The Guns of Navarone
One of the best war movies to come out has been the 1960’s movie The Guns of Navaronne. Now hold it, Guns is not a WW2 classic in the league of Bridge on River Kwai, Saving Private Ryan and Paths of Glory. Nor is it a holocaust epic like Schindlers List or The Pianist. The Guns is more a straight forward tale of “guys lets get together and conduct an operation”. It was a very popular genre in the 60’s especially, when you had movies like Where Eagles Dare, The Dirty Dozen, Kelly’s Heroes, The Train to name a few. The formula was simple, get in some big shot names, come up with a story of a derring do plot on a Nazi base, show them as idiotic, brainless goofs and add in the obligatory female company. In that aspect The Guns of Navaronne is no different, but where it strikes out, is the movie has a sensible script, good enough twists, strong character development and enthralling action sequences.
I guess that is particularly due to Carl Foreman, one of the finest script writers of Hollywood who had movies like High Noon and Bridge on River Kwai to his credit. Foreman produced and also co wrote the screenplay along with Alistair Maclean, whose other movie adaptations like Where Eagles Dare, Ice Station Zebra were runaway successes.The movie is about two huge guns in the German base on the island of Navaronne. These guns prove to be the major obstacle for the Allied ships trying to rescue 2000 British soldiers stranded on island of Kheros. And so a team is choosen for this operation headed by Maj. Roy Franklin( Anthony Quayle). The team consists of Capt Keith Mallory( Gregory Peck), an expert mountaineer, Cpl John Miller( David Niven) an explosives expert, Col Andrea Stavros(Anthony Quinn), a Greek resistance fighter, Pvt Butcher Brown( Stanley Baker) ,a communications expert and Sypros Pappadimos(James Darren), another Greek resistance fighter.
Only problem is Franklin has to lead a team of highly egoistic individuals, Miller doesn’t like being ordered around, Stavros hates Mallory, holding him responsible for the death of his family, Butcher Brown is absolutely hot headed.To make matters worse, they have to face eavesdropping laundry boys, a Nazi attack on their boat, and a violent storm that wrecks their boat. During the climb on mountain, Franklin falls and breaks his leg.
Mallory reluctantly takes over the group. And in their mission, they are also joined by two Greek women Maria( Irene Papas) and Anna( Gia Scala). A mission that was tough from the beginning becomes positively worse, as apart from moving around the injured Franklin, they also have to contend with biggest fact, that there is a traitor in the group, who is leaking out information to the Nazis. How they unmask the traitor, best the Nazis and finally succeed in their mission, is best left to be seen on the screen.
The Guns of Navaronne has some pretty great action sequences which one would expect from a movie of this kind. One of the best sequences is the storm, and how the crew face it, and the subsequent mountain climb in pitch darkness and blinding rain. Also a number of adrenaline stuff, like the Nazi’s attack on their boat, the scenes where Andrea misleads the Nazis and of course the nail biting climax.
Where Guns proves to be a class act, is the taut sharp dramatic sequences. One of the best of them, is when Andrea starts to play a double game with his Nazi captors, claiming to be a poor fisherman forced into this, and how he fools them.
As also the exchange of words between Miller and Mallory, where Miller accuses him of being heartless and insensitive to Roy’s plight. The characterization is one of the better parts of the movie, and we really feel for the characters. That elevates this movie from the standard spot the star WW2 epics, where characters just walk in and out, and you don’t really care.
Director Lee Thompson, keeps up the tempo, never letting the viewer interest flag even for a moment. Just when you think you are beginning to know it all, comes another twist in the tale. And of course there are enough action sequences to satisfy the adrenaline lover.
Gregory Peck as Mallory, who is forced to lead a team, not under his control, is brilliant, particularly in the sequence where he emphasizes with Miller, that he is deep in operation and he better deliver.
David Niven as Miller puts in a classy performance. Two scenes stand out, one where he admonishes Mallory, and the best one being where he unmasks the traitor in the group.
And finally Antony Quinn as the ruthless Stavros gives the best performance of the movie. He simply steals the show. And the scene where he fools the Nazi’s and outwits them is outstanding. Great performances, tight script and some good action sequences ensure that Guns of Navaronne remains one of the finest WW2 movies to come from Hollywood.