The Guns of Navarone Reviews
This film starts out as a basic "guys on a mission" movie, a propagandistic glory epic typical of post-WWII cinema. Toward the beginning, the indomitable Gregory Peck might as well be the swaggering John Wayne, and David Niven could be the wise-cracking Lee Marvin in Cat Ballou. But as the plot thickens and we get to know the characters, the film grows a soul. The efficacy of violence and the cold-heartedness of Mallory become relevant social themes in lieu of performative bad-assery. Miller (Niven's character) serves as the film's conscience, and no one can have a more articulate conscience than the voice and wit of David Niven. It takes a while, but questioning these characters' ethics serves to deepen the film's effectiveness.
Overall, "guys on a mission" films can be trite and uninteresting, but this one rises above its genre by the end.
The only thing that bugs me - we are supposed to shed a tear for the four members of the British task force who don't make it, but not give a poop for the 50+ German soldiers they kill.
This is a story dripping with intrigue, and that's fine and all, but such a story had the misfortune of being interpreted at this time where subtlety wasn't exactly widely practiced in most areas of a cinema, much less the action areas, and sure enough, among the most dated aspects of this 1961 film is, of all things, storytelling, which is tainted by histrionics, achieved by anything from melodramatic dialogue to thin, formulaic characterization. Sure, there is enough genuineness to characterization, or at least the performances behind the characterization, for your investment in the leads to be firmly secured, yet too many of our characters' aspects feel manufactured as components to a story that is almost forcibly pumped up with melodramatic conflicts, handled with little subtlety and only so much originality. If films of this type were known to be nothing else at this time, it was formulaic, and sure enough, as particularly effective and, in some ways, reasonably refreshing as this '60s action-adventure war flick is, it hits more than a few tropes, and by more than a few, I mean more than it should. In all fairness, the superficiality of certain aspects to this film's storytelling was never to do tension any favors, but predictability goes firmly reinforced by conventionalism that may not thin out compellingness too much, yet nonetheless retards momentum that was never to be too rich, not with a runtime this overlong. As much as the marketers babbled on and on and on about how thrilling this film was, at over two-and-a-half hours, this minimalist adventure action vehicle is too long, not necessarily outstaying its welcome, - seeing as how the final product is ultimately still rarely less than compelling - but still trying patience at time with repetitious, sometimes even kind of aimless dragging, particularly within, all of places, the slow-downs, of which there are only a few, but just enough for engagement value to go challenged. Certainly, this is a challenge that engagement value overcomes enough to craft a rewarding final product, but this is still such a typical '60s action thriller, with dated storytelling, conventionalism and excessive padding that could never drive the final product out of decency, but threaten the film with dreaded underwhelmingness. Needless to say, such a threat is not followed through on, because no matter how unsubtle, familiar and overlong this film is, it meets just about every shortcoming with one or two of many strengths, until the final product stands firmly secured as surprisingly rewarding, or at least entertaining, partially thanks to lively musical touches.
Now, at this formulaic time, if this film's story structure couldn't escape conventionalism, then it's musical tastes didn't stand a chance, and sure enough, the great, now-late Dimitri Tiomkin turns in a formulaic score, yet one that still proves to be effective, with both an entertaining liveliness and thrilling kick that are surprisingly underused, but flavor up this film when they show up, which is what you can say about Oswald Morris' score, at least to a certain degree, because where Tiomkin's score is underused, the film is always with a somewhat dated, yet generally still-striking grit to coloring that reflects the final product's thrill value. The film's musical and visual kick compliment the film's grit, but the non-storytelling aspect that really breathes life into this thriller is, of course, the moments in which the narrative slows down to feature an action sequence that may not be as thrilling as it used to be, but still thrills quite a bit, with grand staging and a tense atmosphere that make this film effective as an action piece. Sure, even then, action sequences are spread out in this two-and-a-half-hour shebang, but the fact of the matter is that when this film explores its technical and action value, it delivers on thrills to replenish entertainment value, maybe even your investment, which is more secured by this film's, as the trailer put it, "exciting" cast. Sure, some performances have dated a bit, and it's not like the acting was ever close to great, because there's not exactly a wealth of dramatic material in a film like this, but this is still a cast filled with classic charismas, and they all deliver on distinct charm, bonded through electric chemistry that earns your investment in the leads as a team, unstable and endangered. The handling of our leads' more personal conflicts is particularly unsubtle and manufactures, but the genuineness within our performers' individual performances and well-established chemistry do a lot to drive the dramatic intrigue that helps nudge the final product from decency into all-out goodness, further reinforced by a certain inspired performance off of the screen. Director J. Lee Thompson could only do so much to obscure the issues within producer and writer Carl Foreman's often formulaic, barely subtle and hardly airtight script, but what he does do in the selling of this story is almost more than this screenplay deserves, establishing an atmosphere that is generally rather meditative upon the environment and depths of substance in order to keep tensions high and resonance never too far away, thus breathing life into compellingness that carries the final product as rewarding. If nothing else, Thompson pumps this film with plenty of entertainment value, no matter how quiet or overdrawn it gets to be, reflecting his inspiration with a liveliness that creates a certain adequate fun factor, broken up by areas of effectiveness in tension or resonance that help in making the final product a rewarding, if kind of familiar, classic piece of Hollywood action.
Overall, dated storytelling aspects create unsubtle and manufactured conflicts, backed by somewhat superficially developed characters, while conventions create a predictability that slows down momentum, though not as much as the padding that leaves you to meditate upon this film's other shortcomings, almost to the point of driving the final product into the underwhelmingness that is ultimately kept at by the decent score work and cinematography, thrilling action, charismatic performances - bonded through sharp chemistry - and consistently, often resonantly intriguing directorial storytelling that make "The Guns of Navarone" an entertaining action-adventure film that fights through its shortcomings enough to grip through and through.
3/5 - Good