Running Time: 157 minutes
MPAA Rating: NR
Format: 2.35:1 Anamorphic Widescreen
Audio: Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround
Languages: English, Spanish, French
Subtitles: Chinese, English, Korean, Portugese, Spanish, Thai
Region: 1
MSRP: $24.95

Own It!
The Guns of Navarone (1961)

A star-studded adventure epic of the sort they don’t make anymore — ‘adventure’ has been replaced by ‘action’ in modern films and stars are now too expensive to bundle — The Guns of Navarone is the archetypical Impregnable Fortress Impregnated picture.

As usual with this sort of picture, we begin things with a fellow being briefed on an impossible mission. In this case, our lead is Gregory Peck. He’ll be part of a team that includes David Niven, the recently deceased Anthony Quinn, singer James Darren and Stanley "Zulu" Baker. Their mission is to infiltrate a mountain fortress and destroy the title weapons. Said guns are two massive cannons that threaten an incoming group of British destroyers, as well as the two thousand trapped soldiers the ships are attempting to rescue.

The film begins in a less-than-encouraging fashion. There’s an unnecessarily large wad of exposition at the start of the film, apparently to substantiate its purportedly "based on a true story" status. Then there’s a plane crash achieved via some rather unconvincing miniature work. Similar effects are used infrequently throughout the film, and their effectiveness is not aided by the DVD’s digital clarity. However the bluescreen effects, including a tense climb up a storm-swept mountain face, remain top notch.

The film then quickly segues from one nail-biting sequence after another. I’ve always liked ensemble casts and this one acquits itself admirably. While never a particular fan of either Peck or Niven, I had no complaints about their work here. Quinn shows you what he could do when he wasn’t appearing in schlock, Baker and Anthony Quale are solid, and even Darrin is surprisingly good.

I’ve seen for the first time a number of classic WWII films lately, including Stalag 13, which was interesting but hasn’t aged well, and Bridge on the River Kwai, a brilliant film but one I felt somewhat distanced from. The Guns of Navarone is easily the best of this recent batch, although The Great Escape remains my all-time favorite war picture.

An overall gorgeous job, visually and audibly. For a movie made over forty years ago, it looks quite sharp. This was obviously given to someone who took the job seriously.

We get a nice selection of supplementary material here.

First, of course, there’s the film’s longish theatrical trailer, narrated by Peck. Hilariously, it features Peck’s hammiest moment in the entire movie, wherein he berates David Niven. Presented in widescreen, it’s a nice job. Also included, for seemingly little purpose, is a trailer for the movie Behold a Pale Horse. I guess it’s included because both Quinn and Peck, here playing a Hispanic (!) revolutionary, also star in the film.

Next is a nicely assembled and pleasantly discursive making-of documentary, "Memories of Navarone." Lasting a half hour, this includes reminiscences from stars Peck, Quinn and Darrin as well as director J. Lee Thompson. It’s not the best one of these I’ve ever seen, but it remains a solid piece of work.

Next is a weird "Message from Carl Foreman," the film’s producer. This is a short segment Foreman filmed to be played before the picture’s gala Australian theatrical premiere.

The disc also includes four interconnecting promotional short films shot at the time the film was made. These black & white featurettes, running about five minutes long, cover an introduction to the general production, the reaction of the locals of Rhodes to the cast and crew, James Darrin’s honeymoon with bride Evy (his narration is rather flat), which took place concurrent with the filming and a rather politically incorrect look at Irene Papas and Gia Scala, the two female leads, using a day off to conduct a shopping spree. I found most interesting portions of the actual film shown in black and white and in the featurettes’ full-framed format. This gives you a look at how the film appeared on television back before color TVs became prevalent. It’s a rather big difference.

The disc also includes a director’s commentary. I wish I could be more positive about this, but it’s a flawed piece. Thompson is obviously getting on in years and he tends to ramble at times. He also stops talking for some longish stretches, the bane of commentary fans. Also, this was obviously recorded close to the same time as the DVD’s making-of documentary, so that we hear some of the same anecdotes over again.

I’m not saying the track is worthless, because some interesting material does arise. It’s perhaps a gentleman’s ‘C’. However, you might have wished for a second commentator, perhaps one of the stars or a film historian who could have subtly prodded Thompson to keep him on track. The disc does boast English subtitles, always a help in following the film when you’re listening to a commentary.

Talent Files, typically dry, are included for Thompson, Peck, Niven and Quinn.

Ken Begg, 6/20/2001