5 MAY 1961, Page 19


Conventional Warfare

By ISABEL QUIGLY The Guns of Navarone.

I WILL pay one crude compliment to The Guns of Navarone (director: J. Lee Thompson; 'A' certificate): during all its two hours and forty minutes I didn't once start peering about to see

the time. Crude compli- ment but important. It isn't. whatever else it is, it bore, and, however ridiculous a great deal of rt looks in retrospect, at the time it keeps you on the hop from crisis to crisis with a fair amount of cunning. What it really is is a first-class boys' adventure story which has somehow to its own cinbarrassment got tangled with some adult notions about war and how to tight it. Carl Foreman has produced a 'big' film in the Hollywood tradition of size and starriness, a big film but not a big nonsense; and J. Lee Thomp- 4013 has directed his noisiest and most spectacu- lar effort. And, just as a certain sort of book gets called 'a good read,', you can call it a rattling good 'see.' The story is far-fetched and much of the detail farcical, but at the time, within its own limitations, it carries you along. 001y when it gets too serious or too silly for its 0Wt convention (its carefully delimited conven- t," of schoolboy fun, moral earnestness, and fairy-tale), only when it turns adult, in fact, and shows you adults in action, or when, as occa- sionally happens, the script lets things down or We are asked to swallow an extra-impossible Piece of visual unlikelihood, do the absurdities show. While it keeps to the rules, it's fine. .The strong cast seems sympathetic to heroics et this kind: Anthony Quinn—best of them an- ti, avid Niven, Anthony Quayle, Stanley Baker, James Robertson Justice, the splendid Irene papas, all sorts of good minor players—these Would have done very well without that apparently inevitable trimming on the expensively iced cake, the International Star. Sometimes it happens that the actors in a film all look right, 'eel right and behave right, except for that one ,„excrescence, the star who will pull people in taroin Patagonia to Peking, and who is in it not 43 an integral part of it, but as a necessary, tacked-on expense. Here the monumentally mi- lli nnteresting hero is Gregory Peck, whose wooden- , lively, becomes positively statuesque beside the thiely, breathing performances of those around ,,14 alit': and who, surely for the first time ever, gets flat sexual snub. 'Sir,' says Miss Papas, the girl partisan, clearly about to make approaches.

_es?' says Mr. Peck, coming faintly to life.

ot you,' says Miss Papas, with what they call g !it-concealed scorn, turning to the simian-looking but intensely alive Mr. Quinn. But judged by the International average of taste—a sort of multi- racial lowest common denominator—she was

wrong, and Mr. Peck just has to be the moun- taineer who first scales the impossible cliff-face, pulling his minions after him on ropes; and the official leader of the raiding party simply has to break a leg early on in the film, to let Mr Peck take command.

The guns of the title are the apparently un- assailable fortifications, of rather unlikely vast- ness, on a Greek island during the war. The raiding party is given the 'impossible' task of destroying them. It takes a long time to do so, but, of course, as we know from the start, it will, in the end it does. Those who have suffered directly from the war, that is the locals, believe that war's a dirty business you must fight full out, gloves off. Some of the others think other- wise. In the end they all come to the same sort of conclusions. The ending, with two fake grand climaxes, is suitably high-pitched.

The trouble with layabouts as a subject for fiction, even if it sounds sanctimonious to say so, is their boringness to outsiders and what looks like the screaming monotony of their lives. Of the innumerable films made about them one of the few satisfactory ones was Fellini's ageless and undatable / Vitelloni (incomparably his best film, 1 think), which showed their pathos and grotesqueness, and the absurdity of their pretensions to living it up. Most film-makers faced with a bunch of spivs, delinquents or merely Modern Youth, not content with looking sentimentally at them, gasp, and invite us to do so as well. La Dolce Vita was the loUdest gasp of the lot and the more appalled and fascinated we were supposed to be the more wearisome it all became. Franco Rossi's Death of a Friend ('X' certificate) is not so much about delinquency as about friendship (masculine and tender, but not explicitly homosexual, as in Friends for Life), but it has all the trappings of the spiv-film, now grown so familiar that the sight of another motor-scooter driven insanely by a youth in dark glasses, or a pavement full of oversized prosti- tutes, can scarcely be taken much to heart.

This is a pity, because subject-matter in itself ought not to influence judgment. But repetition cannot fail to cushion one against shock, and finally against surprise and almost' against any sort of reaction; and Rossi's attitude here is, like that of so many other film-makers, fluffy, feathery, ambiguous, limply moralising, limply condoning. All the same he has originality of eye and an authenticity that others lack : just compare this film with .a real piece of visual cliché on a similar subject, like Bolognini's La Notte Brava or Carnes Les Tricheurs. What is wrong is Rossi's involvement with his two spiv- heroes, a tearfully personal attitude that seems almost like identification, even self-pity, as if the fate of louts who live on their widowed and toil-worn mums at twenty-two, when there's plenty of work to be had, were really something piteous, instead off pitiful. It can be made affect- ing, as any human situation can be, treated in the right way; but the right way isn't a sort of rueful, moist-eyed complicity. Vicious heroes need a cool eye on them.