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J. Lee Thompson
Gregory Peck, David Niven, Anthony Quinn, Stanley Baker, Anthony Quayle, James Darren, Irene Papas, Gia Scala, James Robertson Justice, Richard Harris
Writing Credits:
Alistair MacLean (novel), Carl Foreman

A specialized commando team is organized in 1943, during WWII, to sabotage and put out of commission the Axis firepower on the mountainous Greek island of Navarone in the Aegean Sea.

Box Office:
$6 million.

Rated PG

Widescreen 2.35:1/16x9
English Dolby Digital 5.1
English Dolby 2.0
Spanish Dolby 2.0
French Dolby 2.0

Runtime: 156 min.
Price: $19.95
Release Date: 5/23/2000

• Audio Commentary with Director J. Lee Thompson
• "Memories of Navarone" Documentary
• "A Message From Carl Foreman"
• Four Original Featurettes
• Talent Files
• Theatrical Trailers
• Production Notes


Sony 36" WEGA KV-36FS12 Monitor; Sony DA333ES Processor/Receiver; Panasonic CV-50 DVD Player using component outputs; Michael Green Revolution Cinema 6i Speakers (all five); Sony SA-WM40 Subwoofer.


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The Guns Of Navarone: Special Edition (1961)

Reviewed by Colin Jacobson (October 27, 2004)

Folks these days often don't have the tolerance for slower-paced films, and that would seem to affect action movies most of all. Those pictures depend on excitement and thrills to make them appealing. If the pacing appears slow by current standards, they may fall flat.

Such a possibility occurs with 1961's The Guns of Navarone, but I didn't think it was a problem. Some may find that the movie doesn't contain enough action and that it moves too slowly, but I don't agree. I found it to be a surprisingly exciting and effective little thriller.

The story takes place during World War II as an undercover team of Allied agents attempts to sneak into a seemingly-impenetrable Nazi fortress and destroy two powerful guns that prevent an Allied sea invasion. Along the way, the usual difficulties occur as our heroes attempt to destroy the guns and indirectly rescue the 2000 captured soldiers held by the Nazis.

Guns works well because it takes the subject matter seriously and doesn't attempt any form of cuteness. I can't say the movie is perfectly realistic, but it does seem to treat its characters more like humans than as "action heroes", and the film proceeds in fairly logical and sensible ways. Perhaps the most significant lapse into movie mush comes during a scene when the protagonists are in a Greek village and attempting to evade the Nazis by blending in with the residents. They end up in a situation where a party is happening, and a group song is being sung. Since one of the stars was teen idol James Darren, of course he has to lead a verse or two of the number. This section lasts too long and almost brings the film to a halt.

However, that experience was an exception for Guns, as most of it moves at a fairly snappy pace. The film boasts a strong cast, with Gregory Peck in the lead role as stolid Captain Mallory. He brings a nice gravity to the role that makes him believable both as a leader and as an action star. Also good are David Niven as plucky demolitions expert Miller and Anthony Quinn as the wily Colonel Stavros. I must acknowledge that I preferred the interpretations of Mallory and Miller done by Robert Shaw and Edward Fox, respectively, in 1977's semi-sequel, Force 10 From Navarone, but that doesn't mean the actors here aren't also fine. This is a classy cast that helps make the film more enjoyable.

Those looking for a movie with hyper-editing and slam-bang thrills probably won't enjoy The Guns of Navarone, but I thought it provided enough excitement and action to make it a fine movie. To be honest, I do prefer Force 10 to this original, but both are good films that provide a lot of fun.

The DVD Grades: Picture C-/ Audio B+/ Bonus B

The Guns of Navarone appears in an aspect ratio of approximately 2.35:1 on this single-sided, double-layered DVD; the widescreen image has been enhanced for 16X9 televisions. Time has not been kind to this film, for while some aspects of it looked fine, much of it appeared weaker than it should.

Sharpness seemed inconsistent but was generally pretty good. Most of the movie appeared clear and well-defined. Softness interfered with the image at times, however, and left parts of it less than concise. Moirť effects and jagged edges occurred infrequently, but edge enhancement was a definite concern. Fairly prominent haloes popped up throughout the movie and created distractions.

The print itself varied. It seemed pretty grainy at times, and not just because of the use of rear projection techniques, which add a generation of film to the mix. Many shows looked grainy, and I also noticed occasional examples of marks, specks, grit, and other blemishes. The image didnít seem overwhelmingly dirty for a film of this oneís age, but it showed more concerns than Iíd like.

The movieís worst problems stemmed from the fading that affected the colors. In that regard, the print fared poorly, as the hues of Guns seemed very wan and pale. Colors that should appear bright and bold were mediocre at best, and less powerful hues came across as very flat.

I considered the possibility that the movie was supposed to look this way, as some films do intentionally utilize very limited palettes. While I can't state with certainty that this wasn't the case, I got the impression that the lack of color related more to the flaws of the print than to any form of purposeful cinematography. The movie betrayed a drabness that often sucked the life out of it.

Black levels had some problems as well. For the most part, they looked decently dark, but they usually lacked richness and seemed a bit bland. Shadow detail tended to appear overly thick and heavy, although much of that resulted from the frequent use of "day for night" photography. That technique often makes the overall picture seem much darker than it should, which was the case here. I found Guns to remain watchable, and at times it looked fairly good, but the poor colors really hurt it in the long run, as they created a dull appearance that infects every aspect of the movie.

Much better was the film's surprisingly strong Dolby Digital 5.1 soundtrack. The mix presented a broad soundfield, especially in the forward channels. Separation between channels seemed fine, with audio that was well-placed and discrete. I heard good blending between speakers as well. The rear speakers added a nice punch to the package. The surrounds tended to mainly bolster the sound from the front speakers, but they did so effectively and provided a nicely spatial sense that made the entire track very involving. A few livelier scenes added to the package as well, such as the ones set at sea.

The quality of the audio betrayed a thin timbre typical of films from the era, but it still seemed pleasantly robust. Dialogue sounded relatively warm and natural, and I had no trouble with intelligibility. Only a smidgen of edginess crept into the presentation. Music worked best of all, as it appeared clear and smooth, with no signs of shrillness. I could have used some more low-end from the score, but it still came across as well-recorded and bright.

Effects sounded slightly thin but were adequately realistic and even dropped some good bass at times. There were occasions when the effects shook up the action in a positive manner. A slight amount of distortion affected the explosions and gunfire at times, but this seemed extremely minor considering the age of the material and the prevalence of loud noises. All in all, the 5.1 mix fared nicely.

Guns comes packaged as a special edition, and it indeed provides some nice supplements. One disappointment, however, comes from the audio commentary recorded by director J. Lee Thompson. Although Thompson occasionally offers some interesting points, the majority of this track is a crashing bore. Many empty spaces occur, and when Thompson does speak, he often just tells us if a shot was filmed in the studio or on location. The track does improve toward the end, especially when Thompson discusses how David Niven nearly died during filming, but it takes a lot of patience to reach that point, and I'm not sure it's worth it.

Better though also a little dry is Memories of Navarone, a 29 and a half minute documentary. "Memories" combines film clips and behind the scenes shots from the set with contemporary interview clips from the movie's surviving principals; in this case, that means we hear from Peck, Quinn, Darren and director Thompson. They provide some nice anecdotes and general information about Guns, and I found the piece to merit a look, though it occasionally became a little bland.

The DVD contains a few other video supplements. A Message From Carl Foreman is a two-minute filmed introduction to the film he provided for the movie's Australian premiere; it's not terribly fascinating, but I found it to be a cool historical document.

The same goes for the DVD's four featurettes, each of which runs about four and a half minutes. All of these were filmed and released contemporaneously with the movie itself. All were clearly promotional in nature, but their age makes them fun; they give us a look at the way movies were advertised back then. Most interesting are the final two, which are narrated by and primarily feature (respectively) Darren and his then-new wife on their "honeymoon" and Irene Papas as she and female costar Gia Scala tour the Greek islands, mainly through shopping. All of the featurettes contain enough behind-the-scenes material to make them worth a look.

Finally, the DVD finishes with Talent Files for Peck, Niven, Quinn and Thompson. As is typical of CTS productions, these are fairly useless. We find trailers for Guns and fellow Peck and Quinn vehicle, Behold a Pale Horse. The DVDís booklet also offers some brief but interesting production notes.

Although some aspects of it appear a bit dated, The Guns of Navarone holds up well for a more-than-40-year-old action film. The DVD provides a somewhat weak picture, but the sound appears surprisingly robust, and the package features a few interesting supplements. At the very least, Guns merits a rental, and a purchase might be warranted instead.

To rate this film, visit the Superbit review of THE GUNS OF NAVARONE