Saturday, July 9, 2011

The Guns Of Navarone

 My god it would have to be at least thirty years since I last saw this classic! I can unequivocally say it is one of the films that as a boy inspired my life long interest in military history. Ah the memories because I remember all too well reading the 1957 Alastair MacLean novel it is based on as well as his other war novels, Force 10 From Navarone, Where Eagles Dare, and HMS Ulysses. Where would I have been without such novels, movies and a very heavy dose of Commando comics??!

 Alastair MacLean was still alive and writing when I was a boy in the early 1980's. He is probably less known to a younger generation but in his time he was probably the best thriller writer of his generation. Whilst his novels may now be dated somewhat his legacy to his chosen genres cannot be disputed. Unfortunately I knew I wouldn't be able to find the time to read the first Navarone novel before watching the DVD as I would have preferred to do. It too must be thirty years as well since I last read it so I borrowed a copy from my library of which I shall start on soon.

 Well after thirty years there was so much I had forgotten about this film. I always remember the model guns sitting in the cliffs though!! They are the whole point of the movie so that isn't surprising is it?! But everything else was all new me again which added to my nostalgia. The cast I knew and could name, and I had an added interest to re-visit this as I watched Gregory Peck with Audrey Hepburn in Roman Holiday last week. Certainly a fine performance and even though The Guns of Navarone has some serious flaws the acting is not one of them.

 The cast is superb and a good example of the  great names from the  1950's and early 60's. Peck, Quinn, Niven. Hawkins, and then heart throb James Darren ( to bring in the younger audience ), give this film a real edge. I found it hard to pick out an actor who stood out as they all had scenes that were their own. The one I liked the most was after the girl traitor is shot and Peck and Niven are left alone. In the space of a minute or so these two great actors both show why they are such legends.

 The film was a box office success and was nominated for six Oscars so it was seen as a film with quality. The acting is now its strength because visually it has dated. In 1961 this was a big budget blockbuster and a lot of money was spent on the special effects. Many of the scenes would be considered dangerous so mock ups were made in studios to replicate cliffs etc. They now look dated ( as one reviewer has said 'cring worthy' ), but it must be looked at through the eyes of the times. I think any film aficionado will appreciate the dated effects and view them as a piece of cinematic history.

 Instead of CGI in 1961 models were used. They are glaringly obvious but must have been fantastic in their day. The Star Wars film used models as well and the genesis of the method can be seen in Navarone. If you look carefully at the fortified town the guns are above the fore runner of CGI can be seen. It is animated and actually still effective as I have seen recent movies with CGI that was of the same quality. Also the party are attacked by a pair of Stukas. They are animated but surprisingly have dated well and looked really good, ( very reminiscent of the Stukas in Enemy at the Gates ). This must have been an incredibly expensive film to make in its day when you look at the amount of model work, animation, and hand built props that were created.

 The whole premise of the film is cobblers though! MacLean at the start of his novel says he likes writing war novels because they give the fictional writer great scope of story telling. But he stresses he hates war as he served in WW2 and believes it OK to write fictional war stories if they avoid glorifying it. Navarone is a fictional island as are the men trapped on Kheros. There was an Aegean Campaign and commando raids etc from the SBS ( Special Boat Service ). But in all reality the area was of secondary interest to the Germans who generally left it to the Italians to administer.
  Like many of the war films of the era the German equipment is actually American. The Greek Army was used for the Germans and hence their equipment too. I laughed at one stage as a bunch of Jerries jump into a truck with the name 'Dodge' on the tail board!! The tanks are American, and in fact for anyone with any military knowledge the whole film is military nonsense! I won't go into details but the film is 'high adventure' and reality is secondary to entertainment.

 All said and done though this is a good example of an early 1960's adventure movie. It has dated visually but for me I like that as it is a 'classic' and the quality of the cast compensates for the datedness. Militarily it is pure bollocks but still a great plot and story. Of course it is based on the novel by Alastair MacLean and his novels were the height of 'high adventure' for many decades. The film adaptation follows the novel fairly well with the only appreciable changes being in the characters. Added was a romantic sub-plot, and the identity of the traitor was changed. The two women were also not in the novel. The nationalities of some the men were also changed, ( for instance Peck's Mallory doesn't have his nationality mentioned, but in the novel he is a New Zealander ), but overall the book and movie are very similar.

 Still an influential film as it started the 'actioner' genre even within a war film. The cast is superb and has meant that this film hasn't slipped away into oblivion, because what made it an exciting film in its day now is severely dated. A younger generation may scoff at it but any serious cinema lover will appreciate it because of its enduring legacy to the genre and for the superb cast. After watching this I was reminded by the proverb,  'they don't make them like this anymore', and it is true because modern so called 'blockbusters' just cannot begin to replicate what a film like this represented sixty years ago. I really enjoyed my re-visit to this film, and oh the nostalgia! I think even for its obvious datedness you will enjoy it more if you have read Alastair MacLean's fine novel.

 Visually dated, but still a great example of a genuine 'blockbuster', and a piece of cinematic special effects history. ( MacLean wrote a sequel, the only one he did, titled Force 10 From Navarone. The film adaptation did not star the original cast and was a flop. Author Sam Llewellyn has also written several Navarone novels, so it is clear the impact the novel and film has had on popular culture).

Click here for a synopsis and more:

 ( We are fortunate this film was ever released because David Niven fell seriously ill during filming. He became ill from filming the scene where he is wiring the lift with explosives and is standing in water up to his waist. He nearly died and the whole project was in jeopardy. The producers came close to shutting it down and claiming the insurance, but fortunately Niven recovered and was able to finish filming ).


  1. I have this one recorded but have yet to watch it. I think the length is making it difficult to sit and watch.

    Even seeing the title makes me think of Jules Winfield, ha!

    Nice writeup on it, though, may have to hit play.

  2. Thanks!! It is dated and very obviously so. I've just read the novel today! The length for me isn't a problem as it moves along really well as a good blockbuster should.
    I enjoyed it immensely but I'm more a classics fan than a modern one.