Tuesday, November 26, 2013

1961 - The Guns of Navarone

After a busy few months, Kat and I are currently on holiday in Sydney, catching up with friends and family, and enjoying the sunshine (when it appears). And since we're only here for a short time, I've been trying to cram in as many of those Aussie things (mostly food items) that are unavailable in the States. So far, I've managed to feed my nostalgia with a packet of Toobs, an Oporto meal, a KFC Zinger burger, a sausage roll from the servo, a pizza with more than one topping (NYC, your cuisine is amazing, but you really need to learn how to top your pizzas), my mum's homemade schnitzel and dumplings, my father-in-law's barbecue, a burger with the lot, and boxes and boxes of Shapes. I also got the chance to plonk myself down in front of the TV to watch some cricket and witness the Aussies dominate the Ashes, both of which haven't happened in a long time (i.e. the watching and the dominating). Suffice it to say, it has been a very pleasant trip so far.

The night before flying to Australia, I caught one last movie. Another Best Picture nominee from the 1961 contest...

The Guns of Navarone
J. Lee Thompson
Carl Foreman
(based on the novel by Alistair MacLean)
Gregory Peck, David Niven, Anthony Quinn, Stanley Baker, Anthony Quayle, James Darren, Irene Papas, Gia Scala
Academy Awards:
7 nominations
1 win, for Best Special Effects

I have a confession to make. I had heard the title of this film many times over the years but never really investigated further as to what it was about or who was in it. So up until now, I have always just assumed that The Guns of Navarone was a western. I suppose there is an argument that could be made that the film possesses some qualities of a western, but it certainly isn't a wild, wild West shoot-'em-up type of movie and there are no cowboys nor saloons, as I had imagined.

Rather, the story centres on a team of Allied soldiers during the Second World War, given the task of destroying the large havoc-wreaking German guns strategically positioned on the island of Navarone. The commanding officer is Major Franklin (Quayle) with mountaineer Captain Mallory (Peck) as second in command. They are joined by a Greek Colonel (Quinn), an explosives expert (Niven), a Greek-American (Darren) and an engineer (Baker). After successfully navigating by sea to the island, Mallory skilfully maneuvers the team up the perilous cliffs. Franklin is injured, however, leaving Mallory to take charge of the mission.

One of the elements this picture shares with Westerns is its sense of adventure. Our team of protagonists moves from one predicament to the next, keeping the tension high, a testament to the deft hand of both the director and the editor. And despite the obvious use of scale models, the explosions are exciting. Indeed, the film won its only Oscar for those special effects.

As I've come to discover, when the Academy nominates war films (or any kind of action film, for that matter) for Best Picture, it usually is a sign that the film is more than a mere string of exhilarating action sequences. No doubt, The Guns of Navarone focuses heavily on the main mission and it is at its most gripping when the gang is on the move, but the story is peppered with myriad philosophical discussions about the ethics of war and the effects of combat on the human psyche.

In spite of a wonderful cast who all suit their roles perfectly, the film did not receive any Oscar nominations for its actors. Gregory Peck impresses with his language skills, speaking Greek and German flawlessly (well, at least to these ears). David Niven is his usual nonchalant charming self. And that's a young Richard Harris (pictured) as an irritated Australian squadron leader, doing a remarkably accurate Aussie accent, complete with liberal use of the word "bloody."

1 comment:

  1. The Guns of Navarone is one of a handful of movies I remember seeing in theater in 1961. It was exciting then and has held up quite well over the years. The cast was solid with Gregory Peck’s stalwart,stentorian-voiced leader, pronouncing every letter in the words (while trying to help a floundering Quinn into the boat: “Take iT, Grab iT”). Quinn stole most scenes, and there was the requisite rock n’ roll singer turned actor, James Darren, not embarrassing himself. I guess some distance from WWII allowed the casting of a sympathetic German to offset the sadistic Nazi. The plot, though fairly standard threw in a bit of a twist that was welcomed. All in all, an entertaining action/war film that wasn’t a Best Picture nomination shocker.
    As we enter the critics award period for 2013, I find myself, so far less enthusiastic that recent years. While I’ve seen some very good films, I haven’t seen any that I feel like rooting for yet. Most pundits predict 12 Years a Slave as the front runner, closely followed by Gravity, I’m hoping for some surprises from NYFCC, NBR, LAFC and the many others that start rolling out.