Columbia Pictures // 1961 // 157 Minutes // Not Rated
Reviewed by Judge Dan Mancini (Retired) // May 8th, 2007
The greatest high adventure ever filmed!
Since the 2000 Special Edition release of The Guns of Navarone offers a high-quality home video presentation of the flick as well as an impressive slate of extras, you may be asking yourself if this double-dip is necessary. Probably not. Still, it offers a new, high-definition transfer of the picture (presented all by itself on Disc One of this two-disc set), nearly all of the supplements from the earlier release, and a sizable batch of extras exclusive to this set. Besides, it's been seven years since Sony released the Special Edition. One can hardly blame them for going back to the well on one of the best and most lucrative titles in their classics catalog. Surely, a BluRay release must be on the horizon.
1943. Two-thousand British troops are pinned down on the island of Kheros in the Aegean Sea. They have only one week to live because Hitler has planned a show of force on Kheros in order to convince neighboring Turkey to join the Axis. Allied attempts to rescue the men have failed because the channel to Kheros is guarded by two radar-controlled guns on the nearby island of Navarone. Air raids can't destroy the heavily fortified munitions. In a last desperate attempt to rescue the trapped soldiers, the Allies assemble a crack team of soldiers:
* Captain Keith Mallory (Gregory Peck, To Kill a Mockingbird) -- a
hardened, pragmatic fighter whose expertise in mountain climbing will be
essential in scaling the sheer cliffs of Navarone.
* Corporal Miller (David Niven, Bonjour Tristesse) -- the munitions expert charged with destroying the guns. Miller refuses to be made an officer because of his deep cynicism about the war.
* Colonel Andrea Stavros (Anthony Quinn, Zorba the Greek) -- a wily and resilient Greek officer with a grudge against Mallory.
* Major Roy Franklin (Anthony Quayle, Lawrence of Arabia) -- the team's kindly but no-nonsense leader, known for his daring and luck in difficult combat situations.
* Private Spyros Pappadimos (James Darren, Gidget) -- a born killer whose father leads the Greek resistance on Nazi-occupied Navarone.
* Private "Butcher" Brown (Stanley Baker, Zulu) -- a skilled mechanic who's deadly with a knife.
In one week's time, the Allies will send six destroyers to rescue the men on Kheros. Can the team of "pirates and cutthroats" they've assembled destroy the guns of Navarone in time to avert military disaster?
Over 45 years after its original release, it's a little odd to imagine that The Guns of Navarone was considered a high-octane action flick back in the day. Large chunks of the picture are comprised of characters standing or sitting around while engaged in expository conversations. Its first reel and a half is a lengthy voice-over narration followed by a series of meetings that spell out in fine detail the impossible mission at the film's center. Nothing is wrong with any of this. It's all part of the sprawling roadshow epic genre of which The Guns of Navarone is a part. But it's interesting, given the esteem in which the film is held, that modern audience's sensibilities rarely accept such languid pacing. If The Guns of Navarone were released today, it would probably be an abject failure instead of a classic. In today's world of rapid-fire editing and video game-style computer effects, Navarone may come off as slightly bloated and a bit stilted, but that's more our fault than its.
The picture's talkiness is both a (minor) curse and a blessing. Yes, it slows down the action. Yes, some of the dialogue is poorly written (though well performed by the cast of fine actors). That said, all of it is a result of producer Carl Foreman's desire to translate Alistair McLean's source novel to the screen as something more than an empty shoot 'em up. Foreman (who also wrote the screenplay) uses Peck's Mallory character as a fulcrum for exploring the ways in which war exposes the best and worst of humanity. When Major Franklin is seriously injured during the climb up Navarone, Mallory becomes the team's leader. His decisive pragmatism proves a rallying point for his team members but also a source of irritation as his focus on their goal sometimes manifests as an absence of compassion and basic human decency. Corporal Miller, in particular, is incensed at Mallory's cold-heartedness regarding Franklin's fate. It's difficult to object to or dismiss Miller's complaints because they're morally grounded in an acknowledgement of the value of human life. But Miller's a problematic chap, too: a shirker -- he's a university professor hiding out as a low ranking enlisted man in order to avoid having to make decisions that may result in other men's deaths -- he's too willing to sacrifice the men on Kheros in favor of Franklin simply because he doesn't know them personally. Whatever its shortcomings in the areas of pacing and dialogue, Foreman's screenplay is a fine piece of work because of its rich, delicate, and intelligent exploration of loyalty, duty, and honor. These themes permeate every scene of the movie. In The Guns of Navarone, war is a theater of bitter irony, requiring fallible men to make impossibly difficult decisions.
While Navarone may not offer wall-to-wall action, when the action sequences kick in, they're well constructed, kinetic, and lots of fun (especially during the final act). Bob Cuff's (The Longest Day) visual effects work is excellent, seamlessly mixing matte paintings and miniatures with director J. Lee Thompson's (Cape Fear ) first unit material. The action and effects hold up amazingly well considering the vintage of the picture. They comprise around 30 or 40 minutes of the film's 157-minute running time, but are judiciously spread throughout the story to ensure that the characters Ã planning, re-planning, and debate over the various iterations of the plans never put one to sleep.
In the restoration featurette included on Disc Two of this set (more on that later), UCLA film preservationist Robert Gitt details the poor condition of the original film elements. No separation negative had ever been made for The Guns of Navarone, and existing negatives were marred by severe vinegar syndrome. The audio tracks were in even worse shape. Gitt and his crew restored original elements when possible, but also relied on archive prints and elements owned by private collectors to produce the version of the film we have today. Given those obstacles, the transfer on this Collector's Edition DVD is spectacular. The image is occasionally marred by heavy grain and minor shifts in density, but overall it's absolutely gorgeous. Colors have the deep saturation associated with the dye-transfer process (original theatrical prints were dye-transfer jobs, but I have no idea whether the elements used for this transfer were created with the recently revived processed). Video artifacts are non-existent.
Both the film and digital restorations were performed prior to the release of the 2000 Special Edition DVD. I've never seen the earlier release, so I can't compare it to the image on this disc. I'm confident the Collector's Edition does have a new transfer, though, as the packaging specifies that it's a high-definition remaster. Moving all of the video supplements to a second disc should have allowed Sony to deliver a more textured and detailed image, too. In any event, you won't be disappointed with what you see here.
The many audio options from the Special Edition have found their way onto this new release. An original four-channel audio master in the possession of a private collector allowed for a Dolby 5.1 track that is muscular and even has a couple scenes with rear-to-front panning. A stereo surround mix of the original stereo audio is also presented, as is a variety of dubs including a Dolby 5.1 Portuguese track and two-channel mono mixes in French and Spanish. None of the audio options leave much room for complaint.
This new two-disc Collector's Edition repeats all of the supplements housed on the 2000 Special Edition (with the exception of some trailers and production notes), and adds many more. Disc One contains the commentary track by director J. Lee Thompson and vintage introduction for the film by writer-producer Carl Foreman (shot for Navarone's Australian premiere) from the earlier release. It adds a second, much more informative talk track by film historian Stephen J. Rubin.
Disc Two's main menu has two options:
* Memories of Navarone is the 30-minute making-of documentary produced for the 2000 Special Edition.
* Forging The Guns of Navarone: Notes from the Set is a new 14-minute piece that fills in some of the previous documentary's gaps.
* Ironic Epic of Heroism is a new 25-minute piece that delves more deeply into the movie's themes and narrative structure. Observation and analysis are provided by film historian Sir Christopher Frayling (Ken Adam: The Art of Production Design).
* "Great Guns," "No Visitors," "Honeymoon on Rhodes," and "Two Girls on the Town" are four vintage production and advertising featurettes repeated from the 2000 Special Edition.
* "A Heroic Score" is a 10-minute look at Dmitri Tiomkin's excellent score for the film.
* "Epic Restoration" is a 10-minute featurette that enlists Robert Gitt, the UCLA Film and Television Archive Preservation Officer who restored Navarone, to explain the extensive work that went into delivering the version of the film we have today. In his DVD Verdict review of the 2000 Special Edition, Judge Nicholas Sylvain wrote, "Whenever an older film such as The Guns of Navarone is restored, I am always very interested to learn how badly the film had deteriorated and what the restorers had to do in order to bring the film 'back to life.' This is one area that is hinted at but ignored, which is a regrettable omission." Consider the omission rectified.
* A narration-free prologue allows us to enjoy Tiomkin's score at the front of the picture sans actor James Robertson Justice's expository voice-over.
* "Roadshow Intermission" gives us a glimpse of what the rare roadshow presentations of The Guns of Navarone were like. Because very few people saw that version of the movie, the intermission was not integrated into the film proper on Disc One.
The DVD packaging also lists production notes and talent files which aren't actually on the disc, unless they're hidden somewhere as Easter eggs.
The highest compliment that I can pay The Guns of Navarone is that, over four decades after it debuted in theaters, it remains an enjoyable way to pass time on a lazy weekend afternoon. Casual fans of the film who already own the fine 2000 Special Edition can take a pass on this double-dip (though they'll be missing a good commentary track by Stephen J. Rubin). For the hardcore Navarone fan, this upgrade is a must-own.
Review content copyright © 2007 Dan Mancini; Site layout and review format copyright © 1998 - 2013 HipClick Designs LLC
Scales of Justice
Studio: Columbia Pictures
* 2.35:1 Anamorphic
* Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround (English)
* Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround (Portuguese)
* Dolby Digital 2.0 Surround (English)
* Dolby Digital 1.0 Mono (French)
* Dolby Digital 1.0 Mono (Spanish)
Running Time: 157 Minutes
Release Year: 1961
MPAA Rating: Not Rated
* Audio Commentary by Film Historian Stephen J. Rubin
* Audio Commentary by Director J. Lee Thompson
* "A Message from Carl Foreman"
* Forging the Guns of Navarone Documentary
* Ironic Epic of Heroism Documentary
* "A Heroic Score" Featurette
* "Epic Restoration" Featurette
* New Narration-Free Prologue
* New Roadshow Intermission
* Memories of Navarone Retrospective Documentary
* "Great Guns" Original Featurette
* "No Visitors" Original Featurette
* "Honeymoon on Rhodes" Original Featurette
* "Two Girls on the Town" Original Featurette
* Talent Files
* Production Notes
* Guns of Navarone: Special Edition Review
* Guns of Navarone: Superbit Review