Guns of Navarone (1961) was the first of many Alistair MacLean novels to come to the big screen and it set the tone for all of them. It seemed for awhile that MacLean had his own little sub-genre of adventure thriller with this movie and Ice Station Zebra, Where Eagles Dare, Breakheart Pass, Force 10 From Navarone and others.
He wrote so many best-selling action novels that were turned into often successful movies that when asked to comment on why his stories were so popular he remarked that he always wrote stories that were visual. Since they were easy to imagine when the books were read, they were easy to film. I mention this because stuntcraft is a visual medium as well. The finest stunt coordinators and stunt performers have to first visualize the stunt before they can perform it and it’s also the reason why stuntwork is so prevalent in action films. Sometimes, it just has to be seen to be believed.
It’s essentially a war film, but all of MacLean’s movies have a feel of a heist film with spies thrown in to me. A great combination that many people tried to duplicate over the years. The Train with Burt Lancaster is a good example, which is a fantastic film in it’s own right, but I wonder if it would have been made if it wasn’t for Guns of Navarone.
It’s interesting to note, that the lead character Mallory is chosen for the mission specifically because of his mountain climbing prowess – the name for the character may well have been based on real-life mountaineer George Mallory, who died trying to summit Mount Everest in 1924 (his body would remain, undiscovered, upon the mountain for another 75 years). Incidentally, real-life Mallory’s climbing partner’s name was Andrew “Sandy” Irvine, which, if you include the nickname, has the initials of fictional Mallory’s partner (A.S. for Andrea Stavrou) in it.
Things to look up (go to IMDB page):
- Guns of Navarone
- Alistair MacLean
- J. Lee Thompson