Monday, 18 August 2014

Force 10 from Navarone (1978)

Force 10 from Navarone is a sequel to The Guns of Navarone, and that’s its biggest problem. The Guns of Navarone was one of the best action adventure movies ever made and this sets up unrealistically high expectations for the sequel. The Guns of Navarone (released in 1961) was also an old school World War 2 action adventure movie, from the era before the Bond movies changed all the rules. Force 10 from Navarone is very much a post-Bond movie (in fact it was directed by Guy Hamilton who was responsible for no less than four Bond movies), so it’s a different style of action adventure movie. Force 10 from Navarone is more tongue-in-cheek but it’s also more overtly far-fetched in its execution.

It also suffers from being a sequel made 17 years after the original. Only two characters from the original film appear in the sequel but due to the time lapse both characters had to be recast. The roles of Gregory Peck and David Niven are taken over by Robert Shaw and Edward Fox. A sequel that doesn’t have a single actor from the original film can hardly be regarded as a true sequel, even if the Alistair MacLean novel on which it is based really was a sequel to The Guns of Navarone. Shaw and Fox, very wisely, make no attempt to maintain any continuity with the characters played by Peck and Niven.

Force 10 from Navarone was an Anglo-American co-production and was released in 1978. Perhaps not surprisingly it failed to ignite the box office.

Having said all this, it’s actually by no means a bad movie. It’s just not the movie that the tie-in with the 1961 movie would have led audiences to expect. 

Some time after the events described in The Guns of Navarone two members of the team  that had carried out the earlier mission are re-united for another secret operation behind enemy lines. Major Mallory (Robert Shaw) and Sergeant Miller (Edward Fox) have orders to assassinate a traitor operating with Partisan forces in Yugoslavia. They will be air-dropped in Yugoslavia in an RAF Lancaster along with another team, led by Lieutenant-Colonel Barnsby (Harrison Ford). Barnsby’s team, code-named Force 10, have been tasked with destroying a vital bridge.

Right from the start everything that could go wrong does go wrong. The secret take-off of the Lancaster is interrupted by the inconvenient arrival of a contingent of Military Police. Before the drop-zone is reached the Lancaster is shot down. Only two survivors remain from Force 10. Mallory and Miller also survived and it seems the only logical thing to do is for them to join the remnants of Force 10, although Barnsby is not exactly delighted by the prospect. Barnsby is a serious young officer who likes to do things by the rule book. Mallory and Miller have never read the rule book.

They are supposed to join up with a Partisan force but end up being captured by Chetniks (anti-communist guerillas who co-operated with the Axis forces against the communist Partisans). After a series of misadventures our heroes do find the Partisans but there are more double-crosses in store for them. To top it all off they discover that the bridge they are supposed to destroy can’t possibly be destroyed without a vast quantity of explosives that they don’t possess, and even if they had the necessary explosives the job couldn’t be done in the time available. It’s all bitterly disappointing, until Sergeant Miller points out that while they can’t blow up the bridge they could destroy it by indirect means. 

As mentioned earlier director Guy Hamilton was a veteran of four Bond movies. His approach in Force 10 from Navarone is very similar to his approach in his Bond films. That’s no bad thing, given that his Bond movies include Goldfinger, generally regarded as the best of the series. 

The special effects are very good indeed, especially in the climactic scenes. The movie was shot in various locations, including Yugoslavia. Military geeks will be amused that the German tanks in this movie are actually Russian T34/85s, which in 1978 would still have been standard equipment in Yugoslavia’s army. The Germans did use captured equipment in secondary theatres of the war such as the Balkans so it’s not as unrealistic as it might seem. The action sequences are well executed and there are plenty of them.

Harrison Ford does a competent job as Barnsby. Barnsby is brave but rather too tightly buttoned, making a nice contrast to the more flamboyant Mallory (played by the much more flamboyant Robert Shaw). Edward Fox is amusing as the rather eccentric Sergeant Miller, a man who is happiest when he has something he can blow up. With his suitcase full of fiendish explosive gadgets he is a character who would be perfectly at home in a Bond movie. Richard Kiel as the larger-than-life (literally in this case) Chetnik leader, Barbara Bach as the beautiful double agent Maritza and Franco Nero as the ambiguous Captain Lescovar are all fairly solid.

The Region 4 DVD offers a 16x9 enhanced transfer that looks pretty impressive.

By the time this movie was made the classic World War 2 action adventure movie was coming to the end of its run. Force 10 from Navarone cannot compare with the best movies in the genre, and certainly is nowhere near as good as earlier Alistair MacLean adaptations such as The Guns of Navarone and Where Eagles Dare, but it’s a thoroughly enjoyable second-rank representative of the genre. Recommended.

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