In the scenes where Richard Burton and Clint Eastwood climb the steep fortress walls, Burton moves with ease, while Eastwood is clearly working hard physically. This was due to the fact that Burton, who was a hard-drinker, a chain smoker and out-of-shape by that point, chose to ride a crane (made invisible by special effects) up the wall, whereas the health-conscious Eastwood was actually climbing the wall. Burton had already been diagnosed with bursitis - possibly aggravated by faulty treatment - arthritis and dermatitis.
Nazi concentration camp survivor Ingrid Pitt found filming very difficult because many of the cast were wearing World War II German army uniforms.
The part that ultimately went to Clint Eastwood was also offered to Lee Marvin, but he declined, telling the producers they were about four years too late. Marvin had already starred in a World War II action-adventure, The Dirty Dozen (1967), which he hated. Although it made him a huge star, he did not want to return to that type of movie.
Despite Clint Eastwood's reputation for violence in other films, his character kills more people in this film than any other Eastwood character.
Ingrid Pitt said Richard Burton was drinking very heavily during filming, as he was depressed about the decline of his marriage and his film career.
The production was delayed while filming due to the weather in Austria. Shooting took place in winter and early spring of 1968 and the crew had to contend with blizzards, sub-zero temperatures and potential avalanches. Further delays were incurred when Richard Burton, well known for his drinking habits, disappeared for several days with his friends Peter O'Toole and Richard Harris.
The JU 52 aircraft HB-HOT used in the film crashed in the Swiss Alps and was written off on 4 August, 2018. Tragically, all 20 persons on board were killed in the accident.
The driving force behind the film was Richard Burton's stepson, who wanted to see his stepfather in a good old-fashioned adventure movie. Burton approached producer Elliott Kastner for ideas, who asked Alistair MacLean. At that time, most of MacLean's novels had either been made into films, or were in the process of being filmed. Kastner persuaded MacLean to write a new story. Six weeks later, MacLean delivered the script.
Richard Burton did not like war films, but agreed to make this film as he badly needed a box office hit after starring in several notorious flops including Doctor Faustus (1967) and The Comedians (1967).
The JU-52 (HB-HOT) used in the movie as the rescue aircraft at the end, crashed into Piz Segnas, a mountain in the Swiss Alps, on August 4, 2018, killing all 20 on board. It was on a flight from Locarno to Dubendorf in Switzerland.
According to a special feature about this film, Ingrid Pitt, who plays Heidi, made a daring escape in real life, over the Berlin Wall.
This is one of the first films to use front projection effect. Specifically, this technology enabled filming of the scenes where the actors are on top of the cable car.
The title has its origins in William Shakespeare's 'Richard III': "The world is grown so bad, that wrens make prey where eagles dare not perch."
Clint Eastwood initially opined that the script written by Alistair MacLean was "terrible" and was "all exposition and complications", and-according to Derren Nesbitt-requested that he be given less dialogue. Most of Schaffer's lines were given to Richard Burton, whilst Eastwood handled most of the action scenes.
This is the writer's, (Alistair MacLean's), second of three WW2 commando genre films. The others being The Guns of Navarone (1961) and Force 10 from Navarone (1978). However, this is the only one for which he produced the screenplay.
The "Schloss Adler" is actually the "Schloss Hohenwerfen" in Austria. At the time of filming, the castle was being used as a police training camp. There are no cable cars near Schloss Hohenwerfen. Hence the Cable Car shooting is done somewhere else.
The abbreviation "LSR," seen painted on various walls throughout the film, stands for "Luftschutzraum," German for "air raid shelter."
Richard Burton and Alistair MacLean are both buried in the same tiny graveyard in the Swiss hamlet of Celigny.
Alistair MacLean wrote the script first and then the novel immediately afterward. Although the underlying plot remains the same, the book and script are not entirely faithful to one another. For instance, the book is substantially less violent and the characters are somewhat more comedic. Also noteworthy is the book included a brief love story involving Schaeffer and Heidi.
Clint Eastwood was reluctant to receive second billing to Richard Burton, but agreed after being paid $800,000.
As part of his deal with MGM, Clint Eastwood took delivery of a Norton P11 motorcycle, which he 'tested' at Brands Hatch racetrack, accompanied by Ingrid Pitt, something that he had been forbidden from doing by Elliott Kastner for insurance purposes in case of injury or worse.
An accident during one of the action scenes left producer Elliott Kastner and director Brian G. Hutton badly burned.
The castle, Schloss Hohenwerfen, is today open to the public and is a falconry. Other than the exterior, the only feature that will be familiar to movie fans is the courtyard.
In a recent Channel 4 (UK) survey of the top 100 war movies Steven Spielberg voted this as his favorite, mainly due to its sheer "boys own" factor of unreality. He even went so far as to repeat the "Broadsword calling Danny Boy" line.
The castle, Schloss Hohenwerfen, is the same castle that can be seen in the background in a scene from The Sound of Music (1965) when Maria and the kids are singing Do Re Me.
The arm patches on Smith's and Schaffer's tunics show them to be members of the Wehrmacht's 1st Mountain Division, which used the edelwiess flower as its symbol.
The Junkers Ju 52 used in the film was still in use with the Swiss air force at the time. The Swiss also supplied the T-6 Texan trainers posing as "German fighters."
This film contains roughly 1472 edits during 151 minutes of action, this equates to an average shot length of about 6 seconds.
The name Mary is given when introduced as Heidi's cousin, is Maria Schenk. Maria Schenk was the middle name of Colonel Claus Philipp Maria Schenk Graf von Stauffenberg who was the chief conspirator in the July 20th plot to assassinate Adolf Hitler. It was Stauffenberg who placed the briefcase with the bomb under the table at the Wolf's Lair.
The call signs used by Major Smith "Broadsword calling Danny Boy" appears in Doctor Who: Victory of the Daleks (2010), which is set during the blitz of London.
During production, Clint Eastwood discussed a gambling movie, "Cully the Arm", with Mrs Burton, Elizabeth Taylor. The movie was never made. They also proposed Two Mules for Sister Sara (1970) but the role eventually went to Shirley MacLaine.
Derren Nesbitt was keen to be as factual as possible with his character Von Hapen. Whilst on location, he requested to meet a former member of the Gestapo to better understand how to play the character and to get the military regalia correct.
The Junkers Ju 52 used to fly Smith and Schaffer's team into Austria and then make their escape at the end of the film was a Swiss Air Force Ju-52/3m, registration A-702. It still wore the "Where Eagles Dare" camouflage pattern in 1981, as various photographs show. In 1982, it was sold to a private operator, and still flies as HB-HOT.
On location in Austria, Richard Burton was drinking in the hotel bar with Elizabeth Taylor and Clint Eastwood, when a jealous husband came and pressed a gun against his stomach. Confident that Eastwood and Taylor could handle the man, he excused himself to go to the lavatory. He came back to find the man gone and Taylor purring in triumph.
When Schaffer talks to Major Smith after having stabbed the German officer in the radio room, he says "Fear lent him wings, as the saying goes." He is quoting "L'Honneur du nom" by Émile Gaboriau.
Richard Burton had wanted Leslie Caron for the Mary Ure part. Ure had previously co-starred with Burton on Look Back in Anger (1959).
There were complaints over the casting of middle-aged actors as commandos in this film.
Brian G. Hutton played to his actors' strengths, allowing for Richard Burton's theatrical background to help the character of Smith and Clint Eastwood's quiet demeanour to establish Schaffer.
The fictional Schloss Adler (The Castle of the Eagles) is located in Werfen, and is the headquarters of the Wehrmacht Alpenkorp.
Richard Burton and Michael Hordern had previously worked together on The Spy Who Came In from the Cold (1965).
Derren Nesbitt (as Maj. Von Hapen) sports (bleached) blonde hair, which he'll still sport in The Prisoner (1967), as Number 2, which was filmed during this same time.
Even though Alistair MacLean wrote both the book and the film, several characters have different names in the book and the film respectively. Curiously some sources (e.g. Screen World) refer to these names in the cast list.
As of December, 2018, the only (billed) cast members currently living are: Clint Eastwood (Schaffer) and Derren Nesbitt (Von Hapen). Furthermore, both men are still working actors with features released in 2018: "The Mule" and "Tucked"
Clint Eastwood, Brian G. Hutton and John G. Heller would later work together again in Kelly's Heroes (1970).
Col Turner is wearing a different uniform in the opening briefing scene compared with the final airplane scene. His rank on the shoulder straps in the briefing scene are metal badges, with the shoulder strap attached with a metal button, yet in the final scene the button is missing and the rank on the shoulder strap is embroidered.
Shortly after this movie was filmed Richard Burton accidentally disabled his older brother Ifor Jenkins. Ifor remained paralyzed and bedridden until his death several years later.
For the Castilian Spanish language dub version, Clint Eastwood's voice was dubbed by Ernesto Aura.
A previous poster stated incorrectly that Lieutenant Schaeffer was wearing a "Senior Parachutist Badge" on his uniform during the flashback briefing sequence. Neither "Senior" jump wings, with a star on top the parachute canopy, nor "Master" jump wings, with a star and wreath, existed during World War II. Schaeffer is in fact wearing the only jump wings that existed during WWII, later designated as "Basic" wings after the post-war institution of the Senior and Master parachutist badges. As mentioned by other posters, he is wearing them over the wrong (right) chest pocket flap of his uniform. They properly belong over (or on) the left pocket flap.