Guns of Navarone (1961)

 

 

 

Director:     J. Lee Thompson.

Starring:     Gregory Peck (Capt. Mallory), David Niven (Cpl. Miller), Anthony Quinn (Col. Andrea Stavrou), Stanley Baker (CPO Brown), Anthony Quayle (Maj. Franklin), Irene Papas (Maria), Gia Scala (Anna), James Darren (Pvt. Pappadimos), James Robertson Justice (Jensen), Richard Harris (Barnsby), Bryan Forbes (Cohn), Allan Cuthbertson (Baker), Michael Trubshawe (Weaver), Percy Herbert (Grogan), George Mikell (Sessler), Walter Gotell (Muesel), Tutte Lemkow (Nikolai), Albert Lieven (Commandant), Norman Wooland (Group Captain), Cleo Scouloudi (Bride), Nicholas Papakonstantantinou (Patrol Boat Captain), Christopher Rhodes (German Gunnery Officer).

A British squad has to destroy two enormous guns on the Aegean island of Navarone that threaten British ships trying to sail to Kheros, near Turkey, where a large British force faces annihilation unless evacuated.

 

 

Spoiler Warning:

Narrator:  "Greece and the islands of the Agean Sea have given birth to many myths and legends of war and adventure.  And these once-proud stones, these ruined and shattered temples, bear witness to the civilization that flourished and then died here and of the demigods and heroes who inspired those legends on this sea and these islands.  But, though the stage is the same, ours is a legend of our own times and its heroes are not demigods, but ordinary people.  In 1943, so the story goes, 2,000 British soldiers lay marooned on the tiny island of Kheros, exhausted and helpless.  They has exactly one week to live for the Axis high command had determined on a show of strength in the Aegean Sea to bully neutral Turkey into coming into the war on their side.  The scene of that demonstration was to be Kheros, itself of no military value, but only a few miles off the coast of Turkey.  The cream of the German war machine, rested and ready, was to spearhead the attack and the men on Kheros were doomed unless they could be evacuated before the blitz.  But the only passages to and from Kheros was guarded and blocked by two great, newly designed, radar-controlled guns on the nearby island of Navarone, guns too powerful and accurate for any Allied ship in the Aegean to challenge.  Allied intelligence learned of the projected blitz only one week before the appointed date.  What took place in the next six days became the legend of Navarone." 

 

Wikipedia says:  "The Greek island of Navarone does not exist and the plot is fictitious; however, the story takes place within the real historical context of the Dodecanese Campaign, the Allies' campaign to capture the German-held Greek islands in the Aegean Sea in 1943."  It says also that:  "The Dodecanese Campaign of World War II was an attempt by Allied forces to capture the Italian-held Dodecanese islands in the Aegean Sea following the surrender of Italy in September 1943, and use them as bases against the German-controlled Balkans. Operating without air cover, the Allied effort failed, with the whole of the Dodecanese falling to the Germans within two months, and the Allies suffering heavy losses in men and ships.[4] The Dodecanese Campaign, lasting from 8 September to 22 November 1943, resulted in one of the last major German victories in the war."

"The story is based on the Battle of Leros, and Leros island's coastal artillery guns among the largest naval artillery guns used during World War II  that were built and used by the Italians until Italy capitulated in 1943 and subsequently used by the Germans until their defeat."

Leros island lays off the west coast of Bodrum Peninsula in Turkey, which contains the port city of Bodrum, Turkey.  The island is part of the Dodecanese Islands, which also includes Kos, Samos, Rhodes and Levitha. 

 

 

The first day, 0200 hours.  An Allied Airfield somewhere in the Middle East.  Captain Keith Mallory comes into the airport headquarters and says he's looking for Commodore Jensen.  The man he is speaking to is Jensen, who now tells Mallory that he is Mallory's boss.  In fact, Mallory has been working for him for the past 18 months.  They called in Mallory from Crete because of some special talents he has.  He speaks fluent Greek and German and he kept himself alive in occupied territory for a year and a half.  Furthermore, before the war, Mallory was the greatest mountain climber in the world.

They want Mallory to go on a mission to the south cliff of the island of Navarone.  The cliff is 400 feet straight up and most men can't climb it.  Major Roy Franklin says he wants Keith to get him and his team over there and onto the top of that cliff. Keith looks over the photographs of the south cliff and says even he can't climb up the south cliff.  Jensen now lets Keith know about the importance of the mission.  The 2,000 men on Kheros are going to die next Wednesday morning unless someone climbs the south cliff.

Now knowing the seriousness of the situation, Keith asks to have Andrea Stavrou brought to him from Crete.  Jensen says that Andrea is already waiting for him in his hotel.

Jensen goes on to say that they are taking 6 destroyers through the Navarone Channel this Tuesday midnight.  They are going to evacuate the 2,000 troops on the island of Kheros.  If the guns on the south cliff are not taken out before that time, six more destroyers will be at the bottom of the Aegean Sea. 

Keith goes to see Andrea, who is not happy about being pulled off the island of Crete.  Keith tells him he can talk about that with the man behind the plan as he will be driving the car. 

The first day, 1800 hours.  Island of Castelrosso.  The team is flown by seaplane to Castelrosso.  There is no one there to meet them.  Officer Baker finally shows up to greet them.  He takes them to their quarters.  Keith tells the men that Stavrou is Colonel Stavrou of the Greek 19th Motorized Regiment. Franklin tells the men about their route.  They will trek for 12 miles across the mountain to the ruins at St. Alexis.  At the ruins will be some of the Resistance people from the town of Mandrakos. 

Stavrou surprises a Kurdish man listening in at their door and throws the man to the floor.  The men have a fight with the major of the base to have the laundry boy held in prison for at least a week.  The major says he won't do it, so Franklin tells his man who to shoot the laundry boy and, if the major intervenes, shoot him too.  The major has a change of mind. 

The second day, 07:30 hours.  On another island, the team is set up on a ship in bad condition.  They are happy to use the ship because it looks like no one important would be associated with it.  By radio the men are warned that the Germans are on the warpath in their area and thunderstorms are expected during the night. 

A German plane flies right over them twice to have a look.  Next, a German boat comes over to check them out.  The German sailors come on board the ship.  The team wait to respond to the boarding party.  When the time is right and the Germans are more relaxed, the team attacks the sailors and kills them.  They throw two grenades onto the German boat and then throw explosives below deck.  The boat goes up in a big explosion and sinks. 

At night the old fishing boat is tossed around in a vicious storm.   They have to keep pumping out the water below the deck.  In the pilot house, Keith tells Franklin that after the war is over Stavrou is going to kill him.  Keith let the Germans bring in their wounded to the hospital.  The Germans were still looking for Stavrou and they killed the non-German wounded.  Then they went over to Stavrou's house and blew it up, killing his entire family.  Stavrou was gone during this whole time.

The winds and waves are pushing the boat close to the rocks along the island coast.  The boat crashes up onto the rocks.  With great difficulty, the men get themselves and their guns and explosives onto the shore just in time as a huge wave crashes down on the boat and crushes what's left of the boat.  The men are at the base of the south cliffs.  They start climbing up the cliffs.  Keith goes up first.  He hammers spikes into the rocks to help him make the climb.  Stavrou starts to climb next.  Of course, it's an easier climb for him because has the use of the climbing rope.  Keith slips on the rock, but Stavou is able to grab hold of him to save him from a deadly fall. 

The two men make it to the top, but they spot a German guard patrolling the area.  They distract the guard and Stavrou rushes onto the flat ground.  He hides behinds some rocks.  Then Keith distracts the guard and Stavrou comes up from behind the guard and knifes him in the back.  He throws the guard off the cliffs.  Now the other men start climbing up the ropes.  Major Franklin almost falls to his death.  Keith and Stavrou go to the rescue of the man, but they will have to carry Franklin on a stretcher. 

There's a telephone at the guard station and it rings.  Keith answers the phone and speaks in German to the caller.  The caller, is suspicious and as soon as he hangs the telephone up, he pushes the alarm bell.  The Germans jump into action.  Two truckloads of soldiers are transported up to the guard post.  Meanwhile, the Allied team starts making their way towards the rendezvous point. 

The third day, 09:30 hours.  The team learns by radio that the Germans are going to hit Kheros a day ahead of time.  That only gives the team until midnight the day after tomorrow.  Major Franklin tries to shoot himself to death, but the men stop him.  All alone with Franklin, Keith lies to the major that their mission has been scrubbed.  Therefore, the pressure has been taken off the team.  So now, there is no need for the major to try to kill himself.  The major believes the lie and now relaxes. 

The Germans are coming up the mountains.  Stavrou stays behind and takes the role of sniper.  He kills three Germans with three bullets.  The Germans now spread out and take cover. 

The third day, 20:00 hours.  The team reaches St. Alexis Ruins.  There waiting for them is Stavrou. 

Stavrou and Pvt. Pappadimos catch an intruder and knock him unconscious.  They bring the man and drop him face down in the midst of the team.  The man has food on him, which is happy news for the team.  They turn the man on his back and discover that the man is actually a woman.  They all gather around the woman and another woman with an automatic weapon tells everyone to get their hands up in the air.  They try to pass themselves off as German soldiers, but the woman knows they are not.  She asks who is Major Franklin?  He's the one on the stretcher.  The woman now tells the men they can put their hands down.  She says she is Maria Pappadimos and she had to come instead of her father, because the Germans took her father.  She also says that the unconscious woman is her friend Anna.  She was captured by the Germans who tortured her.  Her back was all torn up from the whippings that she endured, although she has never seen Anna's scars.  Ever since her torture, Anna hasn't been able to talk. 

The men ask Maria if she has any sisters or brothers?  She says she has a brother who lives in America.  The guys tell her that her brother is really not so far away.  He's the young fellow over there.  Maria goes over to check the man's face.  As soon as she recognizes his face, she slaps him.  The brother asks why did she do that and she says the slap was for her brother not writing her family a letter now and then.  The other guys laugh at the remark.  Now the siblings hug each other.  Now she tends to the still unconscious Anna. 

The Germans reach the ruins, but the team has already disappeared.

The fourth day, 08:00 hours.  The team looks down upon the town of Mandrakos.  They watch as the Germans busily search the town for the intruders.  They are using airplanes to search the mountains.  Major Franklin now has developed a case of gangrene.  They must get him to a doctor before the gangrene kills the major. 

The team is spotted by the Germans and they start setting up their mortars to bomb the target area.  The team now moves out.  A plane keeps tabs on the team as they move.  And now two fighter planes are coming to bomb and strafe the team.  The team makes it to their destination, a cave.  The cave has an exit that comes out just behind Mandrakos. 

The fourth day, 15:00 hours.  The team comes into Mandrakos.  One part of the team, Keith, Corporal Miller and Pvt. Pappadimos, goes with Anna into one of the homes.  The other part of the team, Stavrou and CPO Baker go with Anna to the doctor's office to get Major Franklin medical attention.  The second group walks right into the hands of the Germans waiting in the doctor's office.  Another group of German soldiers surrounds the house where Keith and his group are staying.  Anna and the group hides away in a hiding place.  A little later the group shows up at an outdoor restaurant where a wedding reception is taking place. 

A German patrol comes to the restaurant and captures Keith and his group. 

The fourth day, 21:00 hours.  The German officer Muesel tells the team that, since they are all in civilian clothing, they all will be considered as spies and can be shot.  Stavrou starts pretending that he is not with these men.  He says they killed his men on his fishing boat and then forced him to come along with them.  Muesel doesn't believe him.  Sessler, an SS officer and torturer, arrives and starts questioning the team.  Stavrou now starts rolling on the floor pretending he is sick.  Two soldiers pick him up and the muscular Stavrou throws the two of them onto Sessler.  Now the whole team jumps into action and disarms the Germans.  The Germans are stripped of their uniforms and tied up.  The male members of the team wear the German military uniforms.  They all get into and onto a truck, drive away and kill the two guards at the gate.  They head up into the mountains. 

They drive to a church where they are taken in.  Corporal Miller condemns Keith as an evil man, who is callously using Major Franklin as a worthless pawn.   Keith takes the abuse.  He then tells the team to get some sleep, while he takes the first watch.  When the team is sleeping, Anna goes outside to see Keith.  She kisses him passionately. 

A German general stops Sessler from continuing his torture of Major Franklin. 

The Germans set fire in Mandrakos as a punishment for helping the intruders. 

The last day, 06:00 hours.  The team commandeers a German truck.  They throw their truck over the cliff and take over the functioning truck.  Later they kill two German guards at the gate into Mandrakos.  The team then heads over to an area of the town that is below the big guns.  Maria explains that this section has been evacuated because the vibrations from the big guns has weakened the bases of the houses.  The team climbs up near the big guns. 

Last day, 21:00 hours.  The team waits to blow up the guns.  Meanwhile, Major Franklin is given drugs to loosen his tongue.   He tells the Germans the wrong information that Keith had deliberately told him.

The sirens are turned on and the Germans are on the move. 

Corporal Miller shows the team that someone has ruined his explosive devices.  He starts thinking about who is the traitor in the group.  He starts thinking about the times he was away from his explosives and at those few times, who was alone to destroy the explosive devices.  He figures out that the only person is Anna.  Maria says that Miller is crazy.  Miller now wants to see the scars on Anna's back that Maria has never actually seen.  Stavrou tears open her dress in the back.  There are no scars on her back.  Now Anna admits that she was the one providing messages to the Germans.  That's how the Germans kept finding their hiding places in Mandrakos.  She says she cooperated because she was scared and knew she couldn't handle the German torture.  So she cooperated with the Germans. 

Now Miller gets on his pulpit again and demands that Keith, as a born killer, has to kill Anna.  So Keith goes over to her and pulls out his pistol.  As he raises his right hand, someone else shoots her.  It turns out that Maria killed Anna. 

German are preparing to get onto this ships to attack Kheros.  The team sets off a small explosion which brings the Germans to the sight.  Stavrou and Pappadimos start mowing down the Germans, which brings more Germans who are killed by grenades or by bullets. 

Keith goes with Miller and they drive into the old fortress on Navarone.  They park near the tunnel in the mountain where the two big guns are.  They kill the two guards.  Meanwhile, the artillery men are getting prepared to go up to the big guns.  The commandoes now grab their explosives and scurry into the tunnel.  They close the massive gate doors behind then, but this sets off an alarm.  The artillery rush to the gates, along with scores of guards. 

The two commandos take an elevator down to the bottom where they almost immediately see the two massive artillery guns.  They start putting the explosives on the guns.  Meanwhile, Maria and CPO Brown steal a fast German boat.  Brown stabs the guard on the boat, but then has to cover the guard's mouth to prevent him for calling for help.  The man pulls the knife out of his mid-section and then kills Brown with the very same knife.  Both men die. 

Pvt. Pappadimos dies as he mows down a lot of German soldiers. 

The six Allied destroyers are coming into view on Navarone.  The Germans finally get the gate doors open and they rush into the tunnel to get to the elevator.  Keith and Miller, however, are letting themselves down on the outside of the fortress wall by a long rope.  They  let go of the rope and fall into the sea.  Maria is there with the boat to pick them up.  The German guards are trying to kill them with their automatic weapons.  They climb into the boat where they find the two dead bodies. 

Stavrou now swims out to be picked by by Maria and the boat.  The Germans start disarming the explosives on the two big guns. 

The Germans are about to start firing on six destroyers.  They fire off both guns but the shells land short of the destroyers.  The next set of shells lands closer to one of the destroyers.  On the third firing a second set of explosives are set off.  The whole top of the mountain is blown up, killing most or all of the Germans inside.  The two guns are pushed out and down the cliff, where they are destroyed.

The destroyers start blowing their whistles in honor of what just happened.  Stavrou says he is going back to Crete.  Maria says she has to stay and help Mandrakos be restored. 

The boat reaches a destroyer.  Stavrou says he's going back, which means he won't be killing Keith.  The two men shake hands.  Stavrou and Maria return to Navarone together. 

Miller apologizes to Keith and then offers him his congratulations.  Both men admit that they never thought they could actually accomplish their mission. 

 

This is a good adventure story with lots of action and tension.  The Allied commandoes are always on the move so there's not much let up in the action.  The story itself is fictitious, but its damn good fiction.  And there is an historical background to the story.  The movie also boasts a big cast of well-known actors.  You can't fault the acting in this movie and that's for sure.

Patrick Louis Cooney, Ph. D.

 

 

 

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