February 2004 Film Music CD Reviews

Film Music Editor: Gary S. Dalkin
Managing Editor: Ian Lace
Music Webmaster Len Mullenger

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EDITOR’s CHOICE February 2004


Where Eagles Dare / Operation Crossbow  
Music composed orchestrated and conducted by Ron Goodwin
  Available from Film Score Monthly FSM Vol.6 No.21
Disc One:

  • Where Eagles Dare: 74.07
Disc Two:
  • Where Eagles Dare: source cues 18.33
  • Where Eagles Dare: alternate cues: 14.46
  • Operation Crossbow: 45.05
Total running time: 152.44

Available from: Film Score Monthly, 8503 Washington Boulevard, Culver City, CA90232; Tel: 1-888-345-6335; overseas: 310-253-9595; fax: 310-253-9588 e-mail: Info@filmscoremonthly.com

where eagles dare

For background information on the films and scores Where Eagles Dare and Operation Crossbow see the Film Score Monthly press release reproduced below this review.

In June 2001 I wrote a review of Chapter IIIs' CD issue of the original album for Where Eagles Dare. That release is now defunct as Chapter III no longer appears to be in existence. The LP sessions issued on that disc were the result of a rerecording made, as composer Ron Goodwin noted, so "We could get some proper finishes and things on the album versions". In all other respects the rerecordings were extremely faithful to the music as recorded and heard in the film. In my 2001 review I wrote…

"Ron Goodwin is one of the great British film composers, though his wide-ranging achievements in both film and light music have tended to be overshadowed by his ability to write indelibly catchy themes; particularly for such 1960's war dramas as 633 Squadron, Battle of Britain and this title under review, Where Eagles Dare. Indeed, with other gems such as the 'Miss Marple Theme' ('Murder at the Gallop' from the 60's features, not the 80's TV series), Frenzy and The Trap (now known as the music from the London Marathon) Goodwin may well be second only John Barry as Britain's master of theme tunes.

Adapted by Alistair MacLean from his own novel, Where Eagles Dare was a WWII espionage action adventure on the grandest scale. MacLean had already provided the story of the massively successful The Guns of Navarone, so Where Eagles Dare was brought to the screen as a no-expenses spared blockbuster starring Richard Burton and Clint Eastwood, then the probably hottest young star in the world. The action revolves around a top secret allied mission to rescue an American General holding the plans to D-Day from a German mountain fortress, and contains some of the most exciting set-pieces of any war movie.

The film runs 158 minutes including an intermission with entr'acte music and a considerable amount of underscore. This CD however presents a direct reissue of the original soundtrack LP, and thus misses the opportunity to provide a more complete presentation of Goodwin's music. There are eight score tracks totalling approximately 34 minutes, plus a ninth track with presents three source cues, a beguine, polka and fox trot. The packaging is generic to Chapter III's 'Main Event' reissue programme, presenting some stills and artwork on the back cover, with further artwork on the front below a fake cinema marquee displaying the film's title. This sort of perfunctory packaging may have seemed acceptable a few years ago, but following exemplary releases from Film Score Monthly, and Varèse Sarabande's recent marvellously presented Cleopatra (which of course was another 1960's blockbuster starring Richard Burton) and it looks as if Chapter III are not even attempting to keep up.

Conventional wisdom has it that Ron Goodwin is great at themes, and less impressive at underscore. But perhaps it is that his themes are so powerful they simply overshadow the remainder of his scores. And after all, shouldn't the theme standout, while the rest of the score be less noticeable? Maybe it is Goodwin that stands out because today so many film composers seem incapable of even writing a memorable tune? Whatever the case, Where Eagles Dare opens with one of the best, and I mean the very best, one of the greatest title themes in all film music. Set against film of a plane flying low over snow-capped mountains, Goodwin's fugal theme is driven by military snare but builds suspense by a stop-start motor rhythm which promises excitement, drama and self-sacrificing heroics. Rising brass chords develop into a simply unforgettable melody. So unforgettable that it appears to have formed the basis for Larry Groupé's score to The Contender (2000).

The theme appears in various guises, though rarely in full-flight, in the cues which follow. The film is dominated by two intricate set-pieces revolving around a cable-car to a castle on the top of the mountain, and these are represented by 'Ascent on the Cable Car' and 'Descent & Fight on the Cable Car' both of which run over seven minutes. This is fine action-suspense music, the latter particularly standing as a virtuoso example of sustained menace and sheer vertiginous terror. Likewise 'Pursued by the Enemy', offers excitement which develops into a biting, forebodingly heroic statement of the main theme. 'On Enemy Territory' and 'The Chase to the Airfield' deliver further tension and thrills, such that the source cues end the proceedings on an anti-climax…"

All the failings of the Chapter III issue have now been addressed. FSM's packaging meets and even surpasses the company's exceptional standards and instead of 34 minutes of score the first disc of this 2CD set contains the complete 74 minute score. As such the soundtrack no longer ends on an anti-climax of source cues, but properly with two further pieces following 'The Chase to the Airfield'. 'The Real Traitor' is a minor, static suspense cue, but the addition of the 'End Playout', resolves the score in a much more satisfactory way.

The source cues then follow as bonus material on the second disc, a selection of ten, rather than three, waltzes polkas and other dances which make far more sense as an 18 minute sequence in their own right than as a short addendum to the score proper. The second disc then concludes with the original versions of two cues, takes which are really for completists as they present the two cable car set pieces before the propulsive percussion heard in the film was added.

As for the additional 40 minutes of music, well there is an argument for suggesting it is rather more of the same. At one level this is true in that there is nothing which is stylistically wildly different from the material available on the original LP, but then again the full score does give fans of this music more of a good thing. There is more action, more suspense, more thrills. Anyone who grew up loving Ron Goodwin's Where Eagles Dare – and what currently middle-aged man in Britain didn't? – will only be too happy to have the score complete.

My 2001 review concluded, "The sound is excellent for the period, with no distortion and minimal hiss. The recording is full and detailed, though lacking the dynamic range of a more modern production. The album presents one of the greatest themes in film music history, plus a good amount of skilfully dramatic war adventure writing. This is a score which belongs in any self-respecting soundtrack collection. A film music classic, though additional tracks and better packaging would make this perfect."

Well now we have the additional tracks, vastly superior packaging, and even better sound quality. "…newly mixed and mastered from 1/2" three-track tapes in the Turner archives…" the sound is truly exceptional for a 1960's soundtrack. Archival film music issues don't get much better than this.

Which still leaves Operation Crossbow… This 1965 war movie was a more realistic, though still fictional portrayal of espionage adventure, based around the German development of the V1 & V2 rockets. A lavish production starring George Peppard and Sophia Loren – among others – the film remains compelling today, though was far less successful than Where Eagles Dare on original release. Following the great popularity of his music for 633 Squadron Ron Goodwin was hired to compose the score (he would also later score Battle of Britain (1969) and Force 10 From Navarone (1978)) and sets the scene with a typically heroic and noble 'Main Title'. He then goes on to offer a soundtrack which comprises a considerable amount of militaristic action-suspense music not unlike that from 633 Squadron or Where Eagles Dare – check out the mounting tension of 'Flying Bomb' for an anticipation of the latter score's cable car scenes scoring – and some lyrical and tender romantic writing – the aching 'Promises'.

This score really does make an ideal companion to Where Eagles Dare, being very much developed from the same sound world and offering a very similar approach for a very comparable film, so much so that Operation Crossbow can musically be considered the less expansive template for the latter epic. Not an essential score in its own right, but no more logical a choice could be found to complete this superb two disc set.

Gary Dalkin

***** 5

Film Score Monthly press release

Released by Special Arrangement with Turner Classic Movies Music

"Broadsword calling Danny Boy"! The 1968 WWII film Where Eagles Dare is the model of a no-nonsense military adventure, with Richard Burton and Clint Eastwood leading an Allied rescue mission into an impregnable German fortress high atop a mountain. Scripted by Alistair MacLean (The Guns of Navarone, Ice Station Zebra), who provides gripping plot twists, the film has become a virtual institution in Britain, beloved for its straight-faced depiction of machine-gun-wielding good guys blowing up everything in sight.

Composer Ron Goodwin (1925-2003) was an equally beloved British composer who contributed a number of popular scores, such as Of Human Bondage (1964), Those Magnificent Men in Their Flying Machines (1965), and four Miss Marple films. But Goodwin was best-known for his war efforts, such as 633 Squadron (1963) and Battle of Britain (1969), of which Where Eagles Dare was unusual in that it eschewed major-key pomp in favor of gritty, minor-mode determination. The title music embodies the single-minded ambition of the protagonists to infiltrate the mountain fortress and complete their mission, and becomes the basis for the entire score, which is full of hard-nosed suspense and pounding symphonic action.

This release also features another of Goodwin's WWII scores, for Operation Crossbow, the 1965 procedural adventure about German efforts to develop long-range rocket weapons, and the Allied mission to counter them. George Peppard stars as an American agent going undercover, with Sophia Loren top-billed in a brief appearance as a beleaguered widow, and a large multinational cast (including Richard Johnson, Patrick Wymark, John Mills, Trevor Howard, Barbara Rueting, Paul Henreid, Jeremy Kemp and Tom Courtenay) speaking their native languages with subtitles -- rare for the period.

Goodwin's score to Operation Crossbow features a main theme more in line with his work on the genre -- evoking optimistic British patriotism -- with churning, dynamic music for the German war efforts, and flavorful suspense for the unfolding mission. The lengthy interlude with Loren features sympathetic, melodic music for the woman's allure -- rare, romantic work for the genre, and a highlight of the release.

The complete underscore to Where Eagles Dare comprises disc one of this release -- the first-ever release of the film soundtrack, as the LP was a re-recording. This has been newly mixed and mastered from 1/2" three-track tapes in the Turner archives. The score to Operation Crossbow can be found on disc two (complete except for one short cue); this part of the album has been mastered from 1/4" two-track tapes possessed by the composer, as studio masters no longer exist. Complete source music from Where Eagles Dare -- plus earlier, alternate versions of the Eagles cable car cues -- rounds out disc two. The entire release is in stereo.


Where Eagles Dare

  1. Main Title 4:02
  2. Before Jump/Death of Harrod 4:41
  3. Mary and Smith Meet/Sting on Castle/Parade Ground 2:40
  4. Preparation in Luggage Office/Fight in Car 2:08
  5. The Booby Trap 3:14
  6. Ascent on the Cable Car 7:23
  7. Death of Radio Engineer and Helicopter Pilot 3:16
  8. Checking on Smith/Names in Notebook 2:40
  9. Smith Triumphs Over Nazis 2:24
  10. Intermission Playout 2:54
  11. Entr'Acte 2:49
  12. Encounter in the Castle 2:04
  13. Journey Through the Castle, Part 1 4:31
  14. Journey Through the Castle, Part 2 5:29
  15. Descent and Fight on the Cable Car 7:20
  16. Escape From the Cable Car 3:01
  17. Chase, Part 1 and 2 7:37
  18. The Chase to the Airfield 3:05
  19. The Real Traitor 0:58
  20. End Playout 1:04

Total Disc Time: 74:07


Operation Crossbow

  1. Main Title 2:19
  2. Flying Bomb 2:24
  3. Funeral/Spitfire/Photograph 2:04
  4. Peenemunde 3:21
  5. Reitsch's Flight 1:44
  6. Parachute Training 1:06
  7. Up the Rhine/Air Raid 2:11
  8. Nora/Frieda 1:40
  9. Erik/Promises 3:40
  10. Confession/Execution 3:55
  11. Farewell/Nora's Death 1:44
  12. Secret Base 2:12
  13. Research/Rocket Launch 1:57
  14. The V-2 1:46
  15. Launching Section 3:27
  16. Power House/One Minute 3:29
  17. Countdown/Switch R-9 4:30
  18. End Title 1:00
Total Time: 45:05

Where Eagles Dare

Source Music

  1. Waltz1:16
  2. Polka 3:10
  3. Accordion Band 2:00
  4. More Accordion 3:23
  5. March 2:07
  6. Tango 1:26
  7. Beguine 1:11
  8. Slow Waltz 1:11
  9. Fox Trot 2:06
  10. Polka 0:21
Total Time: 18:33

Alternate Score

  1. Ascent on the Cable Car (original version) 7:22
  2. Descent and Fight on the Cable Car (original version) 7:22
Total Time: 14:46
Total Disc Time: 78:37

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