Site created 12/15/97.
review added: 5/30/00
The Guns of
Edition - 1961 (2000) - Columbia TriStar
review by Bill Hunt,
editor of The Digital Bits
Disc Ratings (Video/Audio/Extras):
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
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
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.