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The Guns of Navarone

4 Ratings: 3.8
A movie

The Guns of Navarone is a 1961 film based on a 1957 novel about World War II by Scottish thriller writer Alistair MacLean. It stars Gregory Peck, David Niven and Anthony Quinn, along with Anthony Quayle and Stanley Baker. The book and the film share … see full wiki

Genre: Drama, Action, War, Adventure
Release Date: June 22, 1961
MPAA Rating: Unrated
1 review about The Guns of Navarone

The GUNS Turn 50! The Definitive War Picture Gets Even Better with a 50th Anniversary Release

  • Oct 4, 2011
  • by
Rating:
+5
Arguably one of the finest pictures to confront the effects of war on seasoned commandoes, THE GUNS OF NAVARONE celebrates its fiftieth anniversary release – finally new to Blu-ray – on October 18, 2011, and I was fortunate enough to receive an exclusive screener pre-release copy in order to complete this review.
 
Based on the novel by Alistair MacLean, GUNS was adapted for the screen by Carl Foreman, the man also responsible for HIGH NOON and another seminal World War II picture, THE BRIDGE ON THE RIVER KWAI.  It was directed by J. Lee Thompson (a last minute but brilliant addition to the crew), and the film stars Gregory Peck, Anthony Quinn, and David Niven, along with a host of additional faces familiar to this era of motion pictures.
 
THE GUNS OF NAVARONE has always been one of my personal favorites, so I was excited to view this release on Blu-ray to see how the picture had endured the restoration process.  Much of the film looks amazing – there are a few notable sections of pronounced grain, and this is likely due to the condition of the aging negative as well as the fact that much of the film was shot in dark lighting – and the restored audio sounds terrific.  Also, Director Thompson deserves praise for his shot composition; throughout the picture, it’s clear that he went to great lengths to position primary and secondary elements, bringing the story to life against a rigorous schedule of external and studio shooting.  As a consequence of his efforts, the film is nearly seamless; tremendous effort went into matching studio sets to their external lighting conditions.  I counted less than a handful of noticeable differences.  That, and when you listen to commentary and learn that, in some cases, location shooting was done weeks if not months before matching studio shots were completed, it becomes clear that Thompson’s attention to detail was quite probably unmatched for its time.  Yes, the picture is simply that superior.
 
Historically, THE GUNS OF NAVARONE presented audiences with a bit of a departure from the usual war picture of its time.  Television had taken hold of the global consciousness, and motion picture studios were finding it increasingly difficult to create an audience for films, especially within the United States.  For that reason alone, producer and screenwriter Carl Foreman opted to produce GUNS – his first film after coming off the Hollywood Blacklist, a roughly ten year expulsion from the industry for refusing to participate with the House Un-American Activities Committee – with a greater international flair.  Gregory Peck, David Niven, and Anthony Quinn were at the height of their careers, with each actor drawing huge influences from their respective country of association.  This ‘mix’ of global influences gave GUNS the chance to speak more directly to the personal cost of war while lessening the usual ‘nationalist’ approach of trumpeting one country’s role in World War II.  Instead, these commandoes brought their own respective ‘baggage’ to the crack team assigned to destroy an impregnable Nazi base featuring two long-range guns wrecking havoc on Allied ships near the fictional island of Navarone.
 
And what baggage it is!  Gregory Peck – as Captain Keith Mallory – has grown weary of the war and of the responsibilities of command.  David Niven – as Cpl. Miller – has grown ever more cynical with military leadership, instead choosing to align himself only under officers he personally approves of.  Anthony Quinn – as Col. Andrea Stavros – has lost his family to the conflict, and he passes the days waiting for the war to end so that he can exact his vengeance on the man he blames for the death of his loved ones (Peck’s Capt. Mallory).  Stanley Baker – as Pvt. ‘Butcher’ Brown – has grown so tired of his trademark killing that he can hardly bear to kill in cold blood any longer.  And James Darren – as Pvt. Spyros Pappadimos – has become a killing machine, living his life in wait for the chance to release his bloodlust on an unsuspecting enemy.
 
These men are not the typical soldiers featured in the standard war picture of the time – they follow orders with a certain extent of professional reluctance, willing to accept their responsibilities only when the moment requires it.  Along the way, however, they’re torn between moments of faith and faithlessness in accomplishing their perilous mission, and they’re equally torn with accepting one another’s guidance, counsel, and command unless and until the mission demands it of them.  They’re patriots, but, thanks to some savvy writing and expert direction, they have to prove it not only to themselves but also to one another.
 
THE GUNS OF NAVARONE is loaded with exceptional special features, several of which are appearing for the first time with this Blu-ray release.  The disc features two commentary tracks – one by film historian Stephen J. Rubin, and one from director J. Lee Thompson.  Rubin’s track is ripe with fascinating tidbits and trivia associated to the film’s history including pre-production and scripting elements as well as a very useful rundown on cast and crew.  Thompson’s track – by contrast – is largely economical; he recalls some personal experiences in working with the principles, and he gravitates toward explaining some differences between location filming and studio production.  All-in-all, both are solid, but I was more interested in Rubin’s assessment.  The disc also features “A Message from Carl Foreman,” which is a filmed greeting from the producer which played to audiences at the Sydney, Australia premiere of the picture.  Several featurettes are also available.  “Epic Restoration” runs about 10 minutes, and it deals with the restoration efforts that took place to the film in 2006.  “A Heroic Score” runs about 10 minutes, is dated from the 2006 release of the film on DVD, and basically explores Dimitri Tiomkin’s efforts to score the picture.  Lastly, the featurettes include four newsreel-style productions – all dated from 1961 but showing copyrights of 2011, so I believe this is the first time they’ve been included with a release; these include “Great Guns” (a look at the two guns of the adventure), “No Visitors” (a visit to the set of the film), “Honeymoon on Rhodes” (James Darren and his wife of three weeks celebrated their honeymoon while he was filming GUNS), and “Two Girls on the Town” (a tongue-in-cheek shopping trip to Greek shops by the film’s two female leads, Irene Papas and Gia Scala).
 
More in-depth documentaries provided on the disk include: “Forging the Guns of Navarone: Notes from the Set” runs about 15 minutes, and it gives a basic rundown of the major challenges to making ‘the biggest B feature ever made,’ including its 6 world premieres.  “An Ironic Epic of Heroism” runs about 25 minutes, and it addresses how the filmmakers set out to essentially craft a modern day Greek ‘epic,’ not dissimilar to “The Iliad” or “The Odyssey.”  Also, “Memories of Navarone” runs about 30 minutes, and it deals with the various memories of Peck, Quinn, Thompson, and Darren.
 
Exclusive to the Blu-ray release is “The Resistance Dossier of Navarone,” which combines photographs, text notes, and inserted videographies specifically created for this 50thanniversary release.  “Military Fact or Fiction” reviews the basic plotline of THE GUNS OF NAVARONE, explains that the picture isn’t truly based on any single place or event, and provides clarity on matters of ‘the British experience’ as well as the extensive weaponry featured in the picture.  “The Greek Resistance” explores the unique role that Greeks and the Greek islands played in World War II – their geographical significance to the Mediterranean – and provides some fascinating anecdotes on Greek resistance fighters.  “The Navarone Effect” expands upon what the studio wanted with the motion picture, showing how it truly became a major influence in war pictures that followed, and also investigates the film’s message on how peace should be equally as important as conflict.  “The Old School Wizardry of THE GUNS OF NAVARONE” reveals how the film’s special effects were a composite of ‘old school’ and ‘new school’ film magic; indeed, GUNS won an Oscar for its effects work in 1961.  “The Real World Guns of THE GUNS OF NAVARONE” examines the twin cannons of the film’s plot and explores their basis in reality.  Lastly, “World War II in the Greek Islands” presents a basic history primer on Greece’s strategic importance to both the Axis and the Allied Powers.
 
If anything, what genuinely impressed me with this new viewing of THE GUNS OF NAVARONE is how sparse the dialogue is for an action picture.  The actors are top notch, communicating precisely what needs communicating with a wink or a feverish glance or a nod, and, to his credit, director Thompson let this talented cast loose to play in this world that Alistair MacLean created.  It’s a masterful job throughout.  If the film suffers any faults, it’s quite possibly that several sequences stretch on a bit longer than they need to; interestingly enough, director Thompson reflects on several occasions – in his own commentary – that, were he making the picture for today’s audiences, he definitely would’ve trimmed a few action sections so that the narrative was pushed forward more quickly.  Despite that failing, GUNS remains a definitive action picture – sharply drawn and vivid characters thrust into a virtual no-win scenario where only men and women at the top of their form emerge victorious.
 
If you haven’t seen it, do so today.  If you have seen it, don’t be afraid to experience it all brand new on Blu-ray.  You’ll be amply rewarded!
The GUNS Turn 50! The Definitive War Picture Gets Even Better with a 50th Anniversary Release The GUNS Turn 50! The Definitive War Picture Gets Even Better with a 50th Anniversary Release

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October 06, 2011
Great job on this one, Ed! I saw this 3x and I have to admit it is one of my favorite war movies of all time. Thanks for the review!
 
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