The Guns of Navarone (1961)
The Guns of Navarone (1961)

Genre: Adventure and War Running Time: 2 hrs. 38 min.

Release Date: June 22nd, 1961 MPAA Rating: Not Rated

Director: J.Lee Thompson Actors: Gregory Peck, David Niven, Anthony Quinn, Stanley Baker, Anthony Quayle, James Darren, Irene Papas, Gia Scala

 


 

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reece has contributed to many legends of war and adventure, but this one is entirely grounded in reality. In 1943, 2,000 British soldiers were marooned on a tiny island in the Aegean Sea called Kheros. It was to be made an example of by the German war machine, hoping to draw neutral Turkey into the fold. Allied intelligence learned of the impending blitz and scrambled to plot a rescue. But the area was tightly controlled by two radar-controlled guns on the neighboring island of Navarone, which were far too powerful and accurate – and recessed into a cave – to risk attacking.

Nevertheless, the destruction of those guns was imperative to saving the troops. The story proper begins in an Allied airfield somewhere in the Middle East, where Captain Keith Mallory (Gregory Peck) arrives for a briefing of the defenses, listening in on a squadron leader’s account of the hopelessness of the situation (famously using the word “bloody” as an adjective more than half-a-dozen times). But informants on the island have discovered that a 400-foot south cliff is the only spot the Germans aren’t watching – an area that Mallory, paired with longtime associate Andrea Stavros (Anthony Quinn), just might be able to fly onto with a small team of saboteurs. The master operators are led by Major Roy Franklin (Anthony Quayle), and include an explosives expert (David Niven), a mechanical marvel and knife man (Stanley Baker), and an elite assassin (James Darren). Still, their chances at success are practically nonexistent.

“It’s just a waste of six good men.” With spies at every turn, a voyage on a rickety boat, random confrontations with German troops, foul weather, injuries, a daunting cliff to scale in heavy rains, and a 12-mile hike through St. Alexis – all before even nearing Navarone – the haggard team will have countless obstacles to overcome just to determine whether or not they can see the titular guns with their own eyes. With its setting of Greece and its sea/land/air adventures, “The Guns of Navarone” takes on the feel of a modern-day Sinbad epic, especially with its side missions and treks through varying terrain, each new locale posing fresh hindrances (breathtaking exteriors were filmed on Rhodes, in the Dodecanese Island area of the Aegean Sea).

When the action sequences hit, they’re thoroughly thrilling – from impressive water stunts to machine gun shootouts. But while the individual scenes look great, they carry on with multitudes of embellishments, stretching out the running time; each transition to another stretch of land takes its time to establish surrounding elements, threats, scenery, and extra characters. At one point, female roles turn up as Resistance fighters (Irene Papas and Gia Scala), imparting the brief notion of love interests (not originally in Alistair MacLean’s novel, though added to the script with his permission). Later on, though it’s intended to supplement tensions as the Germans move into Mandrakos, Darren gets a moment to sing part of a song.

Despite its length, “The Guns of Navarone” isn’t without genuine suspense. The heroes are outnumbered and the odds are against them, becoming underdogs entirely worthy of support; and just when their mission appears most infeasible, the stakes get higher and the hurdles more frequent. Plus, the picture offers up engaging moral conundrums and perspectives on war, from sacrificing human life in pursuit of victory; to the futility of winning, when it’s just one of countless armed conflicts that mankind will wage until the end of time; to the blame/responsibility of carrying out orders; to the act of killing itself. The finale is a touch overdramatic, but the film is nonetheless a first-class war epic.

– Mike Massie

  • 8/10