Guy Hamilton

Force 10 From Navarone

1978

Columbia Pictures

Directed by Guy Hamilton
Produced by Samuel Z. Arkoff
Written by Robin Chapman and Carl Foreman
Based on the novel by Alistair MacLean

FORCE 10 FROM NAVARONE catches the attention right away with the rousing theme song by Ron Goodwin, which is a stirring, heart-pumping military march in the style of John Williams’s classic “Raiders of The Lost Ark” march or his theme for “1941” and when I saw the cast, I quickly grabbed some goodies and settled in to see just what this was going to be about.

First off, a lot of the cast looks like this film was an excuse to have a reunion for actors who have all at one time co-starred in James Bond films. You’ve got Robert Shaw who played the assassin Red Grant in “From Russia With Love.” Barbara Bach aka Agent Triple X from “The Spy Who Loved Me.” Richard Kiel, the steel-toothed Jaws from “The Spy Who Loved Me” and “Moonraker” and Edward Fox who played M in Sean Connery’s comeback Bond movie, “Never Say Never Again.” And the director is none other than Guy Hamilton who helmed 4 Bond movies; “Live And Let Die”, “The Man With The Golden Gun”, “Goldfinger” and my favorite James Bond movie, “Diamonds Are Forever” Hamilton also directed one of the best and least appreciated action/adventure movies of all time: “Remo Williams: The Adventure Begin”

So with a crew like that, plus Harrison Ford and Carl Weathers, I figured that the movie had to be pretty good and I was right. Oh, sure, it’s got plot holes big enough to throw a tank through and there are some slow spots where the characters stand around explaining things we already know, but on the whole, I had a great time watching this movie. If you like World War II action/adventures like “Kelly’s Heroes”, “Where Eagles Dare” and “The Dirty Dozen” then you’ll be right at home with this one.

Even though it’s supposed to be a sequel to the classic Gregory Peck/David Niven/Anthony Quinn “The Guns of Navarone”, that earlier mission is hardly referred to. Harrison Ford is an American colonel heading to Yugoslavia with his ten-man team on a top secret mission (is there any other in movies like this?) and he is ordered to take along Shaw and Fox who have their own mission to accomplish. Ford doesn’t like it a bit but orders are orders and all that.

While Ford and his team steal an airplane for transport (it’s all part of the plan, don’t worry) they pick up Carl Weathers in a convoluted bit of plot twisting to enable a black man to be part of the team since the Armed Forces were still segregated at the time of WWII. It’s an awkward scene that eats up valuable screen time and reminded me of those scenes from early Schwarzenegger and Van Damme movies where the writers felt they had to stick in a scene to explain why Schwarzenegger and Van Damme were living in the U.S. but had Austrian and Belgian accents. Which I found really pointless since I live in New York and you can’t swing a dead cat without hitting somebody with an accent.

Right from the start, the mission is screwed and Ford’s team is wiped out leaving him with Shaw, Fox and Weathers to help him complete his mission: blow up a strategically important bridge that can’t be blown. Three previous teams tried and were all wiped out. Shaw makes a deal with Ford: help me do my mission and I’ll help you do yours. Ford isn’t too sure about this since Shaw’s mission is to assassinate a traitor who nearly wrecked the Navarone mission but Shaw’s got an ace up his sleeve: Fox’s character is the top demolition man in Europe (maybe in the world) and Shaw assures him that Fox alone can do what Ford’s ten men were supposed to do. So the deal is struck and the four set off on their adventure.

And quite the adventure it is. The movie is nothing but a series of fights, chases, captures and escapes. The four-man team is constantly being captured and betrayed by various characters that are rarely what they seem at first. It’s like everybody in this movie is a double or even triple agent and everything possible that can go wrong does. They have to fight their way in and out of Nazi strongholds, sneak into munitions depots to steal explosives, bargain with Yugoslavian freedom fighters who change sides at the drop of a shell casing, all the while trying to find out who the traitor Shaw is supposed to kill is and who he’s really working for. And after all that is done they still have to blow that damn bridge.

While the acting is nowhere near Oscar caliber, the cast and the director are all old hands at this kinda stuff and they all turn in serviceable acting jobs that support the material and genre they’re working in and no more. Nobody’s trying to win any awards with this one, and they all seem to be having a great time except for Harrison Ford who reportedly hated working on location in Yugoslavia, which probably accounts for the pissed-off scowl which is his main expression throughout the film. But I liked seeing the young, energetic Ford again and this movie will remind you why at one time he was the top action star in the world and his acting inexperience (this was his first major Hollywood film after a little thing he did called “Star Wars”) actually works since his Lt. Colonel Barnsby is an inexperienced field commander who is in way over his head and doesn’t want to admit it.

Robert Shaw and Edward Fox are the real acting stars of this movie and I liked the easy rapport they had. They quickly convinced me they were two solid friends who have worked together for a while now who like and respect each other. They bark and bite at each other like an old married couple that bicker and fuss in a manner that makes everybody around them crazy but who work splendidly well together.   They have all the best lines in the movie as they calmly comment on and criticize the frantic action going on around them in their droll, reserved British manner.  Shaw in particular has a beautiful piece of creative bullshit when he convinces a Nazi general who’s captured them that the Force 10 Team are all actually deserters.  Fox picks up on what his partner’s about and effortlessly continues the line of bull. Watch Ford’s expressions during the scene as he struggles to try and keep up with the two old pros who were talking their way out of Nazi traps when he was still in basic training.

Carl Weathers is a criminally underrated actor. He’s done some splendid work in films like “Predator”, the Rocky series and the off-the-hook “Action Jackson” (and I’m still waiting on the sequel to that one, dammit!) as well as television series like In “The Heat Of The Night” and “Fortune Dane”. He primarily works here as a way for the other characters to have a way to explain things that they already know without looking stupid, since Weather’s character has no idea what he was getting into when he stowed away aboard their plane but he’s got some good scenes and a nice little knife fight with Richard Kiel near the movie’s end.

So should you see FORCE 10 FROM NAVARONE?  Sure you should.  It’s a highly enjoyable WWII adventure that’s just right for a Saturday afternoon and I don’t think you’ll be disappointed at all. Don’t strain too hard trying to make sense of the many twists and turns of the plot and just enjoy the action on the screen and those wonderful Fox and Shaw performances.

118 Minutes
Rated PG-13

Remo Williams: The Adventure Begins

1985

Orion Pictures

Directed by Guy Hamilton

Produced by Larry Spiegel and Dick Clark

Screenplay by Christopher Wood

Based on “The Destroyer” created by Warren Murphy and Richard Sapir

In the 1970’s there was a tremendous revival of pulp adventure heroes of the 1930’s and 1940’s.  And as a result the paperback racks in bookstores were stuffed with novels reprinting the adventures of such classic characters like Doc Savage, The Shadow, Conan The Barbarian, G-8 And His Battle Aces and The Spider.  They were helped along by breathtakingly beautiful covers done by legends of the art world such as James Bama, Jim Steranko and Frank Frazetta. And they sold like crack.  And it was like crack to the imagination of a high school student named Derrick Ferguson who spent his entire allowance on buying them and who spent his weekends devouring them voraciously and it was these pulps that shaped my writing ambitions and my style.

Publishers who saw this trend for pulp adventure jumped on the bandwagon and soon there was a whole army of modern day characters inspired by the pulps with their own series fighting for space on the racks with their forefathers.  Some of them were pretty poor, to be honest.  Some like Mack Bolan, The Executioner still survive to this day.  One of my favorites was The Inquisitor,  a hitman that worked for The Vatican.  He had to fast three days for every man he killed while on assignment and his confession was only heard by The Pope himself.  But the guy who really stood out and gained a rabid fan following that exists to this day is Remo Williams, The Master Of Sinanju who is the hero of “The Destroyer” series of novels which still enjoys life in paperbacks and was featured in the movie REMO WILLIAMS: THE ADVENTURE BEGINS which in the opinion of your humble reviewer is one of the unsung classics of pulp adventure movies.

A New York cop (Fred Ward) is catching a coffee break under The Brooklyn Bridge when he stumbles on what appears to be a random mugging.  He takes out the three muggers all by himself and while he’s calling for backup in his patrol car, it’s shoved into the East River and he’s presumed killed.  He wakes up in a hospital where he’s told by the sharply dressed Conn MacCleary (J.A. Preston) that he’s been handpicked to be the enforcement arm of a secret organization called CURE.  “Why CURE?” The cop asks.  Cleary answers; “because this country has a disease and we’re the cure.  You’re going to be the Thirteenth Commandment: Thou Shalt Not Get Away With It.” Which I think should be the motto of just about every pulp hero.

MacCleary gives him his new name: Remo Williams and takes him to meet the head of the organization, one Harold Smith, who works in a dark sub-basement of The World Bank.  Smith tells him that CURE has only four members: MacCleary, Smith, Remo and the man who will train Remo: Chiun (Joel Grey) The current Master Of Sinanju, an ancient Korean who will teach Remo the art of Sinanju, which is the martial art from which all other martial arts such as karate, kung fu and ninjitsu was derived. CURE is an organization that is only known to The President of the United States and answers only to him.

Chiun is takes Remo under his wing as his student and informs him that The House of Sinanju has a long history of ‘perfect assassinations’.  As Chiun tells Remo in a scene that is hysterical to watch and listen to courtesy of Joel Grey’s utter seriousness and Fred Ward’s increasing disbelief, assassination is the highest form of public service.  The House of Sinanju is responsible for the deaths of such notable historical figures as Alexander The Great, Napoleon and Robin Hood.  All perfect assassinations carried out with such skill and grace that they appeared to be accidents or natural deaths.  Chiun begins training Remo for his job while Smith lines up his first job: an industrialist named George Grove (Charles Cioffi) who has been bilking the United States Army out of billions with a weapons systems called The Harp that doesn’t work.  Grove’s theft has come to attention of Major Rayner Fleming (Kate Mulgrew) who is making trouble for Grove and she’s targeted to be killed.  Smith assigns Remo Williams to protect Major Fleming and expose Grove’s evildoing.

REMO WILLIAMS: THE ADVENTURE CONTINUES isn’t a movie that comes up very often when people discuss superhero or pulp inspired movies but it’s a movie that I highly recommend you seek out and watch.  Mainly for the performances of the always likeable and watchable Fred Ward (who would have been the perfect Rocky Davis if a ‘Challengers Of The Unknown’ movie had ever been made) and Joel Grey as Chiun.  Their relationship in the movie is what really sells this movie as it progresses from one of active hatred to respect and love to the point where Chiun calls Remo his son and Remo calls Chiun ‘Little Father” The training scenes are a lot of fun, especially the one where Chiun seeks to conquer Remo’s fear of heights by having him stand on the top of a moving car of Coney Island’s world famous Wonder Wheel while dodging the other moving cars.  The scene is helped tremendously by the fact that it’s obviously Fred Ward doing his stunts and it’s nail-bitingly suspenseful as well as hilarious, once again courtesy of Joel Grey’s comments.

In fact, Joel Grey effortlessly steals the movie as Chiun.  He creates a wonderfully eccentric character that is as wise and as badass as Master Yoda.  But a whole lot funnier.  Chiun is capable of taking out an army of fully armed men barehanded but he’s also addicted to soap operas which he considers to be the highest artistic achievement of American culture.  One of the best scenes in the movie is when he is forced to tell Remo that if Remo fails in his assignment to take out Grove that Chiun will have to kill Remo.  The scene is done with a degree of feeling and sheer acting power that lifts it out of what could have been a run of the mill action movie and approaches real heart.  It’s a terrific scene.  It’s also helped by the music which is done by Craig Safan and it is absolutely one the best music soundtracks ever done for a movie.  The theme music is guaranteed to get your heart pumping.

The only let down of the movie is the bad guy.  Charles Cioffi’s George Grove really isn’t much of a villain and he’s not much of a threat.  The fact that he’s stealing billions of money from the US Government reduces Remo to not much more than a high level collection agent and Grove’s crew of henchmen aren’t on the level of James Bond style enforcers such as Oddjob or Jaws which is what the movie really needs to give Remo a real threat.  But the performances are what really sell this movie, especially those of a pre ‘Star Trek: Voyager’ Kate Mulgrew, Fred Ward and Joel Grey.  Joel Grey won two awards for his role in this movie:  One from The Golden Globes and one from The Academy of Science Fiction, Fantasy and Horror Films and he deserved them both.

So should you see REMO WILLIAMS: THE ADVENTURE BEGINS?  You get an enthusiastic Hell Yes from me.  It’s a lost classic that needs to be seen by lovers of the pulps.  It’s modern day pulp all the way and it’s done with style, class and a love of the genre.  It should be seen just for the terrific performances of Fred Ward and Joel Grey is nothing else.  It’s a great Saturday afternoon movie.  Enjoy with my blessings.

121 minutes

Rated PG-13