THE GUNS OF NAVARONE
In 1943, the Axis powers decide that a show of strength might bully neutral Turkey into joining them. Their target is 2,000 British soldiers marooned on the island of Kheros in the Aegean Sea. Rescue by the Royal Navy is impossible because of massive radar-directed guns on the nearby island of Navarone. Time is short, because the Germans are expected to launch an assault on the British forces.
Efforts to destroy the guns by aerial bombing have proved fruitless. So that six destroyers can pick up the stranded men, Commodore Jensen (James Robertson Justice) of Allied Intelligence gathers a team of commandos to sail to Navarone and destroy the guns. Led by Major Roy Franklin (Anthony Quayle), they are Captain Keith Mallory (Gregory Peck), renowned mountaineer; Colonel Andrea Stavrou (Anthony Quinn), from the defeated Greek army; Franklin's best friend Corporal Miller (David Niven), a former University Chemistry teacher and explosives expert; Greek-American Spyros Pappadimos (James Darren), a native of Navarone; and "Butcher" Brown (Stanley Baker), an engineer and expert knife fighter.
Disguised as Greek fishermen on a decrepit boat, they sail across the Aegean Sea. They are intercepted by a German boat and boarded. They attack and kill all the Germans and sink the patrol boat. During the remainder of the voyage, Mallory confides to Franklin that Andrea has sworn to kill him after the war, because he was inadvertently responsible for the deaths of Andrea's wife and children.
In a violent storm, the ship is wrecked and they lose part of their equipment but still manage to land on the island. Led by Mallory, who was recruited for his climbing skills, they scale the "unclimbable" cliff. But Franklin is badly injured; the injury later becoming infected with gangrene. They find that the cliff is, in fact, guarded after all. Miller suggests that they leave Franklin to be "well cared for" by the enemy. Mallory, who assumes command of the mission, feels that Franklin would be forced to reveal their plans, so he orders two men to carry the injured man on a stretcher.
Franklin tries to commit suicide, but Mallory lies to him, saying that their mission has been "scrubbed" and that a major naval attack will be mounted on the side of the island opposite the gun emplacement. They rendezvous with local resistance fighters, Spyros's sister Maria (Irene Papas) and her friend Anna (Gia Scala), who was captured, tortured, and escaped. She was so traumatized that she cannot speak and will not allow even Maria to see her scars.
The mission is continually dogged by German soldiers, and the group is captured by Oberleutnant Muesel (Walter Gotell) in the town of Mandrakos, when they try to find a doctor for Franklin. Muesel and Hauptsturmführer Sessler (George Mikell) of the SS fail to persuade the saboteurs to tell them where Miller's explosives are. Andrea pretends to grovel and beg for mercy, which surprises the Germans, allowing the group to overpower their captors. They escape in German uniform but leave Franklin behind to receive medical attention.
In due course, Franklin is injected with scopolamine and gives up the false "information", as Mallory had hoped. German units are deployed in the direction of the supposed invasion point, away from the guns.
Miller discovers that most of his explosives have been rendered useless and deduces that Anna is the saboteur. It transpires that she is not mute after all and was only threatened with torture but agreed to become an informer in exchange for her release. She pleads that she was coerced; but Miller, bitter about the way that Mallory has "abandoned" Franklin, insists she must be silenced. While the men hem and haw at the thought of killing an unarmed woman, it is Maria who shoots her dead.
The team splits up: Mallory and Miller go for the guns, while Andrea and Pappadimos create a distraction in the town; Maria and Brown are assigned to steal a boat for their escape.
Mallory and Miller make their way to the heavily fortified gun emplacements. Locking the main entrance behind them—which sets off an alarm—Miller sets obvious explosives on the guns and hides more below an elevator leading to the guns. The Germans cut through the thick emplacement doors, as Mallory and Miller make their escape by diving into the sea, reaching the stolen boat. Pappadimos and Brown are dead, and Andrea is wounded. Mallory saves him, pulling him into the boat; thus voiding the "blood feud" between them.
The Allied destroyers appear on schedule. The Germans find the explosives planted on the guns and begin to fire on the passing Allied flotilla. The first salvo falls short. The second brackets the lead ship. However, just as the guns are prepared to fire again, the elevator descends low enough to trigger the hidden explosives. The guns and fortifications are destroyed in a spectacular explosion that Franklin hears from his hospital bed. As the ruined guns fall into the sea, the destroyers sound off their horns in celebration.
Andrea, who has fallen in love with Maria, decides to return to Navarone with her. Mallory and Miller observe the aftermath of the destruction from a destroyer.
The film was part of a cycle of big-budget World War II adventures that included The Bridge on the River Kwai (1957), The Longest Day (1962) and The Great Escape (1963). The screenplay, adapted by producer Carl Foreman, made significant changes from the novel.
The film was directed by J. Lee Thompson after original director Alexander Mackendrick was fired by Carl Foreman due to "creative differences". The Greek island of Rhodes provided locations and Quinn was so taken with the area that he bought land there in an area still called Anthony Quinn Bay. Some further scenes were shot on the islands of Gozo, near Malta, and Tino, in the Ligurian Sea. One of the warships in the film, the USS Slater (DE-766) then a training ship in the Hellenic Navy known as Aetos (D-01), is preserved as a museum ship in Albany, New York.
As described by director Thompson in the DVD commentary track, David Niven became severely ill after shooting in the pool of water underneath the cave elevator and nearly died, remaining in hospital for some weeks as other portions of the cave sequence were completed by the crew. However, since key scenes with Niven remained incomplete at that time, and it was in doubt whether Niven would be able to return at all to finish the film, the entire production was in jeopardy, and reshooting key scenes throughout the film with some other actor—and even abandoning the whole project to collect the insurance—was contemplated. Fortunately Niven was able to complete his scenes some weeks later.
The film's maps were created by Halas and Batchelor, a British team best known for their animated films.
The film was a major box office success and the eighth top grossing film of 1961 earning a net profit of $18,500,000. As a result, MacLean reunited Mallory, Miller, and Andrea in the best-seller Force 10 From Navarone, the only sequel of his long writing career, in 1968. That was in turn filmed as the significantly different Force 10 from Navarone in 1978 by British director Guy Hamilton, a veteran of several James Bond films. The cast included Robert Shaw, Edward Fox, and Harrison Ford. The sequel was a modest success, but not as big as the original.