Sunday, September 21, 2014

The Guns Of Navarone

An exciting adaptation of Alistair MacLean’s best-selling 1957 novel, Columbia’s THE GUNS OF NAVARONE is one of the adventure genre’s most important and influential movies. By ramping up the action, spectacle, special effects, and high-stakes peril, director J. Lee Thompson (CAPE FEAR) and screenwriter Carl Foreman (THE BRIDGE ON THE RIVER KWAI) anticipate what the even more popular James Bond films would become (keeping in mind that it wasn’t until the fourth film, THUNDERBALL, that the 007 productions got as big as NAVARONE in terms of its scope and big setpieces).

A 1961 release, NAVARONE was nominated for seven Academy Awards, including Best Picture. It won only for its special effects. It remains a high point of the men-on-a-mission movie and is happy to provide pure adventure and thrills without getting bogged down in non-essential plot points and characterization. It also provided novelist MacLean with a major boost. NAVARONE was among the first MacLean book to receive screen treatment (Universal also released THE SECRET WAYS in 1961, but I don’t know which film was produced or released first), and movies were made of over a dozen others well into the 1990s.

The premise is nearly bulletproof and would be copied by director Roger Corman (MASQUE OF THE RED DEATH) and his producer brother Gene (TOBRUK) for their lower-key but still entertaining all-star potboiler THE SECRET INVASION in 1964. THE GUNS OF NAVARONE stars Gregory Peck (TO KILL A MOCKINGBIRD) as American captain Keith Mallory, an expert mountain climber handed a suicide mission by the Allied command.

Thompson sets up the story’s political background in a narrated prologue, but who cares about that? What’s important is Mallory’s assignment: infiltrating the island of Navarone in the Aegean Sea, scaling an unclimbable mountain cliff, and blowing up a pair of Nazi cannons. His team includes explosives expert David Niven (AROUND THE WORLD IN 80 DAYS), engineer Stanley Baker (YESTERDAY’S ENEMY), military leader Anthony Quayle (TARZAN’S GREATEST ADVENTURE), and two Greeks: baby-faced killer James Darren (THE TIME TUNNEL) and Anthony Quinn (ZORBA THE GREEK), who hates Mallory.

It wouldn’t be a suicide mission, of course, if everyone made it back safely, and NAVARONE throws a lot of roadblocks at its heroes. I like Thompson’s no-nonsense approach. These men aren’t supermen nor are they armed with handy quips every time a Nazi meets a bullet. Many scenes of suspense are played without dialogue, which is the way that professionals going about a job of work would handle themselves. The cast handles the drama and the pyrotechnics with equal aplomb with the Oscar-winning miniatures, mattes, and explosions the biggest stars in the picture.

1 comment:

James Reasoner said...

A great film, and also the inspiration for a classic line from The Dick Van Dyke Show: "You slept through 'The Guns of Navarone'?!"