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GUNS OF NAVARONE, THE(director: J. Lee Thompson; screenwriters: from the book by Alistair MacLean/Carl Foreman; cinematographer: Oswald Morris; editor: Alan Osbigton; music: Dimitri Tiomkin; cast: Gregory Peck (Capt. Keith Mallory), Anthony Quinn (Col. Andrea Stavrov), Anthony Quayle (Maj. Roy Franklin), David Niven (Corporal Miller), Irene Papas (Maria Pappadimos), Gia Scala (Anna), Stanley Baker (CPO Brown), James Darren (Private Pappadimos); Runtime: 159; MPAA Rating: NR; producers: Carl Foreman/Cecil F. Ford; Columbia Pictures; 1961-UK)
“It was forgettable but highly entertaining.”

Reviewed by Dennis Schwartz

This Brit WW11 actioner is set in Greece. It uses studio sets to have the heroic figures do the impossible rock climbing scenes. Under the workmanlike direction of J. Lee Thompson (“Cape Fear,” 1961) from the script by producer Carl Foreman, which is based on the best-seller by Alistair MacLean, it becomes your typical crowd pleasing war film that questions wartime heroics but exploits their actions as part of its draw. It was forgettable but highly entertaining. It was priceless to watch Gregory Peck struggle with trite dialogue in Greek and German. Though every so often it comes up with a gem of a line, such as when Peck is asked if Anthony Quinn’s threat against his life is real. He replies: “He’s from Crete, those people don’t make idle threats.” The Guns of Navarone was nominated for Best Picture and Bill Warrington won an Oscar for special effects. It was among the top grossing films of 1961. The 1977 sequel, Force Ten From Navarone, was more or less a flop. It was filmed in scenic Rhodes.

The guns of Navarone are two massive Nazi cannons that are set on the Turkish cliffs of an Aegean island behind enemy lines and their presence makes the evacuation of 2,000 endangered British troops on a neighboring island quite the chore. Maj. Roy Franklin (Anthony Quayle) is the officer assigned by British intelligence to lead a six-man commando squad raid to take out the guns, which is viewed as a suicide mission. The squad is a disparate group of Allied and Greek soldiers, each trained as a specialist. The six-man commando team besides leader Franklin consists of expert mountaineer Captain Mallory (Gregory Peck), explosive’s expert Corporal Miller (David Niven), Greek resistance fighter Andrea Stravos (Anthony Quinn), marksman Private Pappadimos (James Darren) and hardened killer CPO Brown (Stanley Baker). The area can’t be bombed by air power because the weapons are located in a cave underneath a fortress, and bombing would only risk everyone’s lives. So it’s up to these brave band of commandos to blow up the big guns and make it to safety. The purpose of the mission also has political implications, so that taking out those guns will allow Turkey to remain neutral and not be forced to join the evil Axis.

When Quayle is injured the mission is turned over to the ruthless Mallory, who might not be ready to command such an important mission. There’s bad vibes between commando Peck, humanitarian Miller and Greek patriot Quinn. The tension is only heightened when it is learned that that there’s a traitor in their company.

Peck makes it clear he’s prepared to sacrifice his men in order to accomplish the mission. The commandos soon meet resistance leader Maria (Irene Papas), who is Pappadimos’ older sister, and Anna (Gia Scala), a pretty Greek girl tortured by the Germans. Maria acts to smoke out the traitor, as the film picks up steam and charges ahead to its exciting but predictable conclusion. Only a few more plot twists delay the inevitable.

When there’s no action, there’s an on-going debate about the morality of warfare among the diverse fighting men. This debate only needlessly lengthens the film and fails to be convincing. By the time the actioner concludes, it looks like too many other hero war films to be memorable.


Dennis Schwartz: “Ozus’ World Movie Reviews”