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Maybe It Really Did Happen?
by Jon Schuller

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Here we are, 70 years later after World War II and stories are still surfacing – some known and many unknown until now. It seems impossible to believe but think about the hidden exploits of spies and others, possibly discussed by scholars and veterans, that have become common knowledge only recently. Secret inventions, like those of movie star, Hedy Lamarr, or the code breakers in England's Bletchley Park, have come to light within the past 10 or 20 years or thereabouts. Famous spies, who were in reality ordinary people, have been exposed in movies and books. Noel Coward and Julia Childs did secret work for the Allies during the war. Many stories have, of course, become movies and some have had sequels done again and again. The old saying that truth is stranger than fiction gets renewed every so often when one of these little stories is discovered and made public. Today's column is about one of my favorite films of all time, The Guns of Navarone, which premiered in the Spring of 1961. Led by Gregory Peck in the lead role, it featured David Niven, Anthony Quinn, Stanley Baker, Anthony Quayle, Irene Pappas, James Darren, Gia Scala, with cameos by Richard Harris and James Robertson Justice. It was directed by J. Lee Thompson and based on the best-selling book by Alastair MacLean. The memorable score was composed by the great Dimitri Tiompkin. It takes place in 1943.

Historically, the Axis wanted to re-establish itself as a military power in the Mediterranean after defeats it suffered in North Africa and after the successful Allied invasion of Sicily between July and August of that year. The German invasion of Russia had failed and the
Battle of Stalingrad, long and deadly, was a Russian victory. The British wanted to continue forcing Turkey to join the Allied side by constant pressure in the Mediterranean. Their efforts were not successful.

The film opens as the Axis is about to invade the island of Kheros and capture 2000 British troops who are trapped there. The Royal Navy cannot rescue the men because of 2 giant battleship guns, mounted on railroad tracks, inside an impregnable cave on the island of Navarone overlooking the shipping lanes. They cannot be destroyed by aircraft. Some other solution must be found – and quickly. The Allied intelligence services decide that an elite team of experts must be put on the island to destroy the guns. The team is led by Major Roy Franklin (Quayle) with Captain Keith Mallory (Peck), a spy and famous mountain climber. Colonel Andrea Stavrou (Quinn) is a Greek who will assist Mallory but there's bad blood between them as Stavrou's family was killed during an operation Mallory had been commanding; Stavrou had vowed revenge once the war was over. Cpl. Miller (Niven) is an explosives expert who was a chemistry teacher in civilian life. He complains constantly. They are joined by Greco-American Spyros Pappadimos (Darren) from Navarone and a re-knowned assassin, "The Butcher of Barcelona" Brown (Baker).

They all board a dilapidated Greek fishing boat and somehow land on Navarone after a major storm at sea wrecks the boat on the shore. Mallory climbs up the smooth, vertical cliff face first and sets up a rope line for everyone else. Major Franklin is hurt on the way up. They get to the top and eventually meet up at a rendezvous
point with Spyros' sister, Maria (Pappas), and her ever-silent friend, Anna (Scala) who'd been captured and relentlessly tortured by the Germans.

But, unfortunately, the team can't rest in one place too long as the Germans are always close by. Eventually, as they are sitting and relaxing at a traditional Greek wedding in the town square of Mandrakos, a squad of German troops enters the square and captures all of them. They're taken to the fortress' army base and interrogated first by Oberleutnant Meusel and then by the stern and unforgiving SS Hauptsturmführer Sessler who has no problem sadistically torturing the wounded Franklin. Stavrou keeps saying he's an innocent fisherman captured by the Allied spies. He finally falls on the floor and looks as if he's about to vomit when suddenly he strong arms 2 German soldiers as the rest of team overpowers all of them. They put on the uniforms. Mallory tells Franklin that the mission's been scrubbed and there'll be a major naval landing on the opposite side of the island. Mallory knows that Franklin will be tortured by the Germans and divulge this information.The team finds a hiding place inside the town of Navarone and there they discover that Anna has been signaling the Germans the entire time since the team landed. Mallory exposes her bare back so everyone – especially her friend, Maria – can see there are no scars from her "torture." Mallory wants to shoot her but Maria executes her first. They split up as Mallory and Miller get inside the fortress to where the guns are, locking the large steel doors to the outside. Miller has to improvise a way to explode everything and uses the hoist
that carries explosives and shells to the guns. He hopes the hoist will come down far enough and set off a large charge in the water underneath.

Meanwhile, Stavrou and Spyros are creating havoc in town for the German troops, shooting at them and their vehicles. Maria and Brown go to find a boat to steal on the waterfront for the team's escape. Brown is killed as he fights with a sailor guarding the boat. The Germans eventuallygain entrance to the guns and discover small explosive charges Miller had planted as decoys. The Allied ships are making a run past Navarone but the enormous guns are fired and the ships begin to turn around. Just as the hoist brings down more shells, Miller's booby trap is set off and the entire top of the mountain explodes with a roar. The ships turn back and head forward to rescue the trapped soldiers. The team reaches the safety of the British convoy as Stavrou and Maria, who've fallen in love, return to Navarone. Stavrou has finally forgiven Mallory for his past mistakes. Mallory and Miller stand at a ship's rail, contemplating what they've done with amazement.

Critics and the public loved the movie, despite what some say are the movie's fictional accounts of the naval campaign near Greece in 1943. How the Germans could have lifted these monstrous naval guns into the cave is another question that's been raised. I personally don't care. The movie is phenomenal. It was nominated for 7 Academy Awards winning 2 Golden Globes. The 1968 sequel, Force 10 From Navarone, never really reached the greatness of the original. The entire cast was great and there were no wasted scenes. Watch it. You won't be disappointed.

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Cinema Savant
Every other Thursday

My views on an eclectic mix of films and personalties, past and present; emotional interpretations; some laughs, some cries.

Other Columns
Other columns by Jon Schuller:

Have You Been Spying On Me Lately? For How Long?

But Can She Act? That's What I Want to Know

They're Not the Same People They Used To Be

Time Does Fly When We Watch Movies

Before Minimum or Maximum, There Was Only Prison

All Columns

Jon Schuller
I am a former New Jersey native, living in Charlotte, N.C. for almost 30 years. I am a lifelong movie lover with lots of movie trivia knowledge and soundtracks in my CD collection. I enjoy sharing my love of films with everyone and have so many fond memories growing up in darkened movie theaters. I have been married 50 years (as of December 22, 2018) and we both share a passion for film (and each other of course).

If you have a comment, question, or suggestion, you can send a message to Jon Schuller by clicking here.

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