Europe 1943, and the Second World War is raging; in the Mediterranean the Nazis are trying to persuade the Turks to join their side, so the Allies are determined to weaken their enemies' case for combat. Besides, there are two thousand British troops captured on one of the Greek islands who are due to be executed in less than a week unless they can throw a spanner in the works of the Nazis' scheme. As if that wasn't bad enough, on the island of Navarone there are a couple of huge and deadly accurate cannons which will be used to foil any Allies' invasion plans - if they manage to take out these guns, then there's hope to avert disaster.
Along with The Great Escape, nothing said Bank Holiday in the United Kingdom like The Guns of Navarone as whenever there was a holiday this was lengthy enough to be trotted out and fill a schedule for two and a half hours (three with ads) cheaply and easily. And so it was that the population became very familiar with this film, either from dipping into it over the Easter Eggs or expressly sitting down to watch it from start to finish because what else were you going to do when almost everything was closed? Thus you may have been all too familiar with the actors, enough in some cases to recite their dialogue along with them, and you knew the twists, and the ending was no surprise, but it was reliable entertainment.
Actually that ending would be no surprise if you'd never seen it before, it was that sort of movie, but it did instigate a run of men on a mission movies, even if producer and screenwriter Carl Foreman looked to be trying to emulate the combination of action and rumination that David Lean's The Bridge Over the River Kwai had been such a success with. It didn't quite work out like that and Navarone became regarded as an adventure movie and nothing but instead of the anti-war discussion point the left-leaning Foreman had intended, but then look at his choice of material: based on an Alastair Maclean novel, and damn few of his legions of fans read those for their grand statements.
Indeed, when this movie was criticised at all, it was because of the way it ground to a halt for the characters to hold debates on the morality of their behaviour, and whether they could justify killing people, or allowing people to be killed. Our band of intrepid saboteurs were led by imported star Gregory Peck, not doing the accent as Mallory, the sort of fine, upstanding fellow who could take the higher ground, though David Niven as explosives expert Miller gave him a run for his money when his conscience grows too damaged for him to ignore. It was true that this did extend the running time rather too far, but all credit to the filmmakers for trying to avoid your average gung ho shallowness, even if the end result was rather awkward, better in concept than it was in execution.
Talking of executions, there were an awful lot of Nazis bumped off in The Guns of Navarone, which was what made Miller so squeamish, but also rendered the movie something of bloodbath though they did not go into graphic detail. On the goodies' side were also Anthony Quayle who becomes a burden when he falls off the only cliff it's possible for our heroes to scale undetected, thereby offering up more of Foreman's dilemmas about what they should do with him now: interestingly, Mallory uses him as a pawn eventually, another example of the moral shading here should you decide to notice it. Anthony Quinn as an actual Greek, beginning his immense popularity in that country, essayed the freedom fighter role while singer James Darren attempted to toughen up his teen idol image and Irene Papas was a resistance member who has a tough decision of her own to make. So this was serious stuff, perhaps more so than the somewhat disposable treatment it was given over the course of its screen life - but most vividly you'll recall the big boom. Rousing music by Dmitri Tiomkin (ska version available).