Will the Eagles Fly?

How’s this as an idea for a giant monster flick?

Modern adventurers discover a lost tribe of Vikings in a secluded valley. These vikings have survived amidst some pretty fearsome wildlife, including dinosaurs and giant prehistoric eagles. As they reacquaint themselves with the modern (1930s) world, they learn of an imminent invasion of New York by Nazis in zeppelins and altruistically take to the skies on their tamed War Eagles to engage in a huge airbourne battle over the streets of Manhattan.

One of the most famous non-films in the Great Lost Film Archive buried beneath Skull Island was the brainchild of Merian C. Cooper, the creator of the first great giant monster film. With the help of the grandfather of stop-motion SFX, Willis O’Brien, Cooper was responsible for kickstarting the whole giant monster movie genre by letting an angry, lovelorn giant ape rampage through Skull Island jungles and then New York in the 1933 film King Kong.

Before that, the Rampage template had been set by O’Brien when he animated a displaced brontosaurus going berserk in London in the 1925 film The Lost World. O’Brien would animate an endless array of dinosaurs during his career (and a giant scorpion), mentoring the young Ray Harryhausen who, in many ways, perfected the art over the decades that followed.

In 1937, Cooper conceived a spectacular scenario for a film called War Eagles, intending to top his work on King Kong. Its plot was the one I described above. A script was written and work began on the film. Many sketches were drawn, models made and a test reel featuring a Viking on his Eagle battling an allosaurus prepared by O’Brien and his crew.

Marcel Delgado — a well-known stop-motion animator — had worked on the War Eagles project:

About 1939 I worked for Obie at MGM on War Eagles which Cooper was going to make. I made a spearman riding a giant eagle and throwing a spear at a tyrannosaurus. It could have been a hell of a good picture. I don’t know exactly why they didn’t finish it; they spent a hell of a lot of time and money on it. The film is lost now. George Pal has been searching for it. MGM was going to start on it again after the war, but they didn’t.

In an interview with Travis Fickett, Harryhausen said of the film:

That was a picture Merian Cooper was going to make in color for MGM. But then the war came along and he was called away to the Flying Tigers. The whole picture deteriorated. Willis O’Brien was going to do the special effects work. It would have been a really spectacular picture at the time. That was the first time I met Willis O’Brien, during the preproduction for War Eagles. They had three rooms filled with the paintings and drawings of the potential picture. It looked terrific.

The project was shelved after Cooper left to organise mercenary pilots fighting for Chinese nationalist Chiang Kai-shek and it was never continued, despite some attempts to do so. At the time, such an expensive film simply became too daunting for the studio, particularly without Cooper’s push.

Now, however, it seems like a revival of the project may be underway. Though some have already noticed the project, I hadn’t until I stumbled upon an IMDb entry, which suggests that War Eagles is currently in pre-production, set to be released in 2010!

The listing of Cooper as the source of the “original concept” tells us that this is a re-visiting of his old project and the fact that the production company is “Ray Harryhausen Presents” (whatever that means) at least suggests that the SFX may be done in the style Cooper and O’Brien had intended. One rumour I’ve heard confirms that the film will be a period piece, set in the 1930s — as it would need to be in order to work properly. I mean, giant eagles, dinosaurs, vikings, Nazi-types and zeppelins over NY! Modern jet fighters wouldn’t fit into that scenario at all.

If that doesn’t make your heart start palpitating, you’re reading the wrong blog!

War Eagles (1938-39) Abandoned. (US; Dir. / Prod: Merian C. Cooper and Ernest B. Schoedsack; Screenplay: Cyril Hume; SFX: Willis O’Brien, Marcel Delgado & George Lofgren; Drawings: Duncan Gleason.) (Source)

As an aside I notice that a comic series based on War Eagles is about to take flight. In fact, here is the cover:

War Eagles comic

I also came upon a novel that draws on Cooper’s concept:

 Cover of the book “War Eagles”

 Suddenly there seems to be a lot of buzz. I’m keeping my monstrous talons crossed!

This entry was posted in Animation, Dinosaurs, Film, Giant Monsters, Teaser. Bookmark the permalink.

40 Responses to Will the Eagles Fly?

  1. Avery says:

    Now that’s one really BIG “geek-gasm”!!!! This stuff is what dreams are made of!! Hell yeah!! I can hardly wait!!

  2. David Cake says:

    OOh, yeah. Love the idea. Though some might accuse it of lasersharking.

  3. Backbrain says:

    If “lasersharking” means “combining two things that are cool on their own to make something stupid” (Urban Dictionary) … yes, I can see the possibility. But I doubt a movie about Vikings, dinosaurs and zeppelins would be intended for anyone who thinks such a joining is likely to be “stupid”!

    Hammer Films was going to do something similar once, in a film that never reached completion called “Zeppelin vs. Pterodactyls” (1971).

  4. Terry Frost says:

    Zeppelins VS Pterodactyls… yeah, I’m there. I also think that it’s time for another cowboys vs dinosaurs movie like “The Valley of Gwangi”. Some concepts just merge into wonderfulness.

  5. Backbrain says:

    There’s something about placing one type of fantasy (cowboys, pirates, Vikings) into another (dinosaurs, zombies, aliens) that just appeals strongly to the imagination, even if the result isn’t the best. “The Valley of Gwangi” was a good film, of course. The other one that plays the same game and I find really attractive (apart from “Outlander” with its Vikings vs Alien Monster scenario) is the “Aztec Rex” film I talked about a while back:


    It sounds very “Gwangi” (which is a generic term we should adopt for any film that mixes dinosaurs and an unusual historical setting).

  6. Nachthymnen says:

    Fabulous news, I really hope that this project will be watchable one day! Wilds Vikings, dinosaurs, giant eagles, zeppelins… what a fantastic movie it could be.

  7. Backbrain says:

    I thoroughly agree, Nachthymnen. Let’s hope it makes it through Development Hell!

  8. Terry Frost says:

    WW1 Diggers versus zombies, hippies versus marabunta, frustrated 1950s Douglas Sirk style housewives versus bunyips. How Gwangi! 😉

  9. Backbrain says:

    Ha! They all sound good to me, Terry! 1920s Flappers vs the Hydra!

  10. Helen says:

    That is a brilliant concept. I hope it flies. Oops. Sorry about the pun.

  11. Backbrain says:

    The pun’s inevitable, Helen!

  12. Avery says:

    I’m with Helen this is a brilliant concept,and I think that it would make one hell of a movie!! I could even see it as a potential series.Imagine that one.

  13. Alan Brooks says:

    I did not do the comic cover displayed here but I was down to do the future covers and the comic pages themselves when I had finished my work on Flying Saucers vs the Earth for Ray Harryhausen Presents and Bluewater. Then I got the news that all was not well and the comic was stopped. I didn’t pursue it further. Internal wranglings etc.If a movie got made it could be breath taking.

  14. Backbrain says:

    Thanks for dropping by with that information, Alan, though I’m sad to hear that the comic didn’t happen. Internal wranglings have a lot to answer for! I think these comments indicate that the fans agree with you about what a movie would be like!

    Tell me, what exactly is “Ray Harryhausen Presents”? Does it actually have anything to do with Ray himself?

  15. Alan Brooks says:

    ‘Presents’ is looking at movies such as ‘Earth vs the Flying Saucers’ from the perspective of the aliens -hence, ‘Flying Saucers vs the Earth’. Ray himself oversees and approves everything with his partner Arnold Kunert. The Bluewater Productions publisher is Darren Davis and they work together on projects. My cover art for issue #1 should give you an idea. I genuinely always liked the movie and know that it spurred on tongue in cheek pieces like Mars Attacks. My blog is covering the release of the comics I have been / and am working on in the series, and more.

  16. Avery says:

    WOW=Alan Brooks=WOW!!!!The Alan Brooks!!

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  22. Richfrog says:

    Hey I found this cool youtube clip discussing War Eagles:


    I also read the book. It’s sweet. You feel like you’re watching a movie when you read it.

  23. Backbrain says:

    Thanks for that link, Richfrog. A very valuable addition!

  24. Tim says:

    I’m hoping they keep the dinosaurs in the movie… Are the aforementioned saurian fauna in the novel?

  25. Backbrain says:

    Tim, I’m not even sure the movie will ever happen. Every now and then there are rumours, but there’s been no new information escaping into the world — not that that I’m aware of. The IMDb entry is still active, last updated in January this year, but it’s status as “pre-production” doesn’t suggest that it has progressed much beyond initial negotiations. The comic version I mentioned in the article fell through because of copyright problems or something. Either way, I haven’t heard anything about the proposed content of the film.

  26. Tim says:

    Yeah. It looks like Jurassic Park Iv’s fallen through as well. And I’m ready to give up on Godzilla 3-D

  27. Richfrog says:

    I comb the net regularly for news on this film and my searches are usually extensive. If any news pops up I’ll find it.

    Harryhausens website seems to be down. That could be bad or perhaps it’s being formatted with War Eagles in mind. I’m remaining hopeful.

  28. Richfrog says:

    O.k. it was Ray Harryhausens Birthday yesterday and I did find one update:


    Andy Briggs has been added as a screenwriter to the list of people helping the project. This is relatively new info and the first update I’ve seen to the war eagles info in a while.

  29. Backbrain says:

    Thanks for the heads-up, Rich. Fingers crossed for a full announcement soon.

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  31. Richfrog says:

    Holy crap this is to cool to not mention!!!

    Check this out-



  32. Backbrain says:

    This is terrific, Richfrog! In fact, I’ve done a whole new article about it — crediting you, of course.


  33. Richfrog says:

    Thanks! Lot’s of cool stuff in the new article. I hope whoever bought the war eagles auction stuff will come forward and share their treasures. I have been watching the project closely and have read the book. I hope this sees the light of day. I read somewhere that Harryhausen managed to acquire the rights to War Eagles from the O’Brien family but haven’t been able to locate the article.

    I will try to be the eyes and ears of this project.

  34. Richfrog says:

    This is the only thing new I could find on the project:


  35. Robert Hood says:

    Great resource, Rich. Thanks for that. I might have to do a new article gathering this stuff. No news on the proposed film, I assume?

  36. David Poyer says:

    Hi Robert – nice piece. May I reference it in my upcoming article on Cooper for SHIPMATE?
    Yours in the Word,
    dave poyer.

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