Film discussion

Force 10 From Navarone – Throwback 40

The action war movie Force 10 From Navarone starring Harrison Ford and Robert Shaw opened 40 years ago this month. Here is our look back.

In 1978, I’m sure the idea of putting the breakout actor of Star Wars in a movie with one of the three main leads of Jaws, a co-star from Rocky and an actress from one of the more exciting and recent James Bond movies, seemed like a great one. The movie that featured these performers Force 10 From Navarone did not do justice to this cast however.

Directed by Guy Hamilton (helmer of four classic Bond movies including Goldfinger and Diamonds Are Forever), Force 10 From Navarone does not contain any of the humor, excitement, danger or imagination as any of his 007 outings. It’s a movie set outside for the most part, in the vast English and Bosnian countryside but features no running, chases or any movement from any of the participants outside of a leisurely hike. It’s an action/war movie with hardly any action and even less war. Which would be fine if this movie was at least clever with somewhat defined characters but it doesn’t really feature that either.

Putting Harrison Ford, Robert Shaw, Carl Weathers and Barbara Bach onscreen together was a novel idea and it is great seeing Ford and Shaw play off each other especially. English actor Edward Fox (The Day of the Jackal) is fun to watch as an explosives expert, especially when he’s saddled with hauling his large trunk of toys across the terrain. Weathers however is given nothing to do in this movie but stand around and pout.

Force 10 From Navarone (a sort-of- sequel to Alistair MacLean’s classic war adventure The Guns of Navarone) is about two retired Military operatives Corporal Mallory (Shaw) and Miller (Fox) who are recruited back into action to find and kill the military commander turned traitor named Nikolai (Franco Nero) who is now somewhere in Yugoslavia. To get into that country undetected, they join on with a special ops force (Force 10) who have their own command mission in that region: to find and destroy a built by the German army. The commander of Force 10, a young Colonel Mike Barnsby (Harrison Ford) is not thrilled that he’s ordered to bring along two (older) officers for a mission he’s not told about.

The two teams sneak into a military airspace late at night hoping to avoid detection by not using the main airfield, Not sure why they bothered because the airfield they chose is actually only fifty feet from the main airstrip. Plus, they get caught anyway by military police. Oops.

Everybody fights and the teams do manage to make it airborne (with a stowaway prisoner played by Weathers hitching a ride). Of course, their plane gets shot at and shot down – in exactly the country their missions are to be carried out because of course it would.

Before long, they are surrounded by local partisans led by a giant outlaw named Captain Drazak (played by fan favourite 007 villain Richard Kiel). I can’t really tell if these are Germans but it turns out they are sure working with the Germans and during interrogation led by German officer Major Schroeder (played by Michael Byrne who would play another German officer opposite Harrison Ford ten years later in Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade). The soldiers hand the major some (untrue) story about carrying a shipment of penicillin with them into Yugoslavia. Yeah, sure, the German will believe that.

Nope. He didn’t.

Mallory and Barnsby are forced by gunpoint to find this (imaginary) penicillin but their plan is to ambush the captors trailing them. They don’t get the chance as a young female officer (Barbara Bach) ambushes the baddies first and then lets the charming U.S. military men roam free. Lot of good it does them as neither man’s mission can be completed without going back to the prisoner camp for Miller and Weaver.

So back they go. With the aid of an officer named Major Petrovich (who of course, happens to be the father of the female officer who previously freed them) and his Captain, Lescovar, agreeing to help with the rescue. Once infiltrating the German/Chetnik camp, they shoot a hallway full of soldiers before rescuing Miller and Weaver.

Once escaped, their goal now is to blow a German bridge. They realize the best way to do this is to blow a nearby dam, hopefully causing the water to make the bridge compounds gave way and crumble. This is where the movie pretty stops dead and the dam sequence goes on endlessly. With the dam blown, the crashing water does indeed cause the bridge to subside but it’s not done with any sense of urgency. With there two missions accomplished, the team of four regroup on a hilltop and begin their long trek back home.

Forgiving it’s negatives, Force 10 From Navarone is not a bad movie (despite Leonard Maltin’s saucy, brief review in his annual movie guide which states that instead of a bridge “they blew the film instead”). Sure, there are things which do not make sense (why does Mallory wait so darn long to assassinate the man he was sent to kill when he finds him?) and the actors all look like they can’t for filming to be over so they can go home. It is a film of the 70s as there are a few noteworthy instances of racism and sexism (the only woman in this entire thing, Bach, so entrancing in the 007 movie The Spy Who Loved Me, has only three or four scenes in Force 10 and one of them is a nude scene and one where’s she’s beaten up).

READ MORE: Blade: Throwback 20

Another aspect which is not made all that clear in the movie is that Maritza is the daughter of major Petrovich which then begs the question, why is he okay with his daughter hiding out in the German camp where she is beaten? Why does Lescovar kill his boss’s daughter? Why instead of grieving for his very recently shot daughter does Petrovich let out a huge smile when the bridge gives way after the dam explosion?Does he even know his former aide is dead along with his daughter, Maritza?

Who knows?

The cast is game but eventually you can see the toll of shooting outside in the freezing fall air in Yugoslovia takes on them. Ford may very well have wanted to branch out as an actor after Star Wars but I’m certain this was not what he had in mind. It’s worth noting that this is the first movie in his career to feature his Indiana Jones/Jack Ryan hair style so I guess this movie is noteworthy in that regard. Ford must have been glad to escape from the cold once shooting on this movie wrapped but of course, his next movie (The Empire Strikes Back) would take him to an environment much, much colder.

So is Force 10 From Navarone worth watching? Yes it is. This is a great cast doing its best with what they’ve been given and the movie does feature a great military-style score by Ron Goodwyn. There appear to be two different cuts in existence though; a 118 minute American cut with added dialogue and actor’s American accents intact and there a 126 international cut in which dialogue is removed and actor’s voices are dubbed. My choice is the 118 minute American cut as it flows better and the original dialogue does a lot to show the conflict between Ford and Shaw.

It’s probably a movie Ford would rather not talk about these days but remember – there was also a time where he never wanted to talk about Star Wars or Blade Runner either.

How times change.

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