Sunday, June 10, 2012


(June 1961, U.S.)

Although the concept of the "summer blockbuster" didn't exist in 1961, I can only just try to picture myself in a movie theater in June of that year watching THE GUNS OF NAVARONE unfold on the big screen. This is not only one of the best war films I've ever seen, but also a tale of sheer adventure and courage that, even today, get my blood up in excitement every time I watch it. Corny as that may sound, it's these emotions that ultimately make a film great for those who appreciate it.

Gregory Peck as Captain Keith Mallory leads the efforts of an Allied commando team to destroy a seemingly impregnable German fortress of massive radar-directed guns on the nearby island of Navarone that threaten Allied naval ships in the Aegean Sea, and prevent 2,000 isolated British troops from being rescued. Like any great war film with great actors, you come to know, understand and even care about the soldiers involved. Captain Mallory is as American a war hero as you could ever come to expect on screen during the age of great cinema. But it's the other soldiers of foreign lands that tend to capture your attention here. In particular, there is the role of Andrea Stavrou (played by Anthony Quinn), a former Colonel in the defeated Greek army who is not only hell-bent on killing Germans, but also swears a personal vendetta against Mallory for being indirectly involved in the murder of his wife and children. Throughout the film, despite the teamwork between the two men, we as the viewer are lead to truly believe that Stavrou will kill Mallory at the end of the war, because "he's from Crete and they don't make idle threats." Cliche, though, is key in any war film where the Germans are our enemies because not only do all the men achieve victory together, but the two men in question here inevitably reach a common understanding and respect; the kind of respect that exist between soldiers that I personally find truly unique.

There's a particulary interesting element in the story when one of the men, Major Roy Franklin (played by Anthony Quayle) breaks his leg to the extreme of having to be left behind with the Germans in order to receive proper medical care. Mallory cleverly gives Franklin false information about their mission, knowing full well that the Germans will use an injecton of scopolamine to obtain the information they want. It's a minor tactical maneuver that does pay off because it gets the soldiers to their target and the guns of Navarone are destroyed.

By the 1960s, war films like THE GUNS OF NAVARONE featured a little more violence and explosive action that would become standard in the more modern war films you may have seen. There is a grand splendor of widescreen color action and adventure that can only come with a film of the past, when movie still truly mattered. It reminds me of the fact that I haven't seen a good action-filled World War II film on the big screen since SAVING PRIVATE RYAN (1998) and faven't seen a war film of any kind on the big screen since WE WERE SOLDIERS (2002). That's ten long years. With so much attention being paid to alien invasion 3D movies now, I fear the great war film with the great cast is dead and buried. Sad, indeed.

Favorite line or dialogue:

Corporal John Anthony Miller: "Now just a minute! If we're gonna get this job done, she has GOT to be killed! And we all know how keen you are on getting the job done! Now I can't speak for the others, but I've never killed a woman before, traitor or not and I'm finicky. So why don't you let us OFF for once! Come on, be a pal, be a father to your men! Come down off that cross of yours, close your eyes, think of England and pull the trigger! What do you say, sir??"


  1. On memorial Day last week, TCM ran a whole series of World War Two movies and even John Wayne's Vietnam era Green Berets. Right in the middle of this orgy of great 60s adventure films was "The Guns of Navarone". I loved the misdirection with the false information to Quales character. It was a good example of the improvisational nature of these wartime espionage films. J.Lee Thompson actually received an Academy Award Nomination for directing this movie. One of the few times a straight action director has been so honored. Although he gets the best lines, I thought David Niven's character was the weakest link in the story. He seems to be made to lose his temper with very little motivation, and although he serves as the counter point in many of the internal disputes, I often felt like the drama of those conflicts grew out of the scripts need for something else rather than the story. That said, I loved how his character improvises the trigger for the explosives and sets up a fake trigger for the Germans to discover. There was a sequel of sorts a few years after. I don't know if you saw my post on it last year but of you have time, here it is:

    You are right about the lack of great war films. All of the ones that have focused on Iraq or Afghanistan have been political films rather than straight forward action/adventure films. The only one that I could strongly recommend was "The Hurt Locker". It is more drama based but it does have some incredible suspense scenes. We need a good "men on a mission" war film from a strong action director. WWII was a big enough canvas to give us room for those kinds of films as well as serious dramas. Maybe we need another film set in occupied France. One that stars someone other than Channing Tatum or Matt Damon.

  2. Yes, I watched a good portion of THE GUNS OF NAVARONE on TCM on Memorial Day and then took great pleasure in watching it all over again in full for my post.

    Surprisingly, I did enjoy GREEN ZONE (2010) with Matt Damon; a good combination of combat action and political drama. I didn't see it on screen, though.

    I saw FORCE TEN FROM NAVARONE a couple of times, but didn't love it enough to own the DVD. But what a cast at the time, right? Some of the most popular faces fresh from roles in JAWS, ROCKY, STAR WARS and THE SPY WHO LOVED ME!