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Eagles & Navarone

There’s one sure sign you’re talking with a smart guy (or girl): given the question “What’s the best, The Guns of Navarone or Where Eagles Dare?”, they will reply “Are we talking the books or the movies?”
And we were actually discussing the movies, last night, and the answer to the question is quite tricky, for me at least.

The Guns of Navarone was filmed in 1961, and features an incredible cast: Gregory Peck, David Niven, Anthony Quinn, Irene Papas, Stanley Baker and Anthony Quaile. It was the tightest thriller in its time, but seen today it would be considered slow by kids grown up with the Transformers and the Marvel movies.

Where Eagles Dare was filmed in 1968, and features Richard Burton, Clint Eastwood and Ingrid Pitt. I like the cast of Navarone better, but Eagles is faster, and if the plot is somewhat top-heavy, the action just never gives up. The soundtrack’s also more to my taste (but hey, Navarone’s by Dmitri Tiomkin’s!).

So in the end I’d probably say The Guns of Navarone, but simply for the cast – and then go and rewatch both movies anyway. It is true that I watched Where Eagles Dare more often – but i saw Navarone in the cinema, while Eagles I always only saw on TV.

Both movies are, of course, based on Alistair MacLean’s novels – The Guns of Navarone was originally published in 1957, while Where Eagles Dare was written in 1968, at the same time MacLean was also writing the script for the movie. So one film’s an adaptation, the other is not.

“I’m not a novelist. That’s too pretentious a claim. I’m a storyteller, that’s all. I’m a professional and a craftsman. I will make that claim for myself.”

Alistair MacLean

Last night’s discussion reminded me that it’s been three decades since I last picked up a MacLean novel – in the late ’80s/early ’90s the international bookstore where I bought my English reading matter carried a full list of MacLean’s books, plus the follow-ups by other writers, including a guy called Alastair MacNeill.
I really miss my weekly foraging trips to the Libreria Luxenbourg – they had a huge selection, and were not afraid to carry both high literature and pupular fiction. I learned a lot on their shelves.

As a result of one of those foraging trips, somewhere in a box around here there’s The Guns of Navarone, Where Eagles Dare, Fear is the Key and The Satan Bug. I spent a month of August, vacationing here in the hills of Astigianistan, reading Alastair MacLean’s thrillers under a sun umbrella in the courtyard. I was probably 21 or 22.

And three decades is a long time – so I decided I’ll go through those books again, and check out Force Ten from Navarone and a few others. Theguy’s catalog is available for relatively cheap in ebook these days.
MacLean was a popular fiction powerhouse and I think this time I’ll look more at the technique – after all he used to write a complete novel, from outline to final draft, in 35 days tops.
There’s always something to learn from these old master storytellers.

And yes, I’ll rewatch the movies, and post about them, too.

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