‘War…it’s fantastic” says Miguel Ferrer’s character in Hot Shots Part Deux; in Hollywood films, it’s a transformative power that makes men of boys, so what’s not to like? As the world moved further and further from the harsh realities of World War II, war films became progressively sillier. This reboot of 1961’s The Guns of Navarone with a different cast came as part of a rash of lightweight war dramas; The Sea Wolves, Escape to Victory, Escape to Athena, all offering a nostalgic package featuring an all-star cast, pretty girls, explosions and more, but sci-fi action had taken over at the box-office by then.
Guy Hamilton’s loose adaptation of Alistair MacLean’s novel starts in cheeky style, by reprising the events of the first film but without showing any of the main characters; it’s only before the credits roll that we see Mallory (Robert Shaw switched in for Gregory Peck) and Dusty (Edward Fox substituting David Niven) as they emerge from the sea victorious. A new mission is mooted; to assassinate a double agent who betrayed the Navarone mission. With Yugoslavia as a destination, the team cross paths with sabotage master Mike Bardsley (Harrison Ford in his first post-Star Wars role) who is planning to blow up a strategic bridge. With Apollo Creed (Carl Weathers) hitching a ride, Force 10 parachute out over Yugoslavia where they encounter a motley collection of locals, including Bond girl Barbara Bach, Bond villain Richard Kiel, and Franco Nero as the dubious Nikolai.
That’s a ludicrous cast for any film; even the support (Phillip Latham, Alan Badel, Michael Sheard) is familiar. But tonally, Force 10 From Navarone has real problems; it can’t decide if war is heaven or hell. Jagged moments stand out; Bardsley is broken up to discover that two Partisans he killed were innocent men, and Ford manages to convey some kind of genuine remorse. But soon we’re back up and swapping cheery quips like we’re all just blokes on holiday; a brief glimpse of explosives expert Fox swinging his suitcase and we can be sure that most of the lush scenery is about to explode in a satisfactory way.
There’s also a few crunching moments of poor-film-making here; a mobile decapitation is obviously a mannequin, and although the dam-explosion only covers the last twenty minutes of the film, the effects shots of slow-motion waves are hugely unimpressive. And while Weathers has personality to burn, the inclusion of his character doesn’t lead to useful discussions about race; quite the opposite. And yet, seen for the first time in a full widescreen cut and in an extended cut, Force 10 From Navarone is a better watch than its tarnished reputation suggests; you can’t go too far wrong with this cast and a dog-eared, but reliable plot.