Force 10 from Navarone (1978) – Directed by Guy Hamilton – Starring Harrison Ford, Robert Shaw, Edward Fox, Franco Nero, Carl Weathers, Barbara Bach, and Richard Kiel.
FORCE 10 FROM NAVARONE is one of the weirder sequels in cinematic history.
Ostensibly, it’s a sequel to THE GUNS OF NAVARONE, but while the story picks up shortly after the events of that movie and reunites the characters of Keith Mallory and John Miller, FORCE 10 was produced 17 years later and Gregory Peck and David Niven have been replaced with Robert Shaw and Edward Fox, actors with very different approaches to the characters than their predecessors. So while FORCE 10 is technically a sequel, functionally it’s entirely its own film.
That’s not wholly a good thing, but it’s not a disastrous thing, either.
FORCE 10 FROM NAVARONE is a perfectly enjoyable action/war movie. All of the actors are good, the story is good, the action is good, and the final scene is fantastic. Ironically, while it’s the least of the four Alistair MacLean-based movies, it’s also the only one where I was immediately ready for a sequel. This is due not just to the ending – which sees our four heroes flush with the success of completely their mission but suddenly confronted with being trapped behind enemy lines – but to the chemistry exhibited between our four main leads: Shaw, Fox, Harrison Ford, and Carl Weathers.
Colonel Barnsby (Ford) and his Force 10 team are due to head into Yugoslavia to blow up a bridge, and he’s none-too-happy to have old times Mallory and Miller forced onto him. Right from the start, FORCE 10 overcomes one of the problems I had with (the otherwise superior) WHERE EAGLES DARE, which is to create some tension between our protagonists. Barnsby and Mallory clash repeatedly, the younger soldier’s fire clashing nicely with the older soldier’s calm. When the Force 10 unit is in the middle of stealing a plane (they steal one of their own planes in order to keep the mission a secret), a Jeep of MPs rolls up and a brawl ensues. Instead of getting involved, Mallory and Miller lean back against their transport truck and don’t get involved until they can be of the most use.
It’s during this brawl that Sergeant Weaver (Weathers) joins up with them, forcing his way out of MP custody and onto the stolen plane. Before they reach their destination the plane is attacked and almost everyone dies. The unit then has to hoof it through Yugoslavia, where they get embroiled with Richard Kiel and blah blah blah war stuff mistaken identity subterfuge penicillin Franco Nero prison break. I’m skipping through this huge middle section because while it’s pretty entertaining, it’s the film’s ending that I want to talk about.
Force 10 was sent into Yugoslavia to blow up a massive bridge but they lack the explosives to do it, so they devise a plan to blow up a nearby dam, believing the escaped water will wash the bridge away and keep the Germans on the other side of the river. Miller is the bombs expert, but it’s Mallory and Barnsby that sneak into the dam and travel all the way to the corridor at the base of the dam to plant the explosives. When they’re deciding on how long to set the fuse, Mallory recognizes they’ve run out of time and the Germans must, at that very minute, already be crossing the bridge.
Barnsby decides to set the fuse for 20 seconds, which is obviously not enough time for them to get out. He asks Mallory if 20 seconds is the right time and in a nice switch from GUNS where Miller forced Mallory to make the hard call, Mallory now tells Barnsby that the call is his. Barnsby balks even though he knows he’s right, wanting the older officer to give him confirmation. Mallory finally does, the fuse is set, and the two men shake hands and walk away. The bomb goes off and …
Up on a nearby hill, Miller and Weaver are watching and waiting. When there is no massive explosion, Weaver freaks out, yelling that nothing happened and that after all they’d been through to get to that moment … NOTHING! Behind him, Miller puffs on his pipe, clearly unconcerned.
Back in the tunnel, Mallory and Barnsby dust themselves off. There was an explosion in the tunnel, but no real damage appears to have been caused. They’re furious but while hiding out from three Germans, a crack appears in the corridor’s ceiling and water starts to shoot down. Mallory and Miller pop out of hiding and run past the surprised Germans. Slowly, incrementally, Weaver sees the dam begin to crack and water begin to shoot through and his anger turns to such joy that he nearly dances with Miller on the hill and kisses the Brit twice on the cheek. (My admiration for Weathers continues to grow, and I love how Sergeant Weaver continually forces himself into the narrative.) The dam eventually breaks, Mallory and Barnsby escape, and the bridge is washed out, stopping the German advance.
It’s a wonderfully executed sequence by Guy Hamilton and his crew. There are moments here where a bit of Hamilton’s past comes in to add a bit of cheek to the proceedings (like when Barnsby and Mallory are escaping the dam and they both push the same German solider out of the way to climb up some stairs ahead of him) but for the most part they help, rather than hurt the movie. This last sequence, however, is mostly pure action goodness and it unfolds beautifully. Every shot is the right one and every shot last exactly the right amount of time.
The day is won but as the four men reunite on the hill, it’s the ever-practical Mallory who reminds them that they’re now on the wrong side of the river in an area that’s soon to be swarming with angry Germans. With no hope of reuniting with allies, he tells them it’s going to be a long walk to freedom as the camera is pulling away from them and the credits start rolling. It’s a really great ending, calling in mind films like the original Italian Job and The Thin Red Line in that even though the movie is over, the story (and the war) clearly is not.
FORCE 10 FROM NAVARONE does not have the literary quality of the other MacLean films, as its intentions are clearly designed to be an enjoyable World War II romp, but while it may not reach the heights of GUNS OF NAVARONE, ICE STATION ZEBRA, and WHERE EAGLES DARE, this is still a darn good movie, thanks to the four leads and some fine directing from Guy Hamilton.