What an absolute beauty!
J. Lee Thompson’s “The Guns of Navarone” is a roaringly entertaining action WWII flick, complete with sterling performances from some of the best actors of its time and some pretty interesting commentary on the ethics of warfare. There was a moment about three quarters of the way through, where I had been watching and wondering why the film felt so familiar, and I realised that it was because I had seen it with my grandfather when I was about seven. Admittedly I had been waiting until he fell asleep in his big comfy telly chair (this wasn’t too much to ask for considering he nodded off all the time and I had just poured him a whiskey, my special job whenever my sisters and I visited) to turn it over to Cartoon Network, but it was a fun little memory nonetheless. It did make me a little bit sad however, to realise that he used to love the old films on Fox Classics and I never really paid attention, because it would have been fun to watch “The Guns of Navarone” with him again now.
WWII epics are a great genre in their own right; I’m excited to see “Bridge Over the River Kwai” having now seen “The Guns of Navarone”. The film isn’t exactly steeped in fact, but is based off Alastair MacLean’s 1957 novel off the same name following the efforts of a commando unit comprising an assortment of individuals from the Allied forces to destroy a formidable German fortress on an the Greek island of Kheros, which was threatening and preventing Allied naval ships from freeing some 2000 British soldiers marooned. Comprising this assault team are Major Roy Franklin (Anthony Quayle), acclaimed spy Keith Mallory (Gregory Peck with a confusingly American accent considering he’s playing a British Captain), Andrea Stavrou (Anthony Quinn), a Colonel from the Greek army, explosives expert and devilishly charming Corporal Miller (David Niven) Greco-American and Navarone local Spyros Pappadimos (James Darren) and “Butcher” Brown (Stanley Baker) so named because of his expertise in knife fighting. They are later joined by Spyros’ sister Maria (Irene Papas) and her friend Anna (Gia Scala), who hasn’t spoken since she had been captured and tortured by German soldiers.
Despite the film being well over two hours, its so action packed and slickly paced that the run time just flew by. The dialogue between the characters is clipped and beautifully written, aided of course by Niven’s sensational old school British brogue and Gregory Peck’s transatlantic lilt. The sparring between the protagonists is particularly gripping when they debate the moral justifications of manipulation and deceit in the name of the mission, and the danger that misplaced mercy can play in warfare. The plot is interesting, because the primary goal in terms of the war is gripping enough in itself, but when the individual resentments and conflicts within the group threaten the mission, (and a brilliantly executed betrayal that came out of absolutely nowhere), its absolutely spellbinding.
As an action film, “The Guns of Navarone” is jam pack full of spectacle and suspense. The set pieces and stunt work are phenomenal, especially so when their boat is barraged with cyclonic rain and when the men scale a towering cliff off the coast of Greece before launching their attack on Navarone. The combat scenes are fast paced and sharp and the game of cat and mouse between our crew and the enemy is wildly entertaining. The baddies are real baddies, the soundtrack is patriotic and exciting and we want the good guys to win and there’s something so refreshing about how uncomplicated it all is. My heart pounded when things were looking tense, I was often genuinely sitting on the edge of my seat and (the film’s been around for a little while now so hopefully this isn’t spoiling it for anybody) when the good guys do win and the baddies get whats coming to them, I was practically beaming.
Epic action flicks from this era really do it well. This was a riveting, often thought provoking and wonderfully fun ride, with some superb actors doing their thing and a barrage of phenomenal action scenes which still hold up today. This is the kind of movie that knows exactly what its doing and knows what its audience is looking for. “The Guns of Navarone” is a good old fashioned romp of a movie which I’ll no doubt be returning to again, maybe next time with a glass of whiskey and a cheers to my grandpa.
By Jock Lehman