There’s a default assumption that big war movies are based on fact. Think of A Bridge Too Far, Das Boot, or more recently Dunkirk. And there’s room for tolerance when the movie is clearly fictional, whether it’s Apocalypse Now with its literary boots in Heart of Darkness or the big-boy romp Inglourious Basterds.
When I wrote my third novel Cairo Mon Amour, I was meticulous about making sure the historical setting of the Yom Kippur War was accurately portrayed. That’s what writers do, isn’t it?
So what has this do with the 1961 movie The Guns of Navarone? I happened to be staying with friends in Rhodes a few years ago. They live at Navarone Bay at Lindos, and I was looking forward to seeing the location of a movie that had thrilled me when I was thirteen.
In case you missed it, The Guns of Navarone is a WWII thriller in which a bunch of Allied tough guys led by Gregory Peck are thrown together in a crack team to blow up a huge German gun emplacement. Our man Peck plays a famous retired mountaineer who will climb up and knock out the guns, which are concealed deep inside a high cliff overlooking Navarone Bay.
“So where were the guns?” I asked my old friend, pointing at the cliffs.
“There weren’t any. It was made up.”
“Made up?” I was stunned. The Guns of Navarone was one of the best films I’d ever seen. It has been part of my personal film canon (no pun intended) for decades. It had never occured to me that the story wasn’t true.
“Yep. In the novel. Alistair MacLean made it up.”
My friend had a DVD of the movie. It wasn’t as I remembered it at the age of thirteen. The characterisations seemed two-dimensional, and the production values were amateurish by today’s standards; the shipwreck scene had the look of a bathtub mock-up. We watched it half way through. “Maybe we’ll finish it tomorrow.”
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