Wednesday, June 22, 2016

The Battle Between Good and Evil on Navarone

Mallory (Gregory Peck): Are you sure it will work?

Corp. Miller (David Niven): There's no guarantee, but the theory's perfectly feasible.

No one would ever conclude that I am a fan of war movies. I grew up that way. My parents were decidedly antiwar when I was growing up, and I grew up believing as they did.

As an adult, I have amended my position, acknowledging that sometimes it is necessary to fight, but that doesn't mean that my attitude about war movies has changed much. I've never really been much for splashy special effects and explosions. I'm a writer. I like dialogue. Lots of it.

I do like some war movies, just as I do like some westerns and some love stories. Just not all of them. Not even most of them.

My overriding preference when it comes to movies of any genre is that the movie tell a good story. And that is what "The Guns of Navarone," which premiered on America's movie screens on this day in 1961, did.

If it had been one of those war movies where two sides just begin shooting randomly at each other for no apparent reason other than the fact that they represent two opposing sides in an armed conflict, it wouldn't have interested me. I'll grant you, that is how most wars seem to be fought. Still, I want a story, something that gives the movie context.

"The Guns of Navarone" was a fictional story about World War II, and it was a darn good story.

It was set with a real event as the backdrop — the Dodecanese Campaign, in which the Allied forces sought to capture the Italian–held Dodecanese islands in the Aegean Sea in 1943, a mission that failed — on a fictional island called Navarone. Specifically, it was based on events surrounding the Battle of Leros, the central event of that campaign. The Italians had installed two powerful guns on the island that controlled the seas, but they were captured by the Germans in the battle.

Using that as the inspiration, Scottish writer Alistair MacLean penned the novel "The Guns of Navarone," in which a group of commandos sets out to destroy the island fortress and liberate more than 1,000 British soldiers.

Well, that's how it was in real life. In the novel (and the movie it inspired), there were 2,000 British soldiers. The British Navy planned to send in ships to rescue them, but first, those guns had to be neutralized. That's where the commandos came in.

Don't get me wrong. "The Guns of Navarone" had plenty of shooting and explosions — in fact, it won an Oscar for its special effects — but it also had a lot of dialogue that really told the story. (Carl Foreman was nominated for an Oscar for his adapted screenplay, but he lost to "Judgment at Nuremberg.")

Then, along the way, the movie's stars — Gregory Peck, David Niven and Anthony Quinn — kept propelling the commandos forward. Each brought a special qualification to the enterprise. Peck played a spy from New Zealand, talented at what he did but inexperienced as a leader; Niven was an explosives expert, and Quinn was a Greek patriot.

There were breathtakingly dramatic moments as the commando unit made its way to the objective. If you are part of the millennial generation and you've never seen "The Guns of Navarone" before, you may well see similarities between it and "The Lord of the Rings" when you do. The characters and circumstances are different, but the similarities are undeniable. Peck and Niven, in their quest for the guns, are not unlike Frodo and Sam in their journey to Mordor.

And both stories were about the clash between good and evil.