And just before he switched off the torch—searchers returning from the Devil’s Playground might easily catch the pin-point of light in the darkness—Mallory had a brief glimpse of the turn-tables that crowned the far end of these shining rails and, crouched massively above, like some nightmare monsters from an ancient and other world, the evil, sinister silhouettes of the two great guns of Navarone.
Torch and revolver dangling loosely in his hands, only dimly aware of the curious tingling in the tips of his fingers, Mallory walked slowly forward. Slowly, but not with the stealthy slowness, the razor-drawn expectancy of a man anticipating trouble—there was no guard in the cave, Mallory was quite sure of that now—but with a strange dream-like slowness, the half-belief of a man who has accomplished something he had known all along he could never accomplish, with the slowness of a man at last face to face with a feared and long-sought enemy. I’m here at last, Mallory said to himself over and over again, I’m here at last, I’ve made it, and these are the guns of Navarone: these are the guns I came to destroy, the guns of Navarone, and I have come at last. But somehow he couldn’t quite believe it…
At 0100 Sunday, the match scratched and an imagined Edmund Hillary (called Mallory) heard the tale of the trapped men and the great guns that guarded the strait and what was then, and possibly still is, the best adventure yarn of the secret mission behind German lines was underway. Mighty book, terrific film, and because of it, Alistair MacLean would become one of my favourite authors for far longer than he deserved.
What lifts The Guns of Navarone above its innumerable counterparts is simply excellence. MacLean always keeps his spectacular mission plausible, has more developed characters than most but he never allows his splendid eye for detail to slow the action. And the movie honoured the book, provide epic production values, authentic locations and an absolutely outstanding cast—Gregory Peck, David Niven, Anthony Quinn, Anthony Quayle, Stanley Baker, Irene Pappas are all brilliant while even James Darren is adequate. It has never been matched, and I think never will be because it just would not be possible to do this sort of thing any better.
114. Cousin Lennie’s Wife
Brigadier Jensen, (James Robertson-Justice) head of British Military Intelligence for the Middle East, invites Captain Mallory (Gregory Peck) to participate in an impossible, but crucial, mission. Major Franklin (Anthony Quayle) will lead them. The task is to destroy the two great German guns on the island of Navarone, which prevent the rescue of 2000 trapped British troops on a nearby island. The task involves approaching Navarone from the far side where precipitous cliffs mean no German defences are necessary. Mallory, a famous Kiwi Mountaineer, will get the team to the top of the cliffs.
Mallory specifically asks that veteran Cretan resistance fighter Colonel Andrea Stavros (Anthony Quinn) be added to the team, despite the fact that Stavros intends to kill Mallory, who he blames for the death of his wife and kids.
The other three members of the raiding party are Private Brown (Stanley Baker),a good man with a knife; Private Spyros Pappadimos, (James Darren) a local Navarone partisan: and Corporal Miller, (David Niven) a genius with high explosives.
They travel to Navarone by caque, pretending to be local fishermen but, after destroying a German patrol boat, they run into a devastating storm. The light boat is dashed to pieces on the shores of Navarone.
As the others wait anxiously below, Mallory makes his way up the mountain side and attempts to gain a position from which he will be able to aid the others in their assault of the cliffs. They eventually get the others to the top of the granite wall, but not without the cliff exacting a terrible toll. Franklin, leader of the group, breaks his leg in a fall and Mallory is forced to take charge.
Franklin, knowing he is holding them up, tries to crawl away, and then to kill himself. But Mallory is determined to keep hold of him.
They link up with the local resistance, in the form of two Greek women partisans. Maria, (Irene Papas) who is Pappadimos’ older sister, and Anna, (Gia Scala) a former school teacher who has been shocked into dumbness by German torture.
Carrying on their masquerade as Greek peasants, the commandos are caught up in a village wedding celebration. Escaping capture, Mallory decides that Franklin, in no condition to travel, must be supplied with false information about the plan to destroy the guns, and left as a decoy.
In stolen German uniforms, the commandos gain a few minutes to get a look at their objective. Even after what they have heard about the guns, they are stunned by the awesome sight of the cannons which they must destroy.
Andrea and Pappadimos are to create a diversion in town to cover for Miller and Mallory. The fighting Andrea is unable to control the boy’s overzealous aggression and rather than serving as a decoy, Pappadimos goes down fighting. Elsewhere, Brown is also killed as he and Maria steal a boat for their escape.
Meanwhile, Miller and Mallory, disguised as German officers, gain entry to the gun fortress. Eluding a search party, they bar themselves in the gun cave. Racing against time and enemy efforts to dislodge them, they hide a destructive charge which will be set off when the guns are fired.
Leaping to the sea far below, they swim to the safety of a launch, manned by Maria, and watch for the arrival of a British destroyer squadron.
The Germans finally break into the cave and thoroughly search the area. They find the decoy Miller left and, assuming that the guns are now safe, they prepare to open fire. The great guns thunder as the destroyers enter the channel