Force 10 From Navarone

Director: Guy Hamilton            
Robert Shaw, Harrison Ford, Edward Fox

If you're like me, you probably get tired at times at hard-core Star Wars lovers, who who go beyond "fan" to deservedly have the suffix "atic" added onto that word. So why not have a little fun at their expense, expense not just being their pride but their bank account? (After all, living in your parents' basement does cut down the amount you end up spending each month.) Wave a sealed envelope in front of their eyes and say, "I bet you $500 you can't guess the answers - sealed in this envelope - to the following Star Wars-related questions: What Star Wars actor, so hot after Star Wars was
first released, chose a what-were-they-thinking movie as their next project, and what was the name of that movie?"

Try not to smile when those simpletons let out a gleeful snort and immediately afterwards utter the common and well-known answer of, Shaw and Fox have a contest to see who can hide their embarrassment the longest"Why, Mark Hamill, and the movie was Corvette Summer!" Keep from cracking a grin until you tear open the envelope and reveal to them the card inside it that reads, "Harrison Ford, Force 10 From Navarone". Then when they start to blubber, "But... but...", feel free to smile and even laugh a little in their faces as they realize they didn't know everything related to Star Wars after all. You can increase your level of merriment when they fork over the money while tears stream down their faces, because now they don't have enough to spare in order to buy the latest issue of Starlog magazine that this month has a three-page profile/interview of the "Rebel scum" guy from Return Of The Jedi.

More than twenty years after it was made, it is certainly understandable to wonder out loud, "Just what was Ford thinking?!?" regarding his decision to follow Star Wars with Force 10 From Navarone. But it's easy to forget that many times hindsight is stronger than foresight. Though I don't know if I'll
ever figure out why Ford signed up for a movie like Random Hearts (or Hanover Street... or Regarding Henry... or The Devil's Own... or Six Days And Seven Nights... or...), in the case of Force 10 From Navarone, I think I can see why Ford might have thought it was a can't-miss project. Just take a look at how he might have seen it. The movie was based on a book by mega-popular adventure novelist Alistair MacLean, and a sequel to one of his best-loved novels, The Guns Of Navarone. And you probably already know that it was made into a critically and financially successful movie. Screenwriter Carl Foreman from the previous movie was returning to help develop the script, and the director this time aboard was Guy Hamilton, who had previously directed James Bond movies like Goldfinger. Plus there was a lot of star power in the cast - Robert Shaw, Edward Fox, Franco Nero, Carl Weathers, and two stars from the previous year's enormously popular James Bond movie The Spy Who Loved Me -  Richard "Jaws" Kiel, and Barbara Bach. To be honest, if I was Ford and shown all of this, I would have probably thought, "What would I be thinking if I didn't sign on? How could this miss?"

It certainly sounds like it couldn't miss, yet it still manages to disappoint, maybe even more disappointing than it normally would be because of the sheer waste of talent working on this movie. Before talking about that waste, the plot: It's 1943, some time after the successful Navarone infiltration and sabotage that was headed by Keith Mallory (Shaw, replacing Gregory Peck) and Dusty Miller (Fox, replacing David Niven). Bumping into each other at some anonymous Allied base (and greeting each other like years have gone by, despite the fact that less than four months have gone by), they quickly discover that they are to be reunited for another mission: Parachute into Yugoslavia and join the Partisan brigade, in order to find and kill their old double-agent enemy Nikolai Leskovar (here played by Nero), who didn't die in the Navarone mission after all.

This time around, their infiltration will be accomplished by joining another Allied infiltration team that will be going into Yugoslavia at the same time for a secret need-to-know mission of their own. It's headed by American Lieutenant Mike Barnsby Even given the time and place, they still manage the stereotype of a black man with a knife(Ford), who refers to his own team as "Force 10", though despite what the title says, there's no evidence that Barnsby and his men have even heard of Navarone. The two forces join up, and in a quite contrived sequence where their undercover tactics involve breaking into a military airfield to steal an airplane (!), fists fly when a MP patrol with African-American prisoner Sergeant Weaver (Weathers) bumps into them, and Weaver escapes with the departing force. (No mention of why Weaver had been arrested in the first place, why he was in a whites-only base when the Allied forces were segregated in WW II, or why he thought it better to escape than help the MPs capture the force.) For obvious reasons, Force 10 and the two old chaps are quite nonplussed by this addition, but when most of the force gets massacred by an attacking plane over Yugoslavia, they realize they need all the help they can get. Especially since the dangers not only include various German troops and the traitorous Leskovar, but with the German-sympathetic Chetniks, headed by the vicious giant Captain Drazak (Kiel), with assistance from the lovely but deadly Maritza (Bach).

You would think that with all these characters running around, plus the fact that there are not one but two missions to be accomplished by these infiltrators, that there would be a number of struggles and conflicts experienced by the protagonists, and that the tension factor would be quite high. But the movie almost seems determined to make things as unexciting as possible. There is no sense of urgency at any time to Mallory and Miller's mission; in fact, when they are first told their assignment, the tone of it from their commander almost comes across as if he was actually saying to them that would be very nice if they did it, but no worries if you foul up, old chaps. Then when they get to Yugoslavia, they don't seem to be in a particular hurry, doing plenty of wandering around (and around) the countryside with Barnsby, who doesn't seem that much more concerned about his own mission. (By the way, it's hard to feel anything about Barnsby's mission for the longest time, since he doesn't reveal what it actually involves until about half the movie is over.) Nobody seems that concerned during the long interval when they are held captive by the Nazis and the Chetniks, and the long interval when Barnsby and Mallory escape, then another long interval when they go back and free their comrades. And when Mallory and Miller finally find themselves with the Partisans and see their target Lescovar within them, they don't seem terribly concerned about following their order to kill him for the longest time.

It's not just that the movie takes its time to have anything of significance happen, but that when something major does happen, there is that same curious lack of tension. When Mallory and Miller find out Barnsby mission is to blow up a bridge, and they figure their best bet is to blow up the dam upstream, their plan requires them to raid the local German depot for supplies, then Richard Kiel shows off the dental work that "The Spy Who Loved Me" paid forto infiltrate the dam itself. Sounds very risky, but in both cases there is really no feeling of danger at all. Getting into these places proves surprisingly easy to the force, and when inside all they pretty much face are some bored German soldiers who don't seem terribly interested in proper security and protocol. Other sequences that are more or less pure action also fail to excite. Two battle sequences - a bombing raid on the Partisan hideout, and the Partisans trying to repel a German force crossing the bridge to their side - certainly have a lot of firepower in them. But director Guy Hamilton spoils it with too many close-ups so that we can't see the scope of this action, and having all the gunshots and explosions seemingly edited together at random so that there's no coherent flow. There's no sign Hamilton seems committed to doing a good job, whether it's from his choice of remarkably dull Yugoslavian locations to shoot on, or from the fact that the seemingly meager F/X budget sapped his will to at least try and present these effects in the best way possible. About the best that can be said about his direction is that he manages to raise the movie above the mark of "boring" to "watchable" - but only barely.

Given the unfocused and uneventful chain of events, it's little wonder that the actors are frequently at a loss as to how they should be playing their parts - that is, the actors who actually get to do anything of real significance. All Kiel pretty much gets to do in his role is it goofily growl and leer at everyone around him, and Bach only seems to be in the movie so she can have a bathtub scene that shows off two of her qualities that have kept her married to Ringo Starr for over 20 years. With only a little rewriting, these two parts could have been completely eliminated from the movie. Though Italian actor Nero plays the chief adversary of Mallory and Miller, like them he just seems unconcerned about the conflict between them and himself when they finally meet up; the only thing he manages to accomplish is to show he has a good command of the English language. Shaw and Fox do have some good chemistry together, but it's a shame that a lot of their conversations are simply a form of "Oh, I say old chap, tally-ho, pip-pip and all that nonsense!" (Speaking of "old", they seem to be a bit too long in the tooth to be running around in enemy territory.)

As for Ford, he seems to be thoroughly embarrassed throughout. In fact, his discomfort when he first appears is so visible that it's quite painful to see his struggling. With his arms dangling stiffly at his sides and his posture so affected by his "But Lucas let me shoot first... and Lucas never goes back on his plans!"internal tension, it's as if a broom handle had been placed in an uncomfortable place and was dragging him around the room. He does manage to relax somewhat after he gets out of his dress uniform and into his combat fatigues, but you can still sense a great deal of bewilderment from his facial expressions. You never believe for one moment that this guy is a Lieutenant, especially one that has been assigned to go behind enemy lines. He hems and haws whenever he speaks, and he has no sense of authority behind anything he blurts out. It doesn't help Ford that his character is written to commit actions that just further his pathetic nature; among other things, his character has no idea where he is or identify where he is after he parachutes down, and that the nature of his training evidently encouraged him to wander around in open areas where he could be seen for miles.

Those are not the only two script peculiarities that I had a problem with while watching Force 10 From Navarone. Among the other questions I had: How come the plastic explosives the force uses don't explode when thrown violently on a road, but do explode when a truck runs over them? If Weaver had been in the custody of the MPs, how did he happen to have a knife on his person? How did Barnsby know both Weaver's name and rank? Where did that rubber cobra come from? Why didn't the Allied force simply bomb the bridge from the air, especially since there seem to be no anti-aircraft guns in the area? Why did the Germans keep the dam brightly lit at night? Well, considering that no one from the other side got an idea to bomb that bridge, maybe I can excuse that last question. But when you consider all those and the many other problems in the movie - and that the movie seemingly expects us to swallow the whole thing without question - you have to admit this entire scenario is forced, to say the least.

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Check for availability of original Alistair MacLean novel
Check for Richard Kiel's autobiography "Making It Big In The Movies"

See also: The Annihilators, Cross Mission, Survival Quest