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Site created 12/15/97.

review added: 5/30/00

The Guns of Navarone
Special Edition - 1961 (2000) - Columbia TriStar

review by Bill Hunt, editor of The Digital Bits

Enhanced for 16x9 TVs

The Guns of Navarone: Special Edition Film Rating: A

Disc Ratings (Video/Audio/Extras): B/B+/B+

Specs and Features

157 mins, NR, letterboxed widescreen (2.35:1), 16x9 enhanced, single-sided, RSDL dual-layered (layer switch at 1:46:33, in chapter 18), Amaray keep case packaging, audio commentary with director J. Lee Thompson, documentary Memories of Navarone, a message from Carl Foreman, 4 original promotional featurettes, theatrical trailers for The Guns of Navarone and Behold a Pale Horse, talent files, film-themed menu screens, scene access (28 chapters), languages: English (DD 5.1 & 2.0 surround), French and Spanish (DD 2.0 mono), subtitles: English, French, Spanish, Portuguese, Chinese, Korean & Thai, Closed Captioned

The Guns of Navarone has always been one of my favorite war movies, since way back when I first saw it on late-night TV as a kid. It's a rare film - even thought it IS a war movie, it's also a surprisingly timeless adventure, which works completely apart from its World War II setting.

Directed by J. Lee Thompson, The Guns of Navarone tells the story of the "impossible mission". A large number of Allied soldiers are stranded on an island in the Mediterranean, and are doomed to be captured by the Nazis unless a convoy of British destroyers can rescue them. But there's a problem - the only approach into the area is protected by a pair of massive German gun emplacements, tucked inside a virtually impregnable mountain fortress on the island of Navarone. The destroyers are on their way, and if the guns can't be silenced, the ships will be sunk and the soldiers lost. So the Brits task a pair of experienced operatives, Captain Mallory (played by Gregory Peck) and Colonel Stavros (Anthony Quinn), to lead a small team of specialists onto the island, in an effort to sabotage the guns. It's considered a suicide mission. To start with, the team will have to approach Navarone by sea and scale a massive cliff face at night - the only unprotected way onto the island. The island itself is crawling with Germans, who seem able to anticipate the team's every move. And even if they manage to reach the fortress, how will they get inside?

Making matters worse, this motley band of cut-throats can barely stand one another. Stavros has threatened to kill Mallory when the war is over, blaming him (at least in part legitimately) for the death of his wife and children at the hands of the Nazis. The British commander of the mission, Major Franklin (Anthony Quayle), is an inexperienced (but well-intentioned) leader, a little too eager to prove himself in combat. The squad's demolitions expert (David Niven) isn't exactly quick to follow orders. And the other members of the team are common (if well trained) thugs - it's uncertain that they'll be reliable for anything other than killing Germans. Somehow, this unlikely band of heroes will have to learn to trust one another if they're to have even a prayer of getting the job done.

Everything just works here. Thompson's direction is deft, keeping this story moving in lean and agile fashion. Oswald Morris' stylish photography, and a wonderful score by Dimitri Tiomkin, lend the film a nicely epic quality. And the acting is superb all the way around. Peck is simply outstanding as Mallory, a mercenary who's seen just enough war to be ruthless when he must, but reluctantly so. Niven is equally good as Corporal Miller, who butts heads with Mallory over his decisions about what is necessary to accomplish the mission. But better than both is Anthony Quinn - he simply shines here. His portrayal of Stavros is of a quiet but dangerous man, even more ruthless than Mallory but with the same air of reluctance about him. These characters are as well rounded as any you'll ever see in an adventure film. You know everything you need to know to take this dangerous journey with them.

This film also boasts one of the most dramatically surprising and powerful moments I've seen in any film. I don't want to spoil it for you by saying more, but it definitely hits home and speaks of the nature of morality in war. The screenplay, adapted by writer/producer Carl Foreman from a much lighter Alistair MacLean novel, adds a terrific measure of weight and drama to the typical war movie action (note that Foreman also wrote High Noon and The Bridge on the River Kwai). And the ending is as rousing as they come - it gets me worked up every time.

On DVD, the 2.35:1 widescreen picture quality is generally very nice, made all the better for being enhanced for anamorphic-capable displays. This is as good as the film has ever looked on home video, with mostly vibrant colors and very nice detail. There are occasional periods where the picture is a little soft and the colors become muted, but none of it is too distracting. Given the age of the film, it's easy to be a little forgiving. Contrast is excellent, and you'll see thankfully little compression artifacting. The restored print is in largely good condition, with minor occasions of dust, dirt and scratches visible. The audio is solid - you get English tracks in both 2.0 surround and re-mixed Dolby Digital 5.1. This isn't really a surround sound bonanza, but there's some nice use of the rear channels for action and the bass is present when it needs to be. 2.0 audio is also provided in French and Spanish, and subtitles are available in a half a dozen languages.

To go with the disc's film presentation, you get a good mix of extras. There's a commentary track with the director - a welcome addition to the disc, and a rarity on of film of this age. Thompson's thoughts are often of the "and this shot was" or "and here we are" variety, but keep listening - some good stories manage to slip in there. Where Thompson fares better, however, is in the Memories of Navarone documentary - a really terrific half-hour, retrospective piece produced by the folks at Sharpline Arts. It's packed with behind-the-scenes photographs and features new interviews with Thompson, Peck, Quinn and former pop star Jimmy Darren (who played Private Pappadimos in the film). The best thing about this piece are the stories we're treated to, from Thompson's disastrous haircut at the hands of actress Gia Scalia to the on-the-set chess matches instigated by Quinn. It's fun to watch. Also included here are a series of fluffy, behind-the-scenes promotional featurettes (including one in which the film's female stars go shopping), a filmed message from the producer (first shown before one of the premieres), theatrical trailers and talent files for the director and leads. All in all, it's a damn fine special edition worthy of this film classic.

I don't think Hollywood could make a movie like this today. If they tried, you just know that the film would probably star Brad Pitt and a slew of other highly-paid pretty boys, and the budget would top $200 million. As it is, The Guns of Navarone received no less than 7 Academy Award nominations in its day, including Best Picture. And although it won only for Best Special Effects, it remains one of the richest, leanest and meanest war/adventure stories every filmed. I'll tell you this much - I'm damn glad to have it in my DVD collection.

Bill Hunt
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