Thursday, November 3, 2016

CRACKER? Force Ten for Navarone (1978)

                “Force Ten for Navarone” is the belated sequel to “Guns of Navarone”.  It came out so much later (17 years) that even the magic of cinema could not unwrinkle Gregory Peck and David Niven.  So in comes Robert Shaw to play Mallory and Edward Fox to play Miller.  Ironically, Shaw died before postproduction was completed and some of his lines had to be dubbed.  The movie was loosely based on a novel by Alistair MacLean.  It was directed by Guy Hamilton (“Battle of Britain”, “The Colditz Story”).  It was first screened for Pres. Jimmy Carter at Camp David for Thanksgiving.  That made two turkeys for his holiday.  Let’s hope the one he ate was not as half-baked.

                An introductory narration reminds us of the earlier mission from the first film.  When you are making an inferior sequel, do you really want to reference the superior progenitor?  It’s not like potential viewers weren’t familiar with the story.  We are now two years after the first misson.  Mallory is a commissary officer and Miller is working R&D in explosives.  They are called in to lead a mission to kill Nikolai (a minor character from the first film) who is a German agent in Yugoslavia.  To help them ( and to lure an American audience into the theater), Col. Barnsby (Harrison Ford) and Force 10 (an American sabotage unit) are attached.  You’ll be shocked to learn that Barnsby is not a Britophile.  Even though it is a command-vetted, top secret mission, the group has to steal a Lancaster bomber to fly to Yugoslavia.  But at least this plot development allows for the insertion of a black malcontent.  Jim Brown being apparently unavailable (or he read the script and valued his dignity), Carl Weathers steps in as Sgt. Weaver.  The Lancaster is shot down and it really sucks to be a member of Force 10 unless you are Harrison Ford.  Only the characters whose actors have agents survive, plus one red shirt.  The five survivors hook up with partisans led by Richard Kiel (“Jaws” from Hamilton’s Bond films) and having never seen a movie with a stock villain, they allow themselves to be duped and turned over to the Germans.  With the help of a partisan hottie named Maritza (Barbara Bach as the only improvement upon the original) and the incredibly gullible and incompetent Germans, they escape.  (In this case, I’d have to call the scene a tie between the two movies.)
                They meet up with the good partisans (good being a relative term for communist guerrillas) led by Lascovar (Franco Nero) and learn that there real mission is to destroy an indestructible bridge.  Looks like bringing Miller along actually made sense.  If they think the double-dealing is at an end, then they have never seen an Alistair MacLean movie.  Back-stabbing, front-stabbing, hip-shooting, and multiple explosions ensue.  Mission is accomplished, but not without considerable collateral damage.  Never live downstream of a dam in a war  movie.

                In spite  of the snarkiness, “Force Ten” is not a terrible movie.  “Guns” is overrated and “Force Ten” is underrated.  That does not make it a good movie, however.  The acting is good, especially Shaw.  He dominates, as usual.  Literally, as at one point in the filming he punched Bach and knocked her unconscious.  Bach adds some eye-candy to an otherwise testosterone fueled film and even disrobes for the good of the plot.  (Sorry, I forgot to note how many minutes in this occurred.)  Weathers is pure stunt casting and I doubt the movie is at the top of his resume.   The plot twists and turns, but is predictable.  It is one of those movies that has to bend itself into a pretzel to get where it’s going.  The complications are many, but surprisingly manageable. Glibness and gumption are the keys to getting out of scrapes.  Unlike “Where Eagles Dare”, the big reveal can be seen from a high bridge.  Speaking of which, the movie is not going to pop your eyes with its special effects.  The collapsing bridge looks just like a model with toy vehicles on it.  The blowing of the dam is pretty deft, however.  The shootdown has an uneven blend of footage (including from “Battle of Britain” – the residuals from that movie must be astronomical).  Since this is a MacLean movie, you can look forward to a rousing score.  The music was by Ronald Goodwin who also did “Where Eagles Dare” (my favorite), “633 Squadron”, “Battle of Britain”, and “Operation Crossbow”.  Unfortunately, there is not enough of the score to balance some of the silliness.  The scenic locations help with this.

                Alistair MacLean was the Jack London of my generation.  Unfortunately, his militaristic adventure novels seldom were made into great movies.  Only “Where Eagles Dare” qualifies as great and it is substantially better than the source novel.  “Guns of Navarone” is overrated.  “Ice Station Zebra” and “Force Ten” are average.  As a war movie lover, I recommend it for kindred souls.  Just don’t expect anything akin to the original.


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