Force 10 from Navarone (1978)

Anyone filming a movie version of a book faces the eternal question: how true to the book's plot must the movie stay? A precise retelling is usually impossible and generally undesirable. Some types of book sequences don't translate well to film, and it's only natural to take some creative liberties to propel the story and maintain the viewer's attention.

In Force 10 from Navarone, though, too many changes were made without good reason. Unlike some earlier films where Alistair MacLean wrote the screenplay — Where Eagles Dare, for instance — this one strays from not only the book's details but also its spirit.

The barest bones of the plot are still recognizable. Having just disposed of those nasty Guns of Navarone, a crack Allied intelligence team is sent to Yugoslavia (along with some American soldiers) to help the Partisans destroy a crucial bridge. That's about where the resemblance ends.

Not all of the plot changes are bad. One of the worst is a weird, unexplained battle just before their plane took off from England. A better addition is the necessity for the team to infiltrate a German supply area and make off with explosives, which does add conflict and dramatic tension. (Also, it's always nice to see German soldiers actually speaking German when their words aren't absolutely crucial to the story.)

Some of the most jarring differences are in the character lineup. Andrea, a key character in the book for multiple reasons, is absent from the movie. Explosives expert Dusty Miller has changed from a laconic American to a pipe-puffing Brit. The one remaining female character (since Andrea's wife isn't included), unlike her subtle book persona, turns parts of the movie into awkward melodrama. A U.S. sergeant, in the person of Carl Weathers (taking a time-out from playing Apollo Creed in the first four Rocky movies), is introduced oddly and often acts senselessly. An important Yugoslavian officer, depicted in the book as cunning, is buffoonishly portrayed by the giant Richard Kiel (perhaps best known as the villainous Jaws in some James Bond films).

Otherwise, the cast is quite respectable. Robert Shaw isn't bad as Keith Mallory; at least he sounds like a subject of the British Empire, unlike Gregory Peck in the earlier Navarone movie. Harrison Ford comes across well enough as Mallory's American counterpart, though he has to deliver some unrealistic dialogue and actions. Edward Fox, besides being the wrong nationality, doesn't seem as tough-minded as one would like Dusty Miller to be; however, he does at least as well in that regard as the original Dusty, David Niven. Franco Nero is strong as an officer of the Partisan forces whose loyalty is in doubt.

Among the most annoying aspects of this and some other films based on MacLean books is the way the characters toss off clever dialogue at moments of high tension. When characters speak that way in his books, I imagine them doing so with clenched teeth and some sense of urgency, not as if they were enjoying a Sunday in the park. In a real war, someone who focused on being ironic and wry rather than on planning immediate survival would be asking for trouble.

Robin Chapman, who wrote the screenplay, was mainly a television writer; this was only his second, and last, movie script. That may explain why the film contains the over-broad acting and jazzed-up plot of a typical TV drama.

Someone who had never read the book Force 10 from Navarone might find this film a diverting if lightweight war story. It seems like less to me because it had the potential to be so much more.



(5 out of 10)