The Guns of Navarone

The Guns of Navarone
Produced by Carl Foreman
Directed by J. Lee Thompson
Peter Yates (Ass't)
Written by Alistair MacLean (novel)
Carl Foreman
Starring Gregory Peck
David Niven
Anthony Quinn
Music by Dimitri Tiomkin
Cinematography Oswald Morris
Editing Alan Osbiston
Distributed by Columbia Pictures
Release date June 22, 1961
Runtime 158 min.
Language English
IMDb Page

The Guns of Navarone is a 1957 novel of World War II by British thriller writer Alistair MacLean that was made into a film in 1961. The book and the film share the same basic plot: the efforts of an Allied commando team to destroy a seemingly impregnable German fortress that threatens Allied naval operations in the Aegean Sea.

The book brought together elements that would characterize much of MacLean's subsequent work: tough, competent, worldly men as main characters; frequent but non-graphic violence; betrayal of the hero(es) by a trusted associate; and extensive use of the sea and other dangerous environments as settings. Its three principal characters (New Zealand mountaineer-turned-commando Keith Mallory, U.S. demolitions expert "Dusty" Miller, and Greek resistance fighter Andrea) are among the most fully drawn in all of MacLean's work.

The film version of The Guns of Navarone was part of a cycle of big-budget World War II adventures that included The Longest Day (1962) and The Great Escape (1963). The screenplay, adapted by producer Carl Foreman, made significant changes in virtually all of the major characters. It also introduced female characters, romance, and a subplot that radically altered the relationship between Mallory and Andrea.

Principal cast:

  • Gregory Peck : Capt. Keith Mallory
  • David Niven : Cpl. John Anthony Miller
  • Anthony Quinn : Col. Andrea Stavrou
  • Stanley Baker : Pvt. 'Butcher' Brown
  • Anthony Quayle : Maj. Roy Franklin
  • James Darren : Pvt. Spyros Pappadimos
  • Irene Papas : Maria Pappadimos
  • Gia Scala : Anna
  • James Robertson Justice : Commodore Jensen/Prologue Narrator
  • Richard Harris : Squadron Leader Howard Barnsby RAAF

The film was directed by J. Lee Thompson after original director Alexander Mackendrick (best-known for the small, quirky comedies he directed for Ealing Studios) was fired by Carl Foreman 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.

The film was a major box office success and the top grossing film of 1961. As a result, MacLean reunited Mallory, Miller, and Andrea in Force 10 From Navarone, the only sequel of his long writing career, in 1968. It was filmed in 1978 by UK director Guy Hamilton, a veteran of several James Bond adventures. Despite a cast that included Robert Shaw, Edward Fox, and Harrison Ford, it was a critical and commercial failure.

Award wins:

Golden Globe Award for Best Motion Picture - Drama

Golden Globe Award for Best Original Score - Motion Picture (Dimitri Tiomkin)

Academy Award Best Effects, Special Effects (Bill Warrington & Chris Greenham)

Award nominations:

  • Academy Award for Best Picture
  • Academy Award for Directing (J. Lee Thompson)
  • DGA Award for Outstanding Directorial Achievement in Motion Pictures (J. Lee Thompson)
  • Academy Award for Film Editing (Alan Osbiston)
  • Academy Award for Original Music Score (Dimitri Tiomkin)
  • Grammy Award for Best Original Score Written for a Motion Picture (Dimitri Tiomkin)
  • Academy Award for Sound (John Cox)
  • Academy Award for Writing Adapted Screenplay (Carl Foreman)

Movie synopsis

Spoiler warning: Plot and/or ending details follow.

Mallory, an army officer and Andrea (in the novel, he is given no surname, but in the film, he is surnamed Stavrou) an ex-Lt. Colonel of the Greek army, have been fighting behind enemy lines in Crete. They are recalled to be given an "impossible" mission by Commodore Jensen. Under the command of Major Franklin, they are asked to scale an "unclimable" (and therefore unguarded) cliff on the south coast of the island of Navarone, off the coast of Turkey. Their task is to sabotage two huge guns that guard the approach to the island of Kheros. The Royal Navy is due to send through destroyers to take off stranded soldiers, and all other sabotage attempts - including bombing - have failed. Time is very short, and Mallory, an expert climber, reluctantly agrees.

The team of Mallory, Franklin, Andrea, Coporal Miller, an explosives expert, Spyros Pappademos and "Butcher" Brown, an engineer and communications expert, assemble at a base to discuss their plans, only to be overheard by a knife-wielding laundry boy who claims not to speak English. Major Franklin asks the base commander to have him imprisoned, and the base commander agrees. In fact, as we later learn, he did not comply, and an intelligence leak causes the team to be intercepted and boarded by German sailors. They fight back and sink the German boat.

Disguised as Greek fishermen on a decrepit boat, they sail on through the Aegean. Mallory confides to Miller than Andrea has sworn to kill him after the war, following his unwitting participation in the murder of Andrea's family.

Their landing on the coast that night is hampered by a violent storm. The ship is wrecked and they lose most of their equipment. Franklin is badly injured whilst scaling the cliff. They find that the cliff is in fact guarded after all. Miller suggests that they leave Franklin to be "well cared for" by the enemy. Mallory, who now assumes command of the mission, feels that Franklin would unwillingly reveal their plans under questioning. Mallory orders two men to carry the injured man with them on a stretcher.

After Franklin tries to commit suicide, Mallory lies to him, saying that their mission has been "scrubbed" and that a major naval attack will be mounted on Navarone. Attacked by German soldiers, they split up, leaving Andrea behind with his sniper rifle, while they move on to their next rendezvous point. They contact local resistance workers, Maria, Spyros's sister,and Anna, a mute girl.

The mission is dogged by Germans - clearly there's been a major intelligence leak - but they make their way across rugged country and when they try to find a doctor for Franklin, they are captured. Escaping, they don German uniforms and leave Franklin behind, knowing that he will be treated as a Prisoner of War, but also knowing that he'll be interrogated about the mission.

Miller discovers that much of his equipment has been sabotaged. The only candidate for "double agent" is Anna, who turns out not to be mute, but an unwilling tool of the Germans. Maria kills her.

Whilst Mallory and Miller find a way into the heavily fortified gun emplacements, the others cause a diversion and also steal a motorboat for a getaway. Locking the only entrance behind them, Mallory and Miller set explosives on the guns, and also on the lift that carries shells from the magazine to the guns.

Franklin is indeed interrogated, drugged with scopalamine, a truth drug, and he gives the false "information" to his captors, as Mallory had hoped. With the Germans confused and trying to cut their way into the guns, Mallory and Miller make their escape by diving off the cliff into the sea. Despite Miller's inability to swim, they make it to the stolen boat, but find that Pappademos and Brown died whilst stealing the boat. Andrea is wounded but Mallory saves his life, thereby cancelling the debt that Andrea believes he owes him.

The destroyers approach the area covered by the guns. The first two shells are fired but fall short. Another round from the great guns barely miss the lead ship, but then, just as the order to fire yet again is given, the explosives go off. The guns and the fortifications are totally wrecked.

Andrea elects to return to Crete and Maria to Navarone. Mallory and Miller are taken on board the destroyer.

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