Clint Eastwood Goes To War

Clint Eastwood does a darn fine job when he plays a mysterious Western gunslinger, a tough American cop, or a bare-knuckled fighter whose best buddy is an orang-utan. He also does an equally darn fine job whenever he plays a war hero.

Although he has acted in only three modern warfare films in his long and illustrious career – Where Eagles Dare (1968), Kelly’s Heroes (1970) and Heartbreak Ridge (1986) – Clint’s military trilogy remains just as popular with his huge fan base as his Dirty Harry Movies and Spaghetti Westerns. Moreover, the three war movies have been shown on TV many, many times over the years, which attests to just how popular they still are.

Clint’s first modern war movie was Where Eagles Dare (1968) in which he co-starred with Richard Burton and Ingrid Pitt (who is well known for her vampire roles with Hammer films). Based on an Alastair McClean story, Where Eagles Dare is a typical “Boys’ Own” adventure story, Eastwood and Burton going on a mission disguised as German officers with a view to penetrating a seemingly impregnable fortress high on an Austrian mountain top to rescue a captured Allied general who holds confidential secrets about the planned Allied invasion of Normandy. However, all is not quite what it seems, and there are plenty of edge-of-seat twists and turns as Eastwood and Burton kill many, many German soldiers along the way. Where Eagles Dare is a real action-packed war film that merits as being right up there with such other epic military classics as A Bridge Too Far and The Guns of Navarone.

Eastwood’s second foray into the world of modern war was Kelly’s Heroes (1970). In this he plays an American GI who is part of a unit of military misfits who go AWOL behind enemy lines to steal 16 million dollar gold bullion from the Nazis. The movie was shot in Yugoslavia, and also starred Telly Savalas (of Kojak fame) and Donald Sutherland. However, despite its star-studded line up and a promising story line, Kelly’s Heroes was regarded by some critics as a movie that never really delivered. Nevertheless, many Eastwood fans still regard the movie as a thoroughly enjoyable, action-packed and funny war adventure, and one of Clint’s best. They also love the catchy musical theme of the movie: “Burning Bridges,” sung by The Mike Curb Congregation, which actually got into the pop charts.

Clint’s third and final war movie was Heartbreak Ridge (1986). In this one, he plays tough, no-nonsense Gunnery Sergeant Tom Highway, who is assigned the task of beating into shape a rowdy, stroppy reconnaissance platoon. Running parallel to the main story is the interesting sub plot involving Highway’s attempted reconciliation with his estranged wife. There are many funny scenes in Heartbreak Ridge, especially the ones where Highway directs his cutting, often obscene tirades at his group of wayward subordinates, and his successful fight with the unit’s Incredible Hulk-like hard man. Shades of Dirty Harry here too in Highway’s tough persona, as he does things unconventionally and rebels against a softly-softly institutional authority. As the movie progresses, Highway’s cruel-to-be-kind supervision begins to pay off, as the platoon shapes up and forges a sense of identity as a formidable, battle-ready unit. And into battle they certainly do go, as they embark on a tin-pot invasion of Grenada. The movie ends of a rather cheerful and optimistic note, as Highway’s men return home to a grand, flag-waving welcome.