Harrison Ford, Robert Shaw and Carl Weathers Force Their way Through This WWII-Action Sequel
DIRECTED BY GUY HAMILTON/1978
BLU-RAY STREET DATE: MARCH 17, 2020/KL STUDIO CLASSICS
The perennial lazy Sunday World War II sequel Force 10 from Navarone is not a poor film, per se. I can declare that with some authority, in that I’ve finally watched the movie. (When I was growing up, not once did I bother to tune into its many local airings on Channel 11). But, it must be said with begrudging honesty, that the best thing about finally seeing the curiously titled Force 10 is finally also seeing its predecessor, J. Lee Thompson’s The Guns of Navarone.
Now that’s a movie. Some might go as far as to say that it’s the definitive “men on a mission” movie. From what I’ve seen in my vast movie-watching experience, yes. Yes it is. In it, we witness a top-tier cast, featuring Anthony Quinn and David Niven and led by no less than Gregory Peck, embarking on an all-but-impossible sabotage operation. Like so many inflated Hollywood spectacles circa Guns’ release year of 1961, the movie is not short. But, packed with stern gravitas, uneasy relationships (for instance: Quinn has vowed to kill mission-mate Peck once this is all over) (!), it works. Even when individual aspects don’t quite click (the North by Northwest-esque visual effects are not always the most… effective), the movie fights hard and manages to nail its target.
Force 10… not so much. Though its cast is of similar heft to its predecessor of seventeen years (!!), the gapping canyon of time in between the installments inflicts inevitable wounds all its own. Per the 1967 source novel by name-above-the-title-popular Guns and Force 10 author Alistair MacLean, Peck’s Captain Keith Mallory and Niven’s Corporal Dusty Miller return, albeit recast. This time, these British Commandos are played by Robert Shaw (his final role) and Edward Fox- and their characters have a mission all their own: assassinate a key Nazi agent. To get to their destination of Yugoslavia, they hitch a plane ride with an elite American demolitions crew known as Force 10. Both Shaw and Fox hold their own in their parts, though the way in which they’re written assures audience disconnect.
Force 10 is very much a sequel as opposed to a “reboot”, “continuation”, or whatever term contemporary I.P. hounds like to label such things. Considering just how commanding Peck and Niven were and how popular their film was, the character’s presence in any other form is going to be a hurdle. Such hurdles are often cleared in other such recasting efforts, though between the seventeen-year time gap and the very different directorial hand of Guy Hamilton (Goldfinger), Force 10 feels inexorably lesser.
Also at the fore of Force 10 is a rapidly rising Harrison Ford. Just off Star Wars, Ford plays the leader of the titular Force 10, most of whom are surprisingly dispensed with before the mission (they are supposed to blow up a bridge) ever gets going. Maybe it’s hindsight talking, but Ford is just fine in his part as the rugged team leader. The actor disagrees. Many years later he would claim that though he thinks the movie was fine, it was the wrong project for him at the time. Along the way, he and the men must tussle with the likes of Franco Nero (Django), Barbara Bach and Richard Kiel (both of The Spy Who Loved Me). Stowing away with the good guys is Carl Weathers (Rocky), who interjects a sharp racial awareness into the movie.
Force 10 from Navarone has been released on Blu-ray before, so fans will be particularly curious about this newer Kino Lorber Studio Classics edition brings to the table. The answer is, a slightly muted transfer (an improvement), and a new audio commentary by filmmaker/historian Steve Mitchell and Combat Films: American Realism Author Steven Jay Rubin. Those who’ve enjoyed Mitchell and Rubin commentaries in the past will not be surprised to hear that this one is another solid effort. Packed with information, but engagingly conversational, these guys really know their stuff, and are inherently listenable.
Somehow, it all adds up to something that is merely okay. It’s important, though, to differentiate that Guns was drawn in a very different cinematic environment than Force 10. When taken in together, this two-film Navarone franchise (to inflict the popular parlance) serves as a great comparison and contrast between what such films were like in 1960 versus 1978. The must-see largeness and sheer grandiosity of Guns is replaced with a scaled down grittiness (check out that Nazi decapitation booby trap… not Force 10’s finest moment), overt sexiness (Bach’s contribution), and an obviously shoehorned racial equality angle (Kiel’s character repeatedly insults Weathers’ character by calling him “blackie”, paving the way for a later showdown).
But perhaps the biggest shortcoming is simply an overstuffed screenplay branching in too many different directions. It’s a far cry from the valiant laser-focus of Guns. Force 10 isn’t a big fat zero, though it’s easy to observe that the Force is not all that strong with this one.