August 15, 2012
The Guns of Navarone (1961)
Grade: 51/100

Director: J. Lee Thompson
Stars: Gregory Peck, David Niven, Anthony Quinn

What it's about. This World War II tall tale stars Gregory Peck as the leader of a small Allied military unit with a seemingly impossible mission. They are to take out the two massive guns of Navarone, a small island near Greece. The guns must be detonated, or they will sink an Allied fleet sent to rescue 2K Allied soldiers on Crete, who will otherwise have to defend their island against a German invasion. And we can't allow that!

The other noble and heroic men on the mission include David Niven as a sarcastic detonations expert, Anthony Quinn as a manly man, Anthony Quayle as a British officer, and two generic young men (Stanley Baker, James Darren) made expendable by the presence of three A-list stars. In the course of their improbably (yet inevitably) successful mission they are joined by two Greek resistance leaders, comely young mute Gia Scala and the more stereotypical Irene Papas.

The leads are many years too old to be on such a mission, especially Niven, who was past 50. But although actors of the correct age have the advantage of meriting lower salaries, they lack the name recognition requisite for greenlighting a costly Hollywood production.

How others will see it. The Guns of Navarone was critically praised and a box office smash. It won the Golden Globe for best picture in the more prestigious Drama category. It was nominated for seven Oscars, including best picture, best director, and best adapted screenplay. It won only for best special effects in a year dominated by the also overrated West Side Story.

At it has a highly respectable 21K votes and a high average grade of 7.6. The user ratings are very consistent across age and gender demographics.

The success of the film has to do with expectations. The Allied soldiers may gripe but are courageous and selfless. The Germans are ideal bad guys in that no one can take their side since they are inhumanly ruthless and ceaseless, the exception being a sole "Good German" commander who becomes squeamish when an Allied officer is mildly tortured.

There are a couple of martyrs who die only after taking out a number of the enemy, but the most famous actors persevere to the end. Did I tell you that the guns get blown up in the final minutes of the movie? How could it be otherwise?

How I felt about it. The movie is basically a series of unbelievable action scenes separated by fairly lengthy patches of sardonic dialogue. The team should have been wiped out in scene after scene. For example, when their ship is boarded by German soldiers, who know exactly whom they are looking for, the soldiers can do nothing more than search the ship lazily until the Allied team has the drop on them, and kills all of them without a single casualty. This scene is essentially repeated when the top local Nazi commanders are fooled by a blatantly suspicious "traitor" performance by Quinn.

This is followed by a scene in which the boat is destroyed by a storm, yet the crew gets ashore anyway with all the important equipment. Then all members of the crew manage to scale an impossibly steep and vertical cliff at night without detection by the Germans who are supposed to be looking for them. Even David Niven does the rope climb of a thousand feet!

We are to believe that Peck can speak German as well as a German, Greek as well as a Greek, yet is English despite an American accent, and is an expert mountain climber and a military officer. Perhaps this is most incredible of all, even more so than the character of Gia Scala, whose purportedly whipped backside was never checked by any of the resistance before assigning her such a critical mission.

If she was made a double agent, why delay in returning her to the resistance? Why make her mute when she would be a more effective (and credible) double agent if she continued to speak? If she is such a coward, why would she participate in the resistance movement in the first place?

It is interesting that such a heroic military fantasy exists when there are undoubtedly myriad true stories from World War II that are worthy of filming. But people would rather watch nonsense about six men defeating a thousand enemy soldiers in four days.