Our reviews of The Guns Of Navarone: Collector's Edition (published May 8th, 2007), The Guns Of Navarone: Superbit Edition (published December 21st, 2004), and The Guns of Navarone (Blu-ray) (published October 10th, 2011) are also available.
An impenetrable fortress, an invincible army…and the unstoppable commando team.
A grand action/adventure film of courage, old-fashioned heroism and sacrifice, The Guns of Navarone is the sort of movie that gives you that warm, patriotic glow.
The Guns of Navarone is a simple yet effective adventure film that has stood the test of time, thanks to strong lead actors and a deceptively simple screenplay by Carl Foreman (High Noon, The Bridge on the River Kwai) based on the book by Alistair MacLean (who had many of his novels brought to the big screen, such as Ice Station Zebra and Where Eagles Dare). There are no messy subplots or hugely over-the-top action and special effects extravaganzas to distract you from the slowly building tension as the never say die commando team creeps towards its goal. At times, the action does take so long to unfold (such as during the early climbing sequence) that a dash of tedium is introduced, but this is soon remedied.
Modern audiences may not easily accept the earnest yet serious acting in The Guns of Navarone. Gregory Peck (Captain Horatio Hornblower, To Kill a Mockingbird, Cape Fear (1962 and 1991!)) is masterful as the unflappable leader with nerves of steel and a laser-focused will, yet who keenly feels the terrible burden of wartime leadership. Anthony Quinn (take your pick from 151 movies listed in IMDb!) is every-inch his fiery, intensely emotional equal, and David Niven (Around the World in Eighty Days, The Pink Panther, Casino Royale) handles his delicate role with excellence, striking the right balance between dry humor and repressed fear. His riveting oration (in the middle of Chapter 18) and his unmasking of the traitor (in Chapter 22) are simply marvelous gems of acting.
The Guns of Navarone are in fact two massive German artillery pieces nestled in an impenetrable German fortress on the Mediterranean island of Navarone. These guns are so formidable that they prevent the British Royal Navy from evacuating 2000 trapped men on a nearby island before a scheduled German bombardment blows them into tiny pieces. Conceived as a desperate, impossible throw of the dice, a small commando team is assembled to do or die in the attempt.
Captain Mallory (Gregory Peck) is a world-class mountain climber and espionage agent, Colonel Andreas Stavrou (Anthony Quinn), the fiery commander of a destroyed Greek Army regiment and now a skilled resistance fighter and sworn enemy of Mallory, Major Roy Franklin (Anthony Franklin), who planned the operation and will lead the team, Corporal Miller (David Niven), a flippant, lazy explosives genius, "Butcher" Brown (Stanley Baker), a mechanical marvel and skilled killer, and Private Spiro Pappadimos (James Darren), a "born killer."
A disquieting security breach mars the hasty planning of the team, but there is no time to lose. The team leaves for Navarone, disguised as the crew of a disreputable Greek fishing boat. A nosy German patrol craft (and her crew) are dealt with in direct fashion, leaving the team to battle severe weather and high seas as its journey continues. They reach land in unconventional fashion only to face an insane climb of a nearly sheer cliff at night and in a heavy rain. Ascent is slow, perilous, but ultimately successful. However, Major Franklin is severely injured and unable to walk, impeding the team's mobility.
After a long, weary journey, dodging German patrols buzzing about, they reach the ruins of St. Alexis and make contact with the local Greek resistance forces in the persons of Maria Pappadimos (Irene Papas), Spiro's sister, and her friend Anna (the fetching Gia Scala). They head for the nearby city of Mandrakos, skirting even more German patrols and dodging a few bombs as well. Upon reaching the city, they look for medical attention for Major Franklin and supplies for the team, but instead find only hordes of German troops and are speedily captured.
Quick thinking and quicker action spring the team from captivity, though Major Franklin is left behind to receive the medical treatment he desperately needs. Now dressed in German army uniforms, the team commandeers a truck and finds some brief rest at a Greek church before continuing their perilous journey. Infiltrating the fortress protecting the guns, the team pauses briefly before their final strike. Suddenly, Corporal Miller breaks the tense calm with the declaration that someone on the team is a traitor, because all of his timers and fuses have been expertly stolen or sabotaged. He further notes all of their close scrapes and describes how they could have been caused by careful, concealed spycraft. In the cold reality of the situation, Mallory knows that they must summarily deal with the traitor to protect the mission, and so it is done.
All that is left is the final assault to destroy the guns and escape. While the rest of the team raises distracting mayhem all through the fortress and surrounding city, Mallory and Miller inch their way to the guns' cave and set an ingenious trap for the Germans the next time the guns are used. Not all of our heroes make it out alive, but their sacrifice is not in vain! The weary survivors are pleased, but bone-tired all the same.
The restored and digitally mastered anamorphic video transfer is a solid production. Aside from moderate to light film grain, a handful of minor film defects, some loss of detail and limited color saturation, the picture is quite clean, clear, and a pleasure to watch. I detected no digital enhancement artifacts and found the blacks, shadow detail, and flesh tones to be commendable. It may not be quite the equal of its restored contemporary Dr. No, but The Guns of Navarone comes in very close in overall quality of picture.
As part of the restoration, Columbia remixed the original stereo soundtrack into a 5.1 mix using the "four channel master magnetic soundtrack." While this new mix will not knock your socks off, it does improve the imaging of the front soundstage, provide some occasional, modest action for the rear surrounds, and subtly increase the bass punch. Not bad for a nearly forty year old movie!
The extra content is commendable for a film that is nearly forty years old. The most valuable item is the 30 minute retrospective documentary "Memories of Navarone" (produced by the fine folks at Sharpline Arts) that is primarily interviews with the major cast members and the director, who tell their memories of each other and the toil of making such a film, mixed in with bits of the film, behind the scenes photos, and the like. This adds a lot of color to The Guns of Navarone in a way that even the best commentary track cannot do. Speaking of the devil, the audio commentary by director J. Lee Thompson is perhaps not the best of its kind, with the now senior citizen gentleman prone to pauses and a degree of "what's on the screen" disease, but once he gets warmed up, he is up to the challenge. Mr. Thompson (Cape Fear (1962), Conquest of the Planet of the Apes) has an evident love for his craft and clearly enjoyed the challenge of making The Guns of Navarone
The four original black and white featurettes ("Great Guns," "No Visitors," "Honeymoon on Rhodes," and "Two Girls on the Town") are short…
One small note: be sure to catch Richard Harris as a impudent Australian pilot early in the film.
The Rebuttal Witnesses
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.
A fine wartime tale of heroism and adventure, The Guns of Navarone is just the thing if you have some patience and a taste for an old-fashioned movie on a grand scale. Thanks to Columbia, the movie receives a treatment worthy of its stature and which belies its forty-year old pedigree!
The Court finds The Guns of Navarone worthy solely of praise, and declines to file any charges. Columbia is commended for its excellent work, with best wishes for the future of its DVD output.
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Scales of Justice
• Director's Commentary Track
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