The Guns of Navarone ★★★★

I recently re-read Alistair MacLean’s The Guns of Navarone. It is a really solid novel that is very heavy on compelling action, a little low on character. It has MacLean’s no-nonsense style wedded to a good espionage plot. MacLean was never an especially deep writer, but he was always an engaging one. The film adaptation, while changing a few things for the better, deepening the character conflicts and backstories, is actually a fairly faithful adaptation. It has the same plot, mostly the same characters with the same characterisation, and the same outcome. What the film has, that the book does not, is the cast.

The cast of The Guns of Navarone is absolutely first rate. You have Gregory Peck (a New Zealander in the book, a Peck in the film), Anthony Quinn (perfect casting), David Niven (at his most relaxed even during the explosions), Stanley Baker (this time Scottish, still tough), Anthony Quayle (plummy voice in full flow), Richard Harris (bloody terrible Australian accent), James Robertson Justice (the cinematic star I am probably going to end up looking like). The film gains so many points on the book, because it has Peck et al delivering the laconic MacLean dialogue and running through the economical action. J Lee Thompson doesn’t get in his cast’s way, but he brings a steady hand to the film. Thompson was a fine director of solid, action-oriented picture, before he became Chuck Bronson’s directorial valet. The Guns of Navarone may not be the quickest film of its decade, but it has a relaxed competence that makes it a really great war action epic.

It is 150 minutes of pure boy’s own adventure, that works as well now as it did when I was 11, as it did when it was released in 1961.

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