FF118 - The Guns of Navarone

Intro by Adam Pranica

Here on Friendly Fire we occasionally do things in the wrong order. We joined a podcast network before releasing a single episode, I introduce myself second instead of last, and we are reviewing Guns of Navarone after its so-unrelated-they-could-be-legally-married sequel Force 10 from Navarone. All along we were just taking orders!

There is a look that washes over the face of Captain Mallory when he is given the titular mission of this film that one could easily dismiss as Gregory Peck face. You see it all the time: It is that part of what makes Gregory Peck movies so much fun. Here he flashes it when he knows that this is the mission that might finally kill him, but he has no choice but to take it. It is the classic "climb a cliff in a rainstorm to destroy the largest German guns ever made or 2000 men die next Wednesday" kind of mission because it is that mission. Exactly! Cue Gregory Peck face!

But the thing about Gregory Peck faces that it is not just superficial. It comes with desperation, determination and resolve. Captain Mallory is a hero in this movie precisely because when he realizes how overmatched he is by the mission, he goes through with it anyway. In nearly every set-piece his character confronts another chance today and not suddenly.

The Guns of Navarone is unusual because it is filled with the kind of tension that makes the viewer repeatedly sit with the idea a while and really consider death as it approaches in its many forms, be it the massive squall or the gunboat or the cave. I have been making Gregory Peck face a lot lately, and I have been seeing it a lot in other people's faces too. I suppose it is because we are all thinking a lot about death and that is easy due to these unprecedented circumstances.

Captain Mallory saw the big picture and was willing to make the ultimate sacrifice for the greater good. It is what war movie heroes do. Sacrifice has been on my mind a lot this week, which is how I will gracefully pivot into what I really want to talk about, and that is Captain Brett Crozier, former captain of the Navy aircraft carrier USS Theodore Roosevelt, removed from his command after a letter he had sent to a group of Navy leaders got leaked to the press.

Now, I don't know any active-duty Navy captains, those are all John's friends, and I am sure he would have the perfect anecdote about holding court with a group of them at a plated dinner party where he observed a quality about them that only he could detect, and then almost lyrically turned that observation into something germane to this topic and this film. I wish he were doing this introduction because I would like to hear it, too.

But what I can tell you is that after learning that a growing number of his crew of 4000 were becoming infected with coronavirus and lacking resources to allow for the lifesaving measure of isolating his crew, Captain Crozier appealed to the Navy for assistance. This plea became public and published in the San Francisco Chronicle and for this he was relieved of command by acting, like so many in this woefully understaffed, overmatched administration, Navy Secretary Thomas Madley. I read his letter, and you should read it, too!

Captain Crozier saw impending, preventable death and correctly observed that the risks, acceptable and war are not the same as in peacetime. He made a choice with some pretty big downsides, and I like to imagine that before hitting "send", Captain Crozier sat back in his chair and made Gregory Peck face.

Not long after, Captain Crozier was cheered by hundreds of still healthy sailors on his way down the ramp of his former ship, no doubt grateful for the sacrifice he made on their behalf. It took courage to do what he did, knowing what could happen to his career, and for that he was given the sendoff of a departing hero. A few days later, Crozier himself would be diagnosed with the very illness he had tried so hard to prevent spreading among his crew.

What does all this have to do with today's film? Well, I guess when I see someone making the Gregory Peck face now, it reminds me that we are all fighting our own wars, against an epidemic, to rail against the entrenched policy of military institutions, or to destroy the biggest guns the German military has ever made. And maybe in the end there is a chance we will get to hear the horns of victory like they do in this film. "Your by-standing days are over! You are in it now, up to your neck!" in today's Friendly Fire: The Guns of Novarone.

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