The Guns of Navarone (1961) – J. Lee Thompson

Gregory Peck, David Niven, and Anthony Quinn bring World War II excitement to the big screen in The Guns of Navarone, a recommendation from the Great Movies – 100 Years of Film book for my screening of The Dam Busters.

Based on the novel by Alistair MacLean, and adapted by Carl Foreman, the story follows a group of British soldiers on a secret mission across occupied Greece to destroy a German gun emplacement that controls a strategic sea channel.

Peck is Mallory, the leader of the mission, while Niven gets a chance to play up some nice comedic moments as Miller, before proving he’s one of the smartest in the group, and Quinn serves as their Greek guide, Andrea. The story is big and expansive, wonderfully escapist fun, and features some stellar performances and enjoyable sequences.

Filled with action, and melodrama, this one is a great war film, that plays more to the escapist fantasy of war, with easily definable villains, heroic, good-looking heroes, and a clear, unambiguous mission.

Mallory and his men encounter untold dangers, not just from the Nazis, but the elements, and even time and watching powerhouses like Peck, Niven and Quinn take on the Nazis (including one played by Bond regular Walter Gotell).

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This one just ends up being fun. They really don’t make epic films like this anymore, and it’s fun to watch the all-star cast take on the baddies, and rescue their allies. Each man is an expert in his chosen field, and they have a finite amount of time to execute their plan, but there may be traitors in their midst.

Thompson keeps the film moving along rapidly, pausing momentarily for breath, as it rockets along, filling, easily, it’s two and a half hour runtime. Peck, as the film’s central star, is commanding to the point of intimidating, but his relationship with Quinn’s Andrea, evens that out a bit, while Niven makes pointed remarks about Mallory’s command decisions, though follows along willingly and bravely.

This one is a rip-snorting adventure, filled with actors at the top of their game, but it also, momentarily, every now and again, pose quandaries about the behaviours and actions of war, and who is ultimately responsible for the lives taken, the soldier that does the shooting, or the man who gave the order?

These introspective moments don’t last long, though I do like that they are brought up. Instead the assault continues, allies fall, but everyone is focused and working in the destruction of the guns, no matter the cost.

It’s a riotous adventure, that still entertains today, embracing its action beats with its melodrama, and making for a heck of a ride.

This was one of those classics that I had never seen, and loved settling in for the performances, the story, and the fun!

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