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The Guns of Navarone: Special Edition

When it comes to the great espionage novelists of the 20th century, the masters of the form roll off the tongue — Frederick Forsythe, John Le Carré, Robert Ludlum, Jack Higgins. And, of course, Alistair MacLean, perhaps the most bankable of all intrigue writers for his brevity, crisp plotting, and tell-tale red herrings. Pick up any MacLean novel and you can expect the following: a noble, somewhat inscrutable hero is given a suicide mission. The mission involves a rescue, invasion, or escape of some sort. The work will require the cooperation of others. However, somebody on the team will be a traitor (the knowledge of a traitor will appear before the culprit is actually identified). And, of course, everything will come down to a few nail-biting final moments before the heroes prevail. Many of MacLean's books have been translated to the big screen, and while Ice Station Zebra is a ready favorite for adventure fans, 1961's The Guns of Navarone remains his most popular to date. Directed by J. Lee Thompson, Navarone concerns 2,000 British soldiers trapped on a Greek island during World War II, where they await rescue by the British Fleet before the Nazis take action. However, in order to reach the troops the fleet must pass through a channel guarded by two massive German guns on the island of Navarone. Time is a precious commodity, forcing the government to mount a small infiltrate-and-destroy mission, led by experienced mountain-climber Keith Mallory (Gregory Peck). He is joined by a group of experts, each selected for their unique skills — Greek resistance-fighter Stavros (Anthony Quinn); demolition-expert Miller (David Niven); sharpshooter Pappadimos (James Darren); knife-man Brown (Stanley Baker); and team-leader Franklin (Anthony Quayle). Once the team is assembled, the plot wastes no time. A dangerous undercover journey via fishing boat results in a catastrophic night-time landing on Navarone. The team are in shambles after the shipwreck, but they have no choice but to carry on, scaling a cliff-face and then determining how they should best infiltrate the mountain fortress. Surprises lie in wait everywhere, including harried encounters with the Nazi SS — who know that Allied agents have reached the island — and a pair of female resistance fighters (Irene Papas, Gia Scala), who join forces with the rag-tag Brits. Solid fun from beginning to end, The Guns of Navarone may show its age in a few sequences here and there, but the plotting, the performances, and those evil Nazis have made it reliable entertainment for decades. Peck is the stable center of the crew, forced to make the tough decisions that could come back to haunt him. Niven, as the humanistic Miller, may be a genius when it comes to blowing things up, but he has little stomach for the realities of close-quarter warfare. And yet Quinn steals the movie from both of them as the crafty Stavros, a man who isn't merely on a mission to destroy two guns, but who has dedicated his life to killing Nazis, as he lost his wife and children to German soldiers years earlier. The trio forms both the narrative and thematic core of Navarone, driving the story forward with engaging characters and not just pyrotechnics. They simply don't make movie stars like they used to. Columbia TriStar's The Guns of Navarone: Special Edition is a must-have for fans of the action/adventure genre, and it features an excellent anamorphic transfer (2.35:1) from the restored print (currently at the UCLA Film and Television Archive, where the restoration was overseen by Robert Gitt). Audio is available in the original English four-channel track (in Dolby Surround) or in a new Dolby Digital 5.1 mix. The many features include a commentary by director Thompson; the 30-minute retrospective documentary "Memories of Navarone," featuring comments from Peck, Quinn, Thompson, Darren, and others; four early black-and-white featurettes from Columbia Pictures; a brief message from producer Carl Foreman, shot just after the film was released worldwide; trailers for Navarone and the Gregory Peck film Behold a Pale Horse; and cast-and-crew filmographies.

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