The Guns of Navarone (1961)

The second film based on an Alistair MacLean book is the first one I'm reviewing. As the movie that brought MacLean's name to a worldwide audience, The Guns of Navarone begged to be viewed. (See this page for a review of the book on which it was based.)

Producers assembled a cast headed by three cinematic all-stars. Gregory Peck as Captain Keith Mallory; Anthony Quinn as his deadly sidekick, Andrea; and David Niven as Corporal "Dusty" Miller all throw their dramatic weight around.

I had to watch this movie with a 1961 sensibility, rather than comparing it to modern films. Actions and gestures were large and occasionally cartoonish; colors were unnaturally vivid; and the special effects, while impressive for their time, sometimes showed their age.

It's a diverting movie, and the 2 hours and 37 minutes flow past quickly. Judged merely on its own merits, it deserves a good (though perhaps not excellent) rating.

From a MacLean fan's perspective, though, some notes are jarring. Chronologically, the first one is the "veddy British" voiceover before the opening credits, informing viewers why Navarone was so crucial. That oh-so-cultured voice clashes with the down-and-dirty manner in which MacLean typically presented situations in his books.

Jarring notes two through four are the main characters. Mallory, a New Zealander in the book, is portrayed by Peck, a red-blooded American; Miller, a sardonic American, is played by British icon Niven; and Andrea, the huge powerful killing machine, becomes Quinn, the slim swarthy fellow with an occasional evil eye glint. While I appreciate that stars help build the box office, these against-type castings greatly alter the story's dynamics.

Unpleasantries five and five-and-a-half are the women tossed into the film as potential love interests. Two local partisans, who were men in the book, undergo a gender switch so that Andrea can get friendly with one and Mallory can get briefly kissed by the other. Romantic scenes are fine and dandy except when they are forced into a script that should be pure action.

OK, enough complaints. The film also features some nice touches. First and foremost, I'm glad that the German troops all speak German to each other, rather than heavily accented English as in so many movies. (I understand enough German to get the gist of what they say, but even if you don't, you won't miss any important plot details — they're just going about their soldiering business.)

Scene settings are well constructed. Our heroes clamber up and down Greek hills and through ruins, all of which look genuine. Town scenes work well too. I especially enjoyed an extended bit in which the locals are having a celebration, complete with authentic-seeming music and dancing. You can almost smell the souvlaki.

To sum up: MacLean purists will frequently wrinkle their noses at some differences between the book and movie (which is true of almost any book that gets the Hollywood treatment). I'd still recommend it, though, as a mostly gripping adventure tale supported by stars who bring a different perspective to the main roles. Give The Guns of Navarone a look.


(7 out of 10)