A team of crack commandoes is sent to infiltrate a German held Greek island with the aim of blowing up the twin cannons that threaten the evacuation of nearby British troops. But the mission, led by the stalwart American Captain Keith Mallory, is beset by danger both from the outside and from betrayal within.
A hardy perennial of that grand tradition of WWII men-on-a-mission movies (usually adapted, as is the case here, from gutsy Alistair MacClean novels), this conventional but thrillingly made and performed adventure in many ways symbolises the entire sub-genre. Its dedicated mechanics have been purloined by countless other movies, but never to quite the same effect.
To wit: you present a mission that is damn near impossible — scaling a terrible cliff face in the pouring rain, hiding out amongst the Greek rebels, staving off betrayal, scheming your way inside the Nazi base, and, finally, by hook or by craftily lift-mounted booby trap, victory is achieved. You cast it with a mix of noble chins (Gregory Peck and David Niven doing what they do best — being upright and moral) and stubbly jaws (Stanley Baker and Anthony Quinn doing what they best — being tough and moody). And you shoot with an eye on spectacle rather than realism, with a lean, direct script that can boast genuine flares of emotion without crowding the mission with subplots.
J. Lee Thompson understood that precision wrought simplicity, avoiding ambiguity like an enemy patrol, can reap glorious dividends (the film was a big hit). Although, beyond the calling of its plot, this set of likable characters do come intelligently alive and there is real directorial skill in the growing tension of the finale — this is not just a mater of blindly going through the motions. Violently out of fashion, perhaps, but inspirational in its own tidy way.
A boy's-own classic.