The Guns of Navarone For any boy growing up when I did, back in the late 1970s, it was well understood that “Guns of Navarone” was the sine qua non of adventure films, a movie you called friends about when you saw it listed in next week’s TV Guide. It’s hard to believe so much time has gone by, both since my boyhood and since the film was made, but “Navarone” still holds up very well, a character-driven film alive with nuance and subtlety. It moves at an assured clip, not rushed or forced, making the viewer follow its story through every agonizing twist and turn.
What makes the film especially good is the crisp dialogue, lines that point up the moral and philosophical argument at the heart of the film and which resonate today as much as then:
Mallory: The only way to win a war is to be just as nasty as the enemy. The one thing that worries me is we’re liable to wake up one morning, and find we’re even nastier than they are.
Franklin: I can’t say that worries me!
Mallory: Well, you’re lucky.
Good performances abound, but the best by far is David Niven’s Cpl. Miller, a complex character whose smooth front and witty banter conceals much of the conflict of the film. It’s he who tangles most often with Gregory Peck’s Mallory, and has at least three scenes in the film that are top-rate. We may like Miller because he keeps things humming and provides welcome comic relief, but he’s no less the center of the film than Peck or Anthony Quinn, the two well-cast leads whose relationship is enriched, at least from our remove, by the unique vow Stavros has made to Mallory about the unsettled business between them.
The plot is a thing of beauty, moving with all the synchronicity and clever precision of a diabolical cuckoo clock. The special effects have suffered more than a bit from the march of time (though one should remember that was the only part of the film that won an Oscar in 1962). Some process shots are cringe-inducing now. But the pace is still gripping and the payoff spectacular. Here’s the film that was the template to every popcorn actioner that came after, its imprint recognizable on everything from the James Bond movies to “Star Wars” to Indiana Jones. That’s impressive, but more so is that “Guns” remains as entertaining as any one of them, and more thrilling than most.