Peck is Gunning for Navarone's Guns
I've said it before and will undoubtedly say it again but they don't make them like they use to. "The Guns of Navarone" is an almost perfect example of how you take what is a simple storyline, layer it up with action, tension and big name stars and make a thoroughly entertaining movie which despite being fictitious feels like it could have been true. "The Guns of Navarone" may be 50 years old but it is equal of any action movie which gets made these days.
With 2,000 British soldiers stranded on the Greek island of Kiros and just 7 day till the German forces are expected to invade, it seems like they will have no chance, especially with 2 massive German anti-ship guns stationed on the island of Navarone making it impossible to get to. But Capt. Keith Mallory (Gregory Peck - Spellbound) a Commando Officer is persuaded to take on the dangerous mission with a small group of soldiers including Col. Andrea Stavros (Anthony Quinn - Warlock) and Maj. Roy Franklin (Anthony Quayle - Serious Charge) who will try and get on Navarone masquerading as Greek fishermen and then blow the guns up before the British send a rescue fleet in. But it is a mission thwart with danger and not just from the Germans but also traitors in their own camp.
I've already mentioned that the storyline to "The Guns of Navarone" is simple and it's no word of a lie as the whole thing revolves around a small group of soldiers on a dangerous, even deadly mission to the island of Navarone to destroy two massive guns. But being simple doesn't make it bad, in fact the uncomplicated storyline works brilliantly and is the stuff of childhood fantasies, the war games you use to play in the garden allowing your imagination to run riot. So what we get is in fact a mission spiced up by one danger after another, a massive storm which wrecks their boat, the rock face climb, close encounters with Germans, traitors, bombs and to be honest the list goes on. Every single imaginative element you can think of is included without it ever once feeling contrived.
As you would imagine, being a movie around a dangerous mission "The Guns of Navarone" is not lacking when it comes to action. But what is marvellous is the action is never the focus of the movie, it's an embellishment and a great one at that. One of the earliest moments of action is aboard the little fishing boat that the group of soldiers are travelling on and a German ship pulls up beside them. There is a nice edge of tension going on just before the action kicks in, but rather than big heroics this is messy brutal action and it's so great to watch. This sort of action, mixed with drama threads it way through out "The Guns of Navarone" so that whilst there is plenty of character and story development going on you're never far away from some action.
It's not just the action which instils drama into "The Guns of Navarone" as there are some nice twists which are squeezed in, people get hurt, traitors are discovered and the strange as well as strained friendship between Mallory and Stavros who has vowed to kill him once the war is over despite being on the same side. It adds a level of intrigue to the storyline so that whilst it's never complex there are things going on to give it extra layers.
But whilst the storyline, action and drama is all great the performances from it's star cast just makes it even better. Gregory Peck is just perfect as the leader of these men, so focussed on completing the mission there is a cruel side to him yet at the same time you can see the compassionate side simmering underneath, especially when it comes to his friend Maj. Roy Franklin, played by Anthony Quayle, who becomes injured. Anthony Quinn as Col. Andrea Stavros delivers a strong almost powerful performance, yet as the man who plans to kill Mallory makes for a more complex character. And making this all the more impressive is David Niven who as bomb specialist Miller finds the right humorous/sarcastic side so that in those lighter moments there is something funny, yet never feeling like an out of place gag.
Peck, Quinn and Niven are the big stars and they dominate the screen but the other actors do not let the side down especially Stanley Baker who delivers a nice believable performance as the soldier tired of murdering Germans, haunted by the smell of every time he sticks his knife into them.
What this all boils down to is that "The Guns of Navarone" is a brilliant movie full of adventure and action which manages to find the right balance between all the elements whilst working with a simple storyline. It's made all the better by 3 solid and memorable performances from Gregory Peck, Anthony Quinn and David Niven which never outshine the story or feel like they are fighting for centre stage.