27 November 2002 | stp43
"We Have Three Choices" In Classic WWII Drama
"The way I see it we have three choices - take him with us, leave him here, or kill him."
This simplistically summarizes the moral dilemmas at the heart of Alistar MacLean's classic novel and the superb Carl Forman film from which followed. The Guns Of Navarone at first looks like a basic mission - in 1943 a key channel in the Aegean Sea is commanded by two gigantic German siege batteries on the island of Navarone; these guns prevent the reinforcement of a British island garrison nearby, and if the garrison falls, it will persuade Turkey to join the Axis powers, an outcome Berlin is counting on as the war in Russia has turned against it with the defeat at Stalingrad.
The guns cannot be bombed by air, despite heroic efforts by the RAF, and so is brought in a key Allied operative who has been working in occupied Crete since its fall to the Germans in 1941. Captain Keith Mallory not only can speak the languages of the area with superb fluence, he is "Keith Mallory, the Human Fly," the best mountaineer in the world. He feels he cannot climb the 400 foot precipice atop which the German batteries sit, but he likes nothing better than "a well-organized setup" upon seeing that he has no choice.
With the help of his closest combat comrade Stavro (Anthony Quinn), Mallory is assigned with Major Roy Franklin to ferry British commandos - one of the a wise-cracking explosives expert, Corporal John Anthony Miller (David Niven)- on the perilous journey to the back door of Navarone. But the infiltration is fraught with danger, and when Franklin is badly injured, the real crest of the story unfolds, the moral dilemmas of the team as they must complete the mission while deciding how to handle an injury they cannot treat.
And as if that were not enough, one of the Greek resistance operatives helping the team turns out to be a traitor after Miller finds his explosive equipment has been tampered with. It leads to yet another of the several arguments that ensue through the film between Miller, the soldier who does not want the responsibilities involved, and Mallory, who is determined to finish the job. While one of the arguments doesn't make much sense - Miller is horrified when Mallory admits lying to Roy Franklin so that upon eventual capture Franklin will give away inaccurate information; this is by far the most humane solution to the intolerable dilemma the team has faced - overall the clash between Mallory and Miller adds enormously to the film's tension, thanks in no small part to the excellent performances of Gregory Peck and David Niven.
The sets and props of the film are superb, and overcome the comparative cheesiness of some of the special effects.