The Guns of Navarone (film)

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The Guns of Navarone
Theatrical release poster
Directed by J. Lee Thompson
Screenplay by Carl Foreman
Based on The Guns of Navarone
by Alistair MacLean
Produced byCarl Foreman
Cinematography Oswald Morris
Edited by Alan Osbiston
Music by Dimitri Tiomkin
Highroad Productions
Distributed by Columbia Pictures
Release dates
  • 27 April 1961 (1961-04-27)(London)
  • 28 April 1961 (1961-04-28)(United Kingdom)
  • 22 June 1961 (1961-06-22)(United States)
Running time
158 minutes
CountriesUnited Kingdom
United States
Budget$6 million [1]
Box office$28.9 million [2]

The Guns of Navarone is a 1961 action adventure war film directed by J. Lee Thompson from a screenplay by Carl Foreman, based on Alistair MacLean's 1957 novel of the same name. Foreman also produced the film. The film stars Gregory Peck, David Niven and Anthony Quinn, along with Stanley Baker, Anthony Quayle, Irene Papas, Gia Scala, Richard Harris and James Darren. The book and the film share a plot: the efforts of an Allied commando unit to destroy a seemingly impregnable German fortress that threatens Allied naval ships in the Aegean Sea.



Cliffs of 'Navarone', showing how the openings to gun positions were portrayed in the film by marble quarries on the island of Palmaria, off the west coast of Italy Marble caves on Palmaria island (Liguria, Italy).jpg
Cliffs of ‘Navarone’, showing how the openings to gun positions were portrayed in the film by marble quarries on the island of Palmaria, off the west coast of Italy

In 1943, the Axis powers plan an assault on the island of Kheros, where 2,000 British soldiers are marooned, to display their military strength and convince neutral Turkey to join them. Rescue by the Royal Navy is prevented by two massive radar-directed large-calibre guns on (fictional) nearby Navarone Island. When aerial bombing efforts fail, Allied Intelligence gathers a commando unit to infiltrate Navarone and destroy the guns. Led by Major Roy Franklin, the team is composed of Captain Keith Mallory, a renowned spy and an officer with the Long Range Desert Group (LRDG); Colonel Andrea Stavros from the Greek Army; Franklin's best friend Corporal Miller, an explosives expert and former chemistry professor; Greco-American Spyros Pappadimos, a native of Navarone; and "The Butcher of Barcelona" Brown, an engineer and expert knife fighter.

Disguised as Greek fishermen on a decrepit fishing vessel, they sail across the Aegean Sea, where they successfully overwhelm the crew of a German patrol boat intercepting them. Later in the voyage, Mallory confides to Franklin that Stavros had sworn to kill him after the war because Mallory was inadvertently responsible for the deaths of Stavros's wife and children. After being shipwrecked on the coast of Navarone during a storm, the experienced mountaineer Mallory leads the team in a climb up the cliff, during which Franklin badly injures his leg. While taking shelter in the mountains, Mallory stops Franklin from killing himself and lies to him that their mission has been scrubbed, and that a major naval attack will be mounted on the coast instead. They rendezvous with two local resistance fighters, Spyros' sister Maria and her friend Anna, who was once captured and tortured by the Germans before escaping.

German soldiers continually dog the mission. The group is eventually captured in the town of Mandrakos by Oberleutnant Muesel while trying to find a doctor for Franklin (whose leg is infected with gangrene). While being interrogated by SS Hauptsturmführer Sessler, Stavros distracts the Germans and the team overpower their captors. They escape in German uniforms, leaving Franklin behind to receive medical attention. In due course, Franklin is injected with scopolamine and gives up Mallory's misinformation, as Mallory had hoped. Most forces leave the fortress to counter the expected coastal attack. Upon infiltrating the village of Navarone, however, Miller discovers most of his explosives have been sabotaged and deduces that Anna is the culprit. She confesses that she did not escape but that the Germans recruited her as an informer in exchange for her release. Mallory reluctantly prepares to execute Anna to prevent detection, but Maria intervenes instead and shoots her dead.

The team splits up: Mallory and Miller go for the guns, Stavros and Spyros create distractions in town (assisted by local residents), and Maria and Brown steal a boat for their escape. Spyros dies in a shootout with a German officer, and Brown is stabbed during the boat theft due to his reluctance to kill a guard. Meanwhile, Mallory and Miller infiltrate the gun emplacement but set off an alarm when they seal the doors behind them. Miller plants explosives on the guns and prepares a large booby trap below an ammunition hoist, with a trigger device set into the track of the hoist. The Germans eventually force entry into the gun emplacement and defuse the explosives planted on the guns; meanwhile, Mallory and Miller make their escape down the cliff and are picked up from the sea by the stolen boat. A wounded Stavros is also able to reach the sea and is helped aboard by Mallory, thus resolving the blood feud between them.

As the Allied destroyers trying to rescue the trapped British troops appear, the Germans open fire at them. When the hoist eventually reaches Miller's trigger, the hidden explosives set off the surrounding shells in a massive explosion, totally destroying the guns and the entire fortress. Mallory's team safely reaches the British convoy. However, Stavros shakes Mallory's hand and decides to return to Navarone with Maria, with whom he has fallen in love. Mallory and Miller, returning home, observe the aftermath of their success from a destroyer.


Peter Grant, future music manager of the Yardbirds, Led Zeppelin and Bad Company, played an uncredited British commando.


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). MacLean's novel had been a bestseller and was read by Mike Frankovich, head of Columbia Pictures, who became excited as to its cinematic possibilities. He showed it to Carl Foreman, who had written Bridge on the River Kwai and had a producing deal with Columbia, who was not as enthusiastic at first, in part because he knew how difficult making a movie version would be. Foreman eventually changed his mind and agreed to make the movie. [4] The novel had been inspired by the Battle of Leros during the Dodecanese Campaign of World War II but the guns on Leros were 152 mm (6 in), not the huge guns described in the book and the film. [5] However, they may have been inspired by the four naval 305mm (12 inch) Obukhovskii 12"/52 Pattern 1907 guns, which were 15.85 metres long and installed by the Germans at the Batterie Mirus on the island of Guernsey in 1942. The screenplay, adapted by producer Carl Foreman, made significant changes from the novel; these included changing the gender of the local resistance fighters and inventing a conflict between Mallory and Andrea.

Foreman wanted to direct as well, but Columbia refused, insisting on a British director. The job went to Alexander Mackendrick (director of The Sweet Smell of Success ), who said he "wanted to take what was essentially a typical, action-packed wartime melodrama and give it some pretentious overtones." [6] Mackendrick left the production in March 1960, a week before shooting started, due to an alleged severe back ailment. [7] It was later suggested he was fired by Foreman due to "creative differences". [8] He was replaced by J. Lee Thompson, in part because star Gregory Peck was impressed by North West Frontier . [6] The role played by Niven was originally intended for Kenneth More. [9] Foreman had written the part for More, but the head of Rank, John Davis, refused to lend More out for the film. [10]


The Greek island of Rhodes provided locations—the unit was based on there from April to July 1960. 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 destroyer escort USS Slater, then a training ship in the Hellenic Navy known as Aetos (D-01), is preserved as a museum ship in Albany, New York. [11]

As described by director Thompson in the DVD commentary track, David Niven became severely ill after shooting sequences in a dirty pool of water underneath the cave elevator and could have died from a serious infection, remaining in the hospital for some weeks as the crew completed other portions of the cave sequence. Since key scenes with Niven remained incomplete, and it was doubtful whether he would return to finish the film, the entire production was in jeopardy. Reshooting key scenes throughout the film with another actor and abandoning the project to collect the insurance were contemplated. Against medical advice, Niven felt obligated to complete his work and agreed to shoot and complete his scenes. However, he relapsed and did not recover for another seven weeks.

A complication arose when it was found that Gregory Peck, whose character was supposed to be fluent in German, could not speak the language convincingly. Voice actor Robert Rietty dubbed all of Peck's German dialogue for the film. [12] The film's maps were created by Halas and Batchelor, a British team best known for their animated films. Although the island of Navarone is fictional, a map depicted in the film purporting to show the island of Navarone shows it as the real island of Antikythera. Several members of the Greek royal family visited the set the day the Mandrakos cafe scene was filmed and appear in the background as extras. [13]


The film's score was composed by Dimitri Tiomkin and featured arrangements of several traditional songs.

Tiomkin's theme song featured on the soundtrack album with lyrics recounting the film's plot. His theme became a popular instrumental with several cover versions including a 1965 version by The Skatalites. Other cover versions were performed by Johnny Griffin, Al Caiola and the Hollyridge Strings.

Release and reception

Box office

The Guns of Navarone had its Royal World Premiere in aid of the Edwina Mountbatten Trust and in the presence of Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II and His Royal Highness Prince Philip, Duke of Edinburgh on 27 April 1961, at the Odeon Leicester Square in London's West End. The film grossed $28.9 million at the box office [2] generating theatrical rentals of $13 million in the United States and Canada and was the second top-grossing film of 1961. [14] It earned worldwide rentals of $25 million. [1]


Reviews were mostly positive; Bosley Crowther of The New York Times called the film "one of those muscle-loaded pictures in the thundering tradition of DeMille, which means more emphasis is placed on melodrama than on character or credibility." He added that while the film was predictable, "for anyone given to letting himself be entertained by scenes of explosive action and individual heroic displays, there should be entertainment in this picture, for there is plenty of all that in it." [15] Variety wrote that the film was "the sort of spectacular drama that can ignore any TV competition and, even with its flaws, should have patrons firmly riveted throughout its lengthy narrative. With a bunch of weighty stars, terrific special effects, several socko situations plus good camerawork and other technical okays, Foreman and director J. Lee Thompson have sired a winner." [16] Harrison's Reports gave a grade of "Excellent," stating: "The script, direction, acting (by a brilliant cast) and photography are all prizeworthy." [17] Richard L. Coe of The Washington Post called the film "a magnificently detailed cliff-hanger of spectacular settings and deeds of impossible derring-do ... What makes this one of the good ones is superlative photography of the storied Grecian isles, a crackerjack cast and a yarn about WWII in which unlikely incident succeeds unlikely incident with rare largesse." [18]

John L. Scott of the Los Angeles Times called it "the best adventure movie to hit the screen this year," adding, "Some viewers will deplore a lack of character motivation—the origins of the six heroes are passed by rather quickly at the beginning—and women may yearn for more romantic passages in the film—but most of us, I am sure, will be satisfied with the epic suspense and sweep of this highly pictorial adventure." [19] Brendan Gill of The New Yorker called it one of those movies "that are no less thrilling because they are so preposterous ... Let me also confess that I was held more or less spellbound all the way through this many-colored rubbish". [20] The Monthly Film Bulletin thought the film fell well short of its ambitions, finding that Foreman's script had "too much diffusion, too much talk, and too many themes raised and dropped, so that the adventure story is not lifted to another plane but overstretched, robbed of the tight narrative concentration needed for a mounting tension." The review also criticized director Thompson for lacking "the ability of the Hollywood veterans to hold a long picture together" and instead of moving the action forward "in a series of jerks." [21] Stanley Kauffmann of The New Republic wrote- "The Guns of Navarone is a lively adventure picture full of vivid action, obviously contrived but effective suspense." [22]

As of August 2020, the film held a 92% rating on the review-aggregation website Rotten Tomatoes based on 24 reviews, with an average score of 7.93 out of 10. [23]

Awards and honours

Academy Awards [24] Best Motion Picture Carl Foreman Nominated
Best Director J. Lee Thompson Nominated
Best Screenplay – Based on Material from Another Medium Carl ForemanNominated
Best Film Editing Alan Osbiston Nominated
Best Music Score of a Dramatic or Comedy Picture Dimitri Tiomkin Nominated
Best Sound John Cox Nominated
Best Special Effects Bill Warrington and Chris Greenham Won
British Academy Film Awards Best British Screenplay Carl ForemanNominated
Directors Guild of America Awards Outstanding Directorial Achievement in Motion Pictures J. Lee ThompsonNominated
Golden Globe Awards Best Motion Picture – Drama Won
Best Director – Motion Picture J. Lee ThompsonNominated
Best Original Score – Motion Picture Dimitri TiomkinWon
Grammy Awards Best Soundtrack Album or Recording of Score from Motion Picture or Television Nominated
International Film Music Critics Awards Best New Release, Re-Release or Re-Recording of an Existing Score Dimitri Tiomkin and James FitzpatrickNominated
Laurel Awards Top DramaWon
Top Male Dramatic Performance Gregory Peck Nominated

The film is recognized by the American Film Institute in the following list:


In 1968, author Alistair MacLean reunited Mallory, Miller, and Stavros in the best-selling novel Force 10 From Navarone , the only sequel of his long writing career. 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, Harrison Ford and Edward Fox. Though the sequel was a modest success, it did not match the original critically or commercially.

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