Gregory Peck Tribute: The Guns of Navarone

Ruth over at Flix Chatter has had another great blogathon idea, this time in honor of Gregory Peck, who would have been 96 (if my math is right) today, April 5. Her birthday tribute post: Beauty is Forever: Happy Birthday, Gregory Peck.
As my tribute, I’ve chosen to review one of my favorite WWII movies, The Guns of Navarone (1961). A lot of my love is due to Peck’s presence. He won his acting Oscar in 1963 playing the world’s greatest fictional Dad, Atticus Finch in To Kill A Mockingbird, and I believe that his character in Navarone, Mallory, may just be the world’s greatest commanding officer.

The basic idea of the film is that an Allied special forces team is sent to destroy two gigantic Nazi guns high up on a mountainous island in Greece. They must complete their mission in 6 days, before a British navy convoy is due to go through the nearby straits. If the guns are still operational, the ships will certainly be destroyed, and all the men on them killed. The odds, of course, are stacked against the team, and to a certain extent, they were stacked against the film. There were several screenwriters and a few directors working on it, so that the script changed from day to day, until J. Lee Thompson took over direction and Carl Foreman the script. David Niven cut his lip filming the boat scene in the studio water tank and developed a life-threatening infection. (PS: You’d never know the scene was filmed in a tank. Not for nothing did Navarone win the Oscar for Best Special Effects.)

There is a still center in all this chaos, and that is Gregory Peck. His character, Keith Mallory, known as “The Human Fly” for his extraordinary climbing abilities, is hoodwinked into leading the mission by the promise of leave and promotion. That, and the knowledge that if he doesn’t, 2,000 British soldiers will die. Although he states quite plainly, “I think the operation is insane,” he goes ahead with it. I don’t think it’s much of a stretch to say Corporal Miller the explosives expert (David Niven) is a bit of a malcontent. Greek assassin Andreas (Anthony Quinn) has sworn to kill Mallory after the war, and there’s spies and traitors along the way. Mallory puts up with quite a bit from his team, and the enemy, and only really loses his temper once.

Gregory Peck in disguise in The Guns of Navarone

The decency and authority that Peck brings so believably to the role, two years before Mockingbird, helps to focus attention on the film’s meditations on the nature of war. It isn’t that Mallory won’t kill anyone. It’s just that he won’t do it indiscriminately. His presence throws many questions into sharper relief. Questions like, When is it acceptable to kill someone? Is torture OK? Is revenge? How about executing a female traitor? Is it OK to send men on a suicidal mission? Not that Navarone devotes a lot of time to agonizing over this stuff…it’s an action picture, and Peck handles all of that well too.

Another fun fact I learned while watching this film on TCM…host with the most Robert Osborne recounted Niven’s claim that Peck could drink brandy all day (to stay warm) and “never drop a line.” Niven referred to this talent as “disgusting,” but I think it’s only remarkably appropriate for Gregory Peck.

Bonus video: The Specials — Guns of Navarone:

9 thoughts on “Gregory Peck Tribute: The Guns of Navarone

  1. It’s been far too long since I watched Guns of Navarone. I remember that I liked it though. It made me laugh seeing the caption of Peck in “disguise” because I don’t remember what he looked like in the film. In the picture he looks the same as always. haha.

    1. He was supposed to be a Greek fisherman…according to his commanding officer, he speaks Greek like a Greek! It’s sort of ridiculous when any of the Old Hollywood stars disguise themselves as anything…with their looks & presence, they aren’t ever going to blend in LOL

      1. Hi, Terrence, Paula and company:

        Good catch and write up!

        ‘The Guns of Navarone’ is a decent film all the way around. Very close to Alistair MacLean’s novel. Would love to see a Thames production of MacLean’s premiere ‘HMS Ulysses’. And the dangers of Royal Navy convoy and escort duty on the Murmansk Run during WWII.

        The least believable ‘disguise’ for Peck would be the latter part of Peck’s ‘Captain Horatio Hornblower’ where ramrod straight Peck spouts monotone French in civilian clothes while trying to get back to Merry Olde England.

        1. Thanks Jack! I’ve wanted to read the G of N book for a while. IIRC, very few men made the Murmansk Run twice…could make a great movie. [It is a theory of mine that one of the problems in Western society today, and also one of the reasons people like WWII movies, is there are no more opportunities to sacrifice oneself for something entirely 100% good and universally approved of…like fighting the Nazis…anymore. I could be wrong. 🙂 ]

          LOL re: Horatio Hornblower! Yeah, that is a bit of a stretch. He looks really uncomfortable. I’ve only seen it once!

  2. That film is not one of my faves of his but I always loved him. He was still good looking in his 70’s!

  3. Woo hoo!! Thanks Paula for this awesome review!

    “A lot of my love is due to Peck’s presence. ” Ahah, well that’s how I feel for every single one of his films 😀 I LOVE this movie for a lot of reasons though, but the cast really is awesome. You’re right about the special effects being quite convincing even for the day, and the cast suffered quite a bit in the process. I think Peck was also injuring filming the storm scene, but I think Niven got the worst of it.

    Btw, according to IMDb trivia, the plot went through so many twists that Gregory Peck finally submitted his own version to Carl Foreman: “David Niven really loves Anthony Quayle and Gregory Peck loves Anthony Quinn. Tony Quayle breaks a leg and is sent off to hospital. Tony Quinn falls in love with Irene Papas, and Niven and Peck catch each other on the rebound and live happily ever after.”

    Ahah, that explains that last scene! 😀

    1. I guess it does! I love it! I know Peck & Niven were BFFs after making G of N.

      Thanks for your kind words doll & for asking me to be a part of the Peck celebration…I really appreciate it. Without you and T, I doubt I’d still be writing this blog 🙂

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