The Guns of Navarone (1961)

The Guns of Navarone (1961)

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The Dirty... erm... Eight? That doesn't work, does it?
The Dirty… erm… Eight? That doesn’t work, does it?

Twitter Plot Summary: A team of commandos go to the island of Navarone to destroy some massive German guns. I mean, REALLY massive.

Five Point Summary:

1. Blood, bloody, bloody.
2. Climbing a mountain face.
3. A traitor!
4. Ooh, the tension mounts…
5. A job well done chaps.

The Guns Of Navarone is another of those typical WW2 action thrillers where the Allies have a job to do and there’s a perilous trek across German-held territory to complete beforehand. What often follows is a plot with a number of twists and turns, uncertainty as to whether or not they will ultimately achieve their goal (note: somehow they always do), and more often than not a spy is thrown into the mix just to complicate matters further. That’s precisely the plot we face in …Navarone, although that should come as no surprise to anybody who has read the novels of Alistair MacLean – every one feels like the same concept moved to different theatres of war – Where Eagles Dare essentially has the same plot but is set in the snowy mountains rather than the atolls of Greece. Yet despite this niggling piece of background information, the films remain perfectly entertaining and able to sustain your interest without worrying too much about the standard plot that we’re subject to.

In this instance a small team of commandos have to get onto the island of Navarone and take out the big German guns that threaten Allied ships in the Aegean Sea. It’s an epic task that seems almost doomed to fail from the offset, yet with typical resolve the team moves in to get the job done regardless. What does keep you on the edge of your seat is not knowing how they will achieve their aim, who will make it to the end of the film, and who the traitor actually is. This is all handled masterfully by J Lee Thompson’s direction, although by modern standards it’s positively static.

The queue for the toilets in the Nazi camp was ridiculous.
The queue for the toilets in the Nazi camp was ridiculous.

The big name cast do well to add gravitas to proceedings, in particular the central pairing of Gregory Peck and David Niven as the group commander and the demolitions expert respectively. There’s a certain level of camaraderie to the pair that builds as the story progresses. Which is perhaps a good thing, because this is a really long film. It’s not quite in Lord of the Rings territory, but at nearly 2 hours 40 minutes it gives The Hobbit films a run for their money. Luckily for us, the story remains engaging throughout and very rarely feels like it’s lagging. There’s a certain element of anti-war sentiment to the script too, most notably in David Niven’s character Miller, although that’s mostly lost in amongst the whole “small team against the entire might of the German Army” concept. At times it threatens to become a parody of itself, the performances so earnest that Airplane stole the concept a couple of decades later.

This period of WW2-related films are particularly special for the fact that a vast number of actors appearing in them also had service during the real war, which allows a certain element of believability to creep into the performances. They of course saw much of what is portrayed on screen first hand. Throw all of these elements together and you’re onto a winner.

Score: 4/5

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