This week’s pick is the 1978 release of Force 10 from Navarone, directed by Guy Hamilton (Battle of Britain). This was the sequel to the 1961 film The Guns of Navarone, which I wrote about last week. The film is loosely based off the novel of the same name also written by Alistair MacLean in 1968.
Robert Shaw this time portrays Keith Mallory as he and his accomplice Miller (Edward Fox) tag along with an American Colonel (Harrison Ford) who is sent into Yugoslavia to blow up a German held bridge which threatens Partisan forces in the region. The supporting cast include Carl Weathers (Sgt. Weaver), Richard Kiel (Captain Drazak), Barbara Bach (Maritza Petrovich), Michael Byrne (Maj. Schroeder), Alan Badel (Maj. Petrovich), and Franco Nero (Capt. Nikolai Lescovar).
The film opens up with a recap of the previous film (for those of us who like to watch sequels in reverse order), and tells of the successful mission led by Mallory, originally played by Gregory Peck, and Cpl. Miller (David Niven) as they destroyed the German gun emplacements on the tiny Greek island of Navarone. The film then flashes forward to a training camp in England where Mallory and Miller are once again called upon to take on another dangerous assignment.
Mallory and Miller are both promoted to Major and Sergeant, and are to attach themselves onto a unit known as “Force 10”, an American commando unit which is to conduct a sabotage mission against the German forces occupying Yugoslavia. Lt. Col. Mike Barnsby (Harrison Ford) is the commanding officer of Force 10 and is not thrilled with the idea of Mallory and Miller tagging along on their mission. Both Mallory and Barnsby put their differences aside and try to work with one another.
Force 10 sets off for Yugoslavia by way of an airfield in occupied Italy. Barnsby (Ford) and his men are to secretly commander an R.A.F. Lancaster bomber and fly off w/o causing any attention. Mallory and Miller and confused as to the cloak & dagger routine and Barnsby shares the fact that several attempts failed into occupied Yugoslavia and this time, they’re taking no chances of letting anyone know.
Barnsby’s men begin cutting through the base perimeter fence, when they are discovered by a group of American M.P.s who assume they’re stealing supplies. Barnsby’s men clash with the M.P.s and avoid capture. Sgt. Weaver (Weathers) is a prisoner who inadvertently joins the commandos on the mission into Yugoslavia.
Once in flight, Force 10 makes its way over the Adriatic Sea until it’s spotted by a group of German fighters who cause damage to the plane and kill most of the commando team. Barnsby, Miller, Mallory, Weaver, and Lt. Doug Reynolds (Angus MacInnes) bail out before the plane explodes.
Once in occupied territory, Barnsby discovers the addition of Weaver and treats him with hostility due to the fact that all of Force 10 and their equipment is gone, and that Barnsby is a bit of a racist prick who doesn’t want to admit it. Barnsby leads the men on in hopes that they meet up with the Partisans and are able to achieve the objective of blowing up a bridge. At the same time, Barnsby and Reynolds are also curious as to why Mallory and Miller have been tagged onto their mission.
The film is well paced with Hamilton’s directing style, and the lulls are somewhat few and far between. Force 10 makes its way through the countryside until they are discovered by Capt. Drazak’s (Kiel) men who claim they are Partisans. Force 10 accompanies them to their camp where they reveal themselves as Chetniks, Serb nationals who have aligned themselves with the Germans. Mallory and Barnsby try to convince Maj. Schroeder (Michael Byrne) that they are in fact deserters and not commandos.
Mallory cooks up the story that they are black market profiteers who have stolen penicillin and are trying to sell it to whomever. Miller’s suitcase is in fact filled with high explosives and doesn’t want to expose the so called drugs in fear of contaminating them. Schroeder is skeptical of their true identities and has them placed in incarceration until their story is verified. The next morning the suitcase is filled with firewood and Barnsby and Mallory tell Schroeder that they buried the drugs, all the while now convinced that an ally has secretly hidden their explosives, but who is their friend?
Schroeder sends Maritza (his lover) and two German soldiers to accompany Mallory and Barnsby to go and dig up the supposed penicillin. He informs them that if they fail to return, their comrades will be shot. While looking for the buried drugs, Mallory and Barnsby evade their captors and find the actual Partisans who bring them to their camp where they introduce themselves to Maj. Petrovich (Badel) who tells the men that they are running out of time.
The Germans are planning a major offensive in the region and will bring up armor to cross the other end of the bridge which the Partisans barely hold. Barnsby and Mallory try to convince the Maj. to give them some troops in order to rescue their comrades who are still held in the Chetnik camp, most importantly Miller, who can help destroy the bridge and help the Partisans from being overrun.
Capt. Lescovar (Nero) is Petrovich’s adjutant and goes along with Mallory and Barnsby to help free their comrades. Mallory tells Maj. Petrovich that he was sent on this mission in order to kill Lescovar who is actually a first class German spy who was responsible for almost sabotaging Mallory’s mission on Navarone. Petrovich dismisses it as a case of mistaken identity and tells Mallory that another Lescovar was identified and “eliminated” months earlier.
As the film progresses, the commandos are set up, betrayed, and almost fail to pull off the mission due to extraordinary circumstances. One of my favorite scenes in the film is where Barnsby has Miller surveying the German held bridge. Miller tells Barnsby that the bridge is rather impregnable and that the explosives they came with or are trying to replace are not going to do the job. Barnsby gets defensive and tells Miller that the bridge was studied by some of the best American construction engineers for weeks and says the bridge will blow.
Miller responds with “they might be experts at building things, where as I’m an expert at blowing them up.” Mallory proposes the idea of what would happen if the bridge’s central arch was hit with several million tons of water? Barnsby, Miller, and Mallory look at one another and realize that they’ve been after the wrong target and that there is a huge hydro-electric dam a mile or so up the river. The commandos then set the stage for a truly amazing adventure to destroy the bridge and accomplish their mission.
Force 10 from Navarone did not achieve any box office recognition and failed miserably. It cost over $10 Million to make and barely made $7 Million during its theatrical run in the late fall of 1978. Both American International Pictures (U.S. distribution) and Columbia Pictures (worldwide) owned the rights to the film, most notably Columbia who produced The Guns of Navarone in 1961. There were two different versions of the film, a 126 minute cut and a 118 minute cut, which was overly dubbed due to poor editing. Robert Shaw died after principle photography which required another actor to dubb several of his scenes.
Despite critical failure, the film is well acted and both Shaw and Fox steal the film as the original heroes of Navarone. Supporting cast such as Weathers, Ford, Kiel, Byrne, Badel, Bach, and Nero all play fantastic roles, and the film keeps your attention. I’ve always appreciated the film and hold it as one of my top 20 favorite war films of all time.
Force 10 from Navarone is available on DVD and Blu-Ray disc through MGM/UA Home Video and can be rented through Netflix.