Breening Thursday #26: “The Guns of Navarone” from 1961 by James Brannan


This week’s Breening Thursday article is written by James R. Brannan, the president of PEPS.

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The subject of this week’s breening article is the 1961 British war epic The Guns of Navarone, which is number 26 in the Breening Thursday series. I first watched this film prior to my knowledge of the Production Code and really enjoyed it then. I still enjoy it now, despite its twenty-two Code violations. It was not under Mr. Breen’s watchful eye, so one would expect problems to be found. It always saddens me when a film which has such superb acting, directing, cinematography, music, and so forth, is compromised by unnecessary elements which would not exist if the Production Code  requirements had been properly maintained. In any war film, some violence and death should be expected, but overly graphic footage should be avoided. As an advocate of the Code, I ask myself, would the film be less memorable if there were not so many corpses shown? Would the action have less impact if there was less blood, less foul language, and less risqueity? The Guns of Navarone contains mostly surface problems. Unfortunately, with minor violations begins the slippery slope from a little blood, a little violence, and a little risqueity to the horrors found in today’s wildly popular films which contain images that would shock movie-goers of half a century ago.

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A group of daring commandos led by Captain Keith Mallory are sent to the German-occupied Greek island of Navarone in 1943 to destroy two giant, radar controlled guns which have been reeking havoc on British war ships passing through the Aegean Sea. The team has less than a week to accomplish this mission. The Germans are planning to blitz the island of Kiros where two thousand British soldiers are stranded. Unless the guns are neutralized, the British fleet may not succeed in rescuing the doomed men on the island before the Germans invade. The team’s first challenge is to scale a 400-foot sheer cliff on the least-guarded side of the island, traverse rugged mountainous terrain, and then join resistance fighters at the ancient ruins of Alexis. With help from the rebels, the team makes its plan to destroy the guns. Things are complicated by the fact that a spy may be among the group.

And now, with no further ado, let the breening begin!

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  1. In the opening moments of this exciting film, we see a room full of British pilots just back from a failed mission attempting to blow up the guns on Navarone, during which they lost eighteen men. Squadron leader Barnsby, played by a young Richard Harris, describes the problems they encountered. In his account he uses the word bloody nine times. Jensen, the mission mastermind and prologue narrator, played by James Robert Justice, says bloody once.This word was normally forbidden in British films and was considered a curse word in the 30s, 40s, and 50s. Local censors in England overdubbed the word with the substitute word ruddy, which was acceptable and was in the version released in the United States. The version I watched is a restored video and contains the word bloody. It should have been officially replaced with ruddy.
  2. In a heated exchange at the planning meeting, Major Roy Franklin, played by Anthony Quayle, says to Major Baker, played by Allen Cuthbertson  “Who the hell are you, major”? This word is forbidden in the code and could be replaced by devil or perhaps heck.
  3. On the team’s voyage across the Agean Sea in an old fishing boat, they are spotted by a German plane then stopped by a German patrol boat. When the patrol boat captain and his guards board the fishing boat and demand to look below deck,  Spyros Pappadimos, played by James Darren, opens fire on the enemy with a machine gun hidden beneath a tarp he is mending, and in a matter of seconds, the commandos have killed all of the enemy sailors and sunk their boat. During the short barrage of bullets, hand grenades, and knives, the Germans are shown writhing as they fall dead. The scene’s graphic violence is visually riveting but should be toned way down. It is plenty violent just seeing the men firing on the enemy. Their targets should not be shown being hit so violently.
  4. That evening the boat encounters a raging storm and is tossed violently. Corporal John Anthony Miller, the explosives expert, played by David Niven, is clearly sea sick. After being hit by a wave, he spits out a mouthful of water. It looks as though he may be vomiting. This should be removed.
  5. Once on the South Cliff, Colonel Andrea Stavros, played by Anthony Quinn, stabs a German soldier and throws him over the cliff. The dead soldier is shown dropping the full 400 feet and hits a boulder in the water. This should not be shown. Just showing him being thrown off is enough.
  6. After sliding down a shaft on the cliff, Major Franklin’s face is shown with blood running down it. This should be removed.
  7. While the group escapes an approaching  patrol of Germans, Colonel Stavros creates a diversion by shooting a number of the patrol members, one by one. The first man to be hit by the sniper convulses and spins around before falling. The men shot thereafter just fall when hit. This is better. The first man shot should just drop as well.
  8. At the Alexis ruins, two members of the team knock out an unknown intruder and toss him on his face in the camp. He ends up being a woman. In retrospect, it is inappropriate that a woman is treated so roughly. She should not be shown hitting the ground.
  9. While the group is being attacked in a canyon by enemy planes, Stavros yells a curse in Greek. He excuses himself to a female member of the team, but this does not justify the cursing. Greek-speaking audience members may be offended. This must be removed.
  10. While being questioned after capture, the commandos overpower their German captors and steal their uniforms. The officers and soldiers are shown tied and gagged in only their underwear. Their shorts are too tight. They should be looser- fitting.
  11. While saying goodbye to Roy, Miller jokingly tells him to be a bad patient and “always ask for bed pans; it drives them mad.” Any reference to bed pans is vulgar. This line should be eliminated.
  12. In a rage, Miller says “to hell with the job!” He then says “bloody world.” These words should be changed or removed.
  13. Stavros prevents the other team members from being shot by a sniper in the back of a truck by shooting him multiple times with a machine gun. The soldier is shown writhing violently while being shot. Stavros should only be shown shooting.
  14. After being stabbed and thrown off a bridge, a German soldier is shown lying dead after landing. This is gruesome and should be removed.
  15. While a woman is being questioned, her dress is ripped open from behind, exposing her whole back. This is inappropriate and should be changed, perhaps showing only the upper portion of her back.
  16. Captain Mallory, played by Gregory Peck, says “by God.”  This is an irreverent use of the word God, which is not allowed. It should be replaced by something less offensive, such as “so help me.”
  17. In diversion sabotage action, too much screen time is given to the dead soldiers lying in the streets.
  18. When Malory kills two soldiers outside the Navarone gun encasement, the dead bodies need not be shown. Just Malory shooting his gun in their direction is enough for the imagination.
  19.   When a team member is stabbed, the knife is shown stuck in his torso. His attacker can be shown wielding the knife in his attack, but not the resulting image.
  20. Another team member’s dead body is shown with blood on his uniform and blood coming out of his ear. This is too graphic and must be removed.
  21. The camera angle of a stabbing victim’s face is grotesque and looks strikingly like a real corpse. This must be removed.
  22. A dead rat is used in a scene within the gun cave on Navarone. The inclusion of rats, especially dead ones, is rather disgusting. This should be removed.

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This concludes the breening of The Guns of Navarone. I can imagine some of you thinking that the changes I recommended were rather harsh. Gregory Peck was not mentioned until item #16 in my list. This shows that the language was pretty clean, especially when compared with today’s barrage of profanity, even in PG-13 films. The violence I pointed out as being excessive might seem like a Sunday school picnic compared to the gruesome blood spatter and dismemberment so common in today’s films. This is exactly the point. It starts with a little blood on the face, a knife in a man’s torso, a woman’s exposed back, the Lord’s name in vain, and before long the floodgates open and all manner of indecency and violence is splashed across the screen. No-one truly understands how deeply effected a viewer might be when he sees a violent or risque image on screen.

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In closing, I would like to recount a story my dad, a paratrooper in World War II, would tell when I was a boy, often around the camp fire at our cabin. He was in a foxhole with his buddies in the heat of battle. When the barrage of bullets ended, they moved out. All but one. A good friend of my dad’s, probably no more than twenty years old, was dead. A bullet had entered one ear and exited clean out the other. I will never forget the image this carved into my young, impressionable mind. Today, children the same age as I when hearing my dad’s graphic, true story see this type of carnage regularly in the living color of what Hollywood refers to as entertainment. If nothing else, these films desensitize us to the horror of violence and death. When I was a boy, there were never school shootings. Our modern world is troubled by all manner of violence by man against his fellow man. Why? Why? I believe it is due to violence in film. This must stop. Bring back the Code!

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Only the Code can make the sun rise on a new day of pure entertainment!

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