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The Guns of Navarone Movie Review

war mallory awards anthony

1961 – J. Lee Thompson –

This first in the line of sabotage-suspense war movies rather than battle pictures takes place in the Mediterranean Sea in the later years of World War II. Captain Mallory (Gregory Peck) believes that he is going on leave until he is pressed into leading a group of soldiers and guerillas to sabotage a German artillery base on the island fortress of Navarone. To blow up the big guns, the men must first scale a 400-foot cliff and then, if they have survived, sneak undetected into the enemy base and plant explosives. Each man has a particular specialty that qualifies him for this mission—all are renegades. As the movie follows each day of the mission, they encounter storms at sea, German patrols, broken bones, and betrayals from within. Still, they persist in fighting against time to stop the guns that will be used against their fellow troops.

A solid cast makes this film a pleasure to watch. Peck is perfect as the hard, quiet Mallory who hates the assignment but embraces his duty as leader. Anthony Quinn is grand as his Greek buddy who has sworn to kill Mallory after the war because of an accident he caused. David Niven is a bit old for Corporal Miller, but catches perfectly the sardonic, resentful attitude of one who hates the mission and the war itself.

The ensemble makes the action feel real, but setting is the other key ingredient to the film's power. Stark Greek islands, ruins that could hide whole regiments undetected, quaint villages of people seeking to celebrate life and to forget the war, German fortifications that look as permanent as the earth itself—all are used to build suspense and further the story as well as provide the backdrop for the movie. Dimitri Tiomkin's award-winning score also combines pathos and suspense with Greek harmonies for authenticity and effect.

The Guns of Navarone has an against-all-odds plot that may seem a bit stale today, but the audience of 1961 had rarely seen anything like it. Part of the credit surely owes to Alistair MacLean, the author of this novel and many other adventure tales that applied the trickery of mystery plotting to the action of a war story. Non-stop conflict and one subplot that played directly into the next left no time for popcorn or a smoke (yes, you could smoke at the movies in 1961). You sat at the edge of your seat, left a little breathless from the exertion, wanted to see the movie again to catch the parts you had missed—and a genre was born.

Cast: Gregory Peck (Captain Keith Mallory), Anthony Quinn (Andrea Stavros), David Niven (Corporal Miller), Stanley Baker (CPO Brown), Anthony Quayle (Major Franklin), James Darren (Spyros Pappadimos), Irene Papas (Maria Pappadimos), Gia Scala (Anna), James R. Jushke (Narrator), Richard Harris (Barnsby), Bryan Forbes (Cohn), Allan Cuthbertson (Baker), Albert Lieven (The Commandant), George Mikell (Sessler), Michael Trubshawe (Weaver) Screenwriter: Carl Foreman Cinematographer: Oswald Morris Composer: Dimitri Tiomkin Producer: Carl Foreman for Open Road Productions; released by Columbia Pictures Running Time: 156 minutes Format: VHS, LV Awards: Academy Awards, 1961: Special Effects; Nominations: Director (J. Lee Thompson), Editing, Original Dramatic/Comedy Score, Picture, Sound, Screenplay (adaptation); Golden Globe Awards, 1961: Best Picture—Drama, Score Budget: $3M.

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