|The Guns of Navarone|
Film poster by Howard Terpning
|Directed by||J. Lee Thompson|
|Produced by||Carl Foreman|
|Screenplay by||Carl Foreman|
|Based on||The Guns of Navarone|
by Alistair MacLean
|Narrated by||James Robertson Justice|
|Music by||Dimitri Tiomkin|
|Edited by||Alan Osbiston|
|Distributed by||Columbia Pictures|
|27 April 1961 (London)|
The Guns of Navarone is a 1961 British-American epic adventure war film directed by J. Lee Thompson. The screenplay by producer Carl Foreman was based on Alistair MacLean's 1957 novel The Guns of Navarone, which was inspired by the Battle of Leros during the Dodecanese Campaign of World War II. The film stars Gregory Peck, David Niven and Anthony Quinn, along with Stanley Baker, Anthony Quayle, Irene Papas, Gia Scala, and James Darren. The book and the film share the same basic plot: the efforts of an Allied commando unit to destroy a seemingly impregnable German fortress that threatens Allied naval ships in the Aegean Sea.
In 1943, the Axis powers plan an assault on the island of Kheros -- where 2,000 British soldiers are marooned -- to display their military strength and convince neutral Turkey to join them. Rescue by the Royal Navy is prevented by two massive radar-directed large-calibre guns on (fictional) nearby Navarone Island. When aerial bombing efforts fail, Allied Intelligence gathers a commando unit to infiltrate Navarone and destroy the guns. Led by Major Roy Franklin (Anthony Quayle), the team is composed of Captain Keith Mallory (Gregory Peck), a renowned spy and an officer with the Long Range Desert Group (LRDG); Colonel Andrea Stavrou (Anthony Quinn) from the defeated Greek Army; Franklin's best friend Corporal Miller (David Niven), an explosives expert and former chemistry teacher; Greco-American Spyros Pappadimos (James Darren), a native of Navarone; and "Butcher" Brown (Stanley Baker), an engineer and expert knife fighter.
Disguised as Greek fishermen on a decrepit fishing vessel, they sail across the Aegean Sea, where they successfully overwhelm the crew of a German patrol boat intercepting them. Later in the voyage, Mallory confides to Franklin that Stavrou had sworn to kill him after the war, because Mallory was inadvertently responsible for the deaths of Stavrou's wife and children. After shipwrecking on Navarone's coast during a storm, the experienced mountaineer Mallory leads the team in a climb up the cliff, during which Franklin badly injures his leg. While taking shelter in the mountains, Mallory stops Franklin from committing suicide and lies to him that their mission is only a diversion, and that a major naval attack will be mounted on the coast instead. They rendezvous with two local resistance fighters, Spyros' sister Maria (Irene Papas) and her friend Anna (Gia Scala), who was once captured and tortured by the Germans before escaping.
The mission is continually dogged by German soldiers and the group is eventually captured in the town of Mandrakos by Oberleutnant Muesel (Walter Gotell) while trying to find a doctor for Franklin (whose leg is infected with gangrene). While being interrogated by SS Hauptsturmführer Sessler (George Mikell), Stavrou distracts the Germans and the team overpower their captors. They escape in German uniforms, leaving Franklin behind to receive medical attention. In due course, Franklin is injected with scopolamine and gives up Mallory's misinformation. As Mallory had hoped, most forces leave the fortress to counter the expected coastal attack. Upon infiltrating the village of Navarone, however, Miller discovers most of his explosives have been sabotaged and deduces that Anna is the culprit. She confesses that she did not escape but that the Germans recruited her as an informer in exchange for her release. Mallory reluctantly prepares to execute Anna as a precaution against detection, but Maria shoots her instead.
The team splits up: Mallory and Miller go for the guns, Stavrou and Spyros create distractions in town (assisted by local residents), and Maria and Brown steal a boat for their escape. Spyros dies in a stand-off with a German officer, and Brown from being stabbed during the boat theft. Meanwhile, Mallory and Miller infiltrate the gun emplacement, but set off an alarm when they seal the doors behind them. Miller plants explosives on the guns and prepares a large booby trap below an ammunition hoist, with a trigger device set into the hoist's track. The Germans eventually gain entry into the gun emplacement and defuse the explosives planted directly on the guns; meanwhile, Mallory and Miller make their escape over the cliff, reaching the stolen boat. A wounded Stavrou is also able to reach the sea and is helped aboard by Mallory, thus resolving the blood feud between them.
As the Allied destroyers trying to rescue the trapped British troops appear, the Germans open fire at them. When the hoist reaches Miller's trigger, the hidden explosives set off the surrounding shells in a huge explosion that destroys the guns and the entire fortress. Mallory's team safely reaches the British convoy, but Stavrou shakes Mallory's hand and decides to return to Navarone with Maria, with whom he has fallen in love. Mallory and Miller, returning home, observe the aftermath of their success from a destroyer.
Peter Grant, who had a brief (three films) career as an uncredited extra before becoming music manager of such popular English bands as the Yardbirds, Led Zeppelin and Bad Company, played an uncredited British commando.
The film was part of a cycle of big-budget World War II adventures that included The Bridge on the River Kwai (1957), The Longest Day (1962) and The Great Escape (1963). The screenplay, adapted by producer Carl Foreman, made significant changes from the novel The Guns of Navarone by Alistair MacLean. The film was directed by J. Lee Thompson. Thompson was brought in after original director Alexander Mackendrick was fired by Carl Foreman a week before shooting started due to "creative differences".
The Greek island of Rhodes provided locations and Quinn was so taken with the area that he bought land there in an area still called Anthony Quinn Bay. Some further scenes were shot on the islands of Gozo, near Malta, and Tino, in the Ligurian Sea. One of the warships in the film, the USS Slater, then a training ship in the Hellenic Navy known as Aetos (D-01), is preserved as a museum ship in Albany, New York.
As described by director Thompson in the DVD commentary track, David Niven became severely ill after shooting in the pool of water underneath the cave elevator and almost died, remaining in hospital for some weeks as other portions of the cave sequence were completed by the crew. However, since key scenes with Niven remained incomplete at that time, and it was doubtful whether he would be able to return to finish the film, the entire production was in jeopardy. Reshooting key scenes throughout the film with some other actor--and even abandoning the whole project to collect the insurance were contemplated. However, Niven was able to complete his scenes some weeks later.
A complication arose when it was found that Gregory Peck, whose character was supposed to be fluent in German, could not speak the language convincingly. Voice actor Robert Rietty dubbed all of Peck's German dialogue for the film.
The film's maps were created by Halas and Batchelor, a British team best known for their animated films.
Although the island of Navarone is fictional, a map depicted in the film purporting to show the island of Navarone shows it as the real island of Antikythera.
The film's score was composed by Dimitri Tiomkin and featured arrangements of several traditional songs.
Tiomkin's theme song featured on the soundtrack album with lyrics recounting the plot of the film. His theme became a popular instrumental with several cover versions including a 1965 version by The Skatalites. Other cover versions were performed by Johnny Griffin, Al Caiola and the Hollyridge Strings.
The Guns of Navarone had its Royal World Premiere in aid of the Edwina Mountbatten Trust and in the presence of Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II and His Royal Highness Prince Philip, Duke of Edinburgh on 27 April 1961, at the Odeon Leicester Square in London's West End. The film grossed $28,900,000 at the box office and was the second top-grossing film of 1961, earning a net profit of $18,500,000.
Reviews were mostly positive. Bosley Crowther of The New York Times called the film "one of those muscle-loaded pictures in the thundering tradition of DeMille, which means more emphasis is placed on melodrama than on character or credibility." He added that while the film was predictable, "for anyone given to letting himself be entertained by scenes of explosive action and individual heroic displays, there should be entertainment in this picture, for there is plenty of all that in it."Variety wrote that the film was "the sort of spectacular drama that can ignore any TV competition and, even with its flaws, should have patrons firmly riveted throughout its lengthy narrative. With a bunch of weighty stars, terrific special effects, several socko situations plus good camerawork and other technical okays, Foreman and director J. Lee Thompson have sired a winner."Harrison's Reports gave a grade of "Excellent," raving, "The script, direction, acting (by a brilliant cast) and photography are all prizeworthy."Richard L. Coe of The Washington Post called the film "a magnificently detailed cliff-hanger of spectacular settings and deeds of impossible derring-do ... What makes this one of the good ones is superlative photography of the storied Grecian isles, a crackerjack cast and a yarn about WWII in which unlikely incident succeeds unlikely incident with rare largesse." John L. Scott of the Los Angeles Times called it "the best adventure movie to hit the screen this year," adding, "Some viewers will deplore a lack of character motivation--the origins of the six heroes are passed by rather quickly at the beginning--and women may yearn for more romantic passages in the film--but most of us, I am sure, will be satisfied with the epic suspense and sweep of this highly pictorial adventure."Brendan Gill of The New Yorker called it one of those movies "that are no less thrilling because they are so preposterous ... Let me also confess that I was held more or less spellbound all the way through this many-colored rubbish."The Monthly Film Bulletin thought the film fell well short of its ambitions, finding that Foreman's script had "too much diffusion, too much talk, and too many themes raised and dropped, so that the adventure story is not lifted to another plane but overstretched, robbed of the tight narrative concentration needed for a mounting tension." The review also criticized director Thompson for lacking "the ability of the Hollywood veterans to hold a long picture together" and instead moving the action forward "in a series of jerks."
In 1968, author Alistair MacLean reunited Mallory, Miller, and Stavros in the best-selling novel Force 10 From Navarone, the only sequel of his long writing career. That was in turn filmed as the significantly different Force 10 from Navarone in 1978 by British director Guy Hamilton, a veteran of several James Bond films. The cast included Robert Shaw, Harrison Ford and Edward Fox. Though the sequel was a modest success, it did not match the original critically or commercially.