with pride as the team flees to safety, as the Germans above break in and stop the car’s descent and the Germans below pummel the car with gunfire until it explodes.

We open without music with the sight of the German marked extraction plane flying to the airport. In “Chase, Part 1 and 2” we have a dynamic score highlight where Goodwin composes ever shifting variations of his Mission Theme to propel their drive to freedom. The team boards the bus supported by the Tension Motif. As they begin their ride to freedom at 0:40 propelled by staccato horns we launch into the Mission Theme, variations, with dynamic interplay of the Tension Motif, which fuels their desperate drive to the airport. They use the snow plow to one by one detonate charges they had placed earlier, sending trees and telephone poles down on the road, which block the German vehicles. At 4:58 a diminuendo on the Tension Motif supports their stop so they can place explosives to blow the only bridge. A slow building crescendo commences as the Germans prepare to detonate explosive to clear a tree blocking the road, cresting at 6:07 with a resumption of the Mission Theme as they succeed and resume the chase. Mary takes out a motorcycle team as Schaffer places the last charge. The Mission Theme crests and closes the cue as they escape while the bridge explodes in a fireball.

“The Chase to the Airfield” offers more masterful composing, which was inexplicably dialed out of the film. They team plows through the airport perimeter fence and proceeds to wreak havoc, destroying German fighter planes, the control tower, and killing countless soldiers. They make it to the extraction plane, which successfully takes off in a hail of bullets. Goodwin again utilized shifting variations of his Mission Theme to propel their audacious drive for freedom. In my judgment the film performed better with the music joining synergistically to propel the action. In “The Real Traitor” Smith exposes Turner as a traitor. When he admits to this by pointing his gun at Smith, Smith informs him that Rotland suspected him and had the gun’s firing pin removed. Now exposed and faced with no options, Turner opts for suicide rather than a show trial and hanging. With Smith’s permission, he jumps to his doom. Goodwin scored the scene unobtrusively with a repeating three-note timpani ostinato of doom buttressed with snare drums, but Hutton dialed the music out of the film. “End Playout” closes the film with Schaffer asking Smith that if there is another mission in the future, could he keep it an all-British team. We close with a drum motif of timpani and snare drums, which launch at 0:26 a final heroic reprise of the Mission Theme Anthem, which ends gloriously in a flourish.

I would like to thank Lukas Kendall and Film Score Monthly for the release of the complete score for Ron Goodwin’s “Where Eagles Dare” film score. The remix and digital mastering from the 1/2 inch three-track safety tapes of the original six-track 35mm magnetic film masters was exceptional. The album provides excellent audio quality and a fine listening experience. Goodwin had already demonstrated his mastery in scoring war films with 633 Squadron (1963) and Operation Crossbow (1965), and true to form delivered another gem with “Where Eagles Dare”. The film was an espionage tale that featured an audacious covert mission to penetrate one of the most secure and fortified installations in Nazi Germany. Well Goodwin rose to the occasion and composed one of the finest war anthems in cinematic history, which captured the irrepressible spirit, determination and resourcefulness of the British people. The A Phrase anthem has become iconic, while the use of a classic fugue for the B Phrase, was brilliant in its conception. The malleable Tension Motif was well executed and the essential engine for sowing tension, suspense and propelling the film’s narrative flow. In scene after scene Goodwin’s music created the tension, anxiety and suspense, which kept us on the edge of our seats. I believe this score to be one of the finest in his canon, and a gem of the Silver Age. I highly recommend that you purchase this quality two CD album, which also includes his score for Operation Crossbow, as an essential album for your collection.

For those of you unfamiliar with the score, I have embedded a YouTube link to the iconic Main Title: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Dh7S7V-y500

Buy the Where Eagles Dare soundtrack from the Movie Music UK Store

Track Listing:

  • Main Title (4:02)
  • Before Jump/Death of Harrod (4:41)
  • Mary and Smith Meet/Sting on Castle/Parade Ground (2:40)
  • Preparation in Luggage Office/Fight in Car (2:08)
  • The Booby Trap (3:14)
  • Ascent on the Cable Car (7:23)
  • Death of Radio Engineer and Helicopter Pilot (3:16)
  • Checking on Smith/Names in Notebook (2:40)
  • Smith Triumphs Over Nazis (2:24)
  • Intermission Playout (2:54)
  • Entr’ Acte (2:49)
  • Encounter in the Castle (2:04)
  • Journey Through the Castle, Part 1 (4:31)
  • Journey Through the Castle, Part 2 (5:29)
  • Descent and Fight on the Cable Car (7:20)
  • Escape From the Cable Car (3:01)
  • Chase, Part 1 and 2 (7:37)
  • The Chase to the Airfield (3:05)
  • The Real Traitor (0:58)
  • End Playout (1:04)
  • Waltz (Source Music) (1:16)
  • Polka (Source Music) (3:10)
  • Accordion Band (Source Music) (2:00)
  • More Accordion (Source Music) (3:23)
  • March (Source Music) (2:07)
  • Tango (Source Music) (1:26)
  • Beguine (Source Music) (1:11)
  • Slow Waltz (Source Music) (1:11)
  • Fox Trot (Source Music) (2:06)
  • Polka (Source Music) (0:21)

Running Time: 92 minutes 42 seconds

Film Score Monthly FSM6-21 (1968/2004)

Music composed and conducted by Ron Goodwin. Orchestrations by Ron Goodwin and Brian Couzens. Score produced by Ron Goodwin. Album produced by Lukas Kendall.

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