Saturday, February 13, 2016

Guns and Glory

Paula's Cinema Club,  Once Upon a Screen  and  Outspoken and Freckled   have banded together to run the 31 Days of Oscar Blogathon.   It has been and will be running all month with various themes each week.  This week has been Oscar Snubs.  I have already got a separate entry lined up for my own Oscars Snubs blogathon later this month, but I had an idea that came to me that is good for a second entry.

1961!  The most important year in history!  John F. Kennedy takes over as the President of the United States! The Beatles played their first gig as The Beatles! Failed Bay of Pigs Invasion of Cuba begins! Ernie  Davis becomes the first African-American to win the Heisman Trophy!  Your humble blogger was born!  (OK maybe that last one wasn't as Earth-shattering as the rest to you, but it's important to me...)

The Oscars that year were dominated by West Side Story.  I have to admit I've never been a fan of musicals.  The idea that in the middle of a dramatic scene everyone would break out in exposition with a song a dance just never clicked with me.  Nobody does that in real life!  This is the basic reason why most musicals don't make my list of favorite movies.  The ones thar I do like are the ones that have the music as a sidebar of sorts, like Cabaret, which to my recollection only has songs performed at the Cabaret and not in the middle of a dramatic scene.

That said there are several reasons why I think The Guns of Navarone should have won more of its fair share of Oscars at the 1962 ceremony, besides my general dislike of it's competitor.  I will make an argument for each one.  Maybe I'll be convincing, maybe I'll fail, but at least I'll try. 

The Guns of Navarone (1961)

This movie is viewed as a war movie, although, surprisingly, the majority of the cast and crew thought they were making an anti-war movie.  And sometimes it seems as if that might be the case.  Look at David Niven's character.  An explosives expert who would seem to be at home with just chucking the whole war and go back to his country estate.

A very brief synopsis is in order so that you have some point of reference.  At  a later date I will do a full scale review, but for the purposes of this blog entry only a few brief words are needed.  The movie entails Gregory Peck as a leader of a crack troop of agents and saboteurs to blow up two huge German guns located on a fortress island.  There are many intrigues and plot twists along the way, but the troop has some success.  There.  If that intrigues you go watch it.

This blog entry is, however, to discuss arguments in favor of winning more of the Oscars for which it was nominated.

Let's start with an easy one Dimitri Tiomkin for Best Dramatic or Comedy Score.  Tiomkin's competition included Miklos Rozsa for El Cid  and the eventual winner, Henry Mancini for Breakfast at Tiffany's.  The scoring of an action movie, in my opinion, requires a certain finesse.  You can either overdo or underwhelm the movie if you don't do it just right.  With the right scoring, it enhances the action, not replaces it.  I think of Basil Poledouris, with his scoring of True Lies.  That movie could have stood to have a little less of the music in your face.  Not so with The Guns of Navarone.  There is one scene in particular, in which the only background music is a rhythmic drum beat.  This made the scene all that more intense, where a full scale orchestra might have reduced it to ashes.  The rest of the movie has such rousing and almost patriotic feel to tt.  The basic argument I have for Guns  over Tiffany's  is that Dimitri Tiomkin could do what Henry Mancini did, but I seriously doubt Mancini could have done what Tiomkin did.

Alan Obsiston was nominated for Best Film Editing.  While, admittedly, the blending of several of the dance scenes in West Side Story were phenomenal, particularly the gang fight scenes, I thought the pacing of the final destruction of the titular guns in The Guns of Navarone  was much better.  Instead of just a couple of scene shifts, the whole suspense of the final scene rides on whether or not the circuits of the planted bombs will make contact, and the scenes relentlessly change between several viewpoints to heighten the suspense.  War movies in general require a deft hand to get the action, and film editing can make or break it.  Obiston's work was definitely Oscar material.

Best Sound Recording went to West Side Story and I'll concede that one.  Not sure how I could make a decent argument to make guns firing and bombs exploding a better choice than what are some admittedly pretty damn decent songs.

J. Lee Thompson was up for Best Director.  Thompson's work included quite a few action-adventure  movies.  In fact, the DVD copy I have of Guns  mentions thee crew had an entirely different director lined up, but it became evident early on he (or she, they didn't actual name the failed director) didn't have the sensibilities of an action film.  Thompson (who would later direct the last two Planet of the Apes movies, reviewed in an earlier blog post) proved to be the solution needed.  The movie comes off as rousing and suspenseful and holds your intrest until the end, despite the fact that you must know how it's going to end.

I have yet to see the original TV version of Judgement at Nuremberg, the movie version of which won Best Adapted Screenplay.  I did, however, as a teenager, read Alistair MacLean's original novel of The Guns of Navarone.  You can get into some serious arguments with people who "loved the book; hated the movie" and vice versa.  Yes there was a lot of minor details changed.  For one, the Gregory Peck character was a New Zealander, a country which acknowledges the British Queen as monarch.  There is a line which David Niven, an Englishman, delivers to Peck towards the end of the movie, implying that he is a fellow countryman,  that struck me because I had assumed, as most people watching the movie would, that Mallory was an American.  But still, it does follow the book in spirit most of the time, and is an excellent script.  I reserve full judgement until I can see the TV play of the winner, but my initial vote is still for Guns.

The last item on the list is Best Picture. West Side Story won that one too.  And although I still disagree with the findings of the board, I would probably have voted for The Hustler.  I could easily make an argument that The Guns of Navarone  was a better choice than  West Side Story, but I would fall flat on my face trying to make an argument that it was better than the Newman/Gleason flick.

Well that about wraps up the story for this time.  Agree?  Let's hear it for The Guns of Navarone!  Disagree?  Post your opinion on your blog and give me a link to it so I can read your rebuttal.  Hope you enjoyed the article at any rate.



  1. I haven't seen this one, but you make an excellent argument for it. And though I like musicals, find West Side Story intensely annoying. (Actually, I only liked half of The Hustler; I thought the romance was a terrible distraction from the pool)

    1. I've grown to like The Hustler more now that I'm a recovering alcoholic, but I do admit I'm more of an action nut than a pure drama nut.

  2. I've never seen this one, Quiggy, but it's on TCM next week so I look forward to watching it on the strength of your passion for it.
    I too am not a fan of the film of West Side Story, especially since none of the principals did any of their own singing, including the two supporting actors who both won Oscars for it.
    Now Henry Mancini and Moon River are another issue entirely! Please don't take Henry's Oscar away! LOL

    1. Chris- I appreciate a good song no matter what the genre, but I still stand by my argument that Mancini could never have pulled off scoring an action flick. That said, I'd let him keep the one he got for Victor/Victoria.

  3. I'll have to agree with Best Dramatic Scoring and Adapted Screenplay for Guns of Navarone. Judgement at Nuremberg was very good but some of the lines from Guns made you want to jump up in your seat and cheer ( which is exactly what my mother did when we watched it last week ).

    1. I love a good WWII movie. Thanks for the good words.


I'm pretty liberal about freedom of speech, but if you try to use this blog to sell something it will be deleted.