Adventure · War

Gregory Peck vs. David Niven & The German Army

This post is part of the Dueling Divas Blogathon. *SPOILER ALERT*

David Niven, centre, starts in on Gregory Peck. Image: britannica.com
David Niven (centre) constantly needles Gregory Peck (left). Image: britannica.com

We never tire of the WWII adventure The Guns of Navarone (1961), a grand spectacle of a film based on the Alistair MacLean novel that was gleaned from actual events in the Aegean Sea in 1943.

The film is about a British-led team sent to the (fictional) island of Navarone to blow up powerful ship-sinking guns the Germans have installed high in a rocky seaside cliff.

Here’s what these guns look like:

The guns of Navarone. They are Fierce! Image: GoneMovie.com
The guns of Navarone. Fierce! Image: GoneMovie.com

In our opinion, these guns ain’t nothin’ compared to the growing hostility between the two main characters, Gregory Peck and David Niven.

Early in the film, we (the audience) are told the Navarone mission is believed to be too difficult to succeed. Indeed, the mission proves to be an exercise in frustration, especially for Peck, an even-tempered fellow who tries to accept his circumstances with wry humour.

However, Peck’s nemesis, Niven, is the team’s explosives expert – in more ways than one. He’s a sarcastic, smug fellow who’s never short of complaints. It’s clear he has no respect for Peck, and often addresses him as “Captain Mallory”.

However, as the film progresses, and tensions tighten, Peck becomes increasingly irritable. Still, he’s able to keep most of his emotions crammed in, even when the accusatory Niven sneers: “You’re rather a ruthless character, Captain Mallory.”

Gregory Peck is in the mood to use this thing. Image: IMDB
Peck is in the mood to use this thing. Image: IMFDB

The situation ignites when an angry Niven discovers the team has been betrayed and, when he correctly guesses who the offender is, he demands an execution. But Niven isn’t going to do the killing. Oh no – he’s too delicate for that. He flippantly suggests Peck do it, then reminds Peck that the betrayer must be killed if they are to destroy the German guns.

The betrayer is shot, leaving a seething Peck with a slightly-shaken Niven.

Here’s the scene – the spike – we amateur seismologists have been watching for; the smackdown that’s been rumbling beneath these two since the mission began. When it erupts, it is terrific. Peck spews a most un-Gregory-Peck-like speech: a bitter, menacing tirade that floods the scene with red-hot frustration.

“Now,” Peck says to Niven, “you know that when you put on a uniform and learn how to do it, it’s not hard to kill someone. Sometimes it’s harder not to. You think you’ve been getting away with it all this time, standing by. Well, son, your by-standing days are over. You’re in it now, up to your neck!” [shakes his pistol] “You’ve got me in the mood to use this thing…and if you don’t think of something, I’ll use it on you.”

He’s snarling by the time he’s done, Peck is; we can feel his rage through the screen. We wonder what’s taken him so long.

If you’re a fan of high-adventure WWII films, we urge you to see The Guns of Navarone. It’s a powder keg of a story with a tremendous cast led by two professionals whose on-screen rivalry is one of the best on film.

The Guns of Navarone: starring Gregory Peck, David Niven, Anthony Quinn. Directed by J. Lee Thompson. Written by Alistair MacLean and Carl Foreman. Columbia Pictures, 1961, Colour, 157 mins.

This post is part of the DUELING DIVAS Blogathon, hosted by the lovely and talented Backlots. Click HERE to read more about Divas and their Duels.

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30 thoughts on “Gregory Peck vs. David Niven & The German Army

  1. Love this movie and that scene you described. Boy,does Peck let rip. And of course there’s the tension between Peck and Anthony Quinn.
    A great adventure story.

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    1. Oh yes, the tension between Peck & Quinn is just as good. I love it when scriptwriters can keep track of interesting characters & motivations, like they do in this film. So many films like this start with great promise, only to have several characters drop out of the story.

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  2. Was Gregory Peck’s character higher ranking than a Captain, then – is that why it was an insult when Niv called him that? Nice write-up, this looks great. I’ve always been aware of the film but never seen it, it’s now on the list!

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  3. Such a great movie, I commend your fine taste. 🙂 It has everything! The music, the great acting by super stars as you discuss here… It also makes a nice double feature with Where Eagles Dare, another MacLean adaptation. Great post.

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  4. I’ve never thought of Niven and Peck as dueling divas in this pic :). I agree that it’s a grand adventure film from start to finish and the cast is first-rate.

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    1. It is a grand adventure, made all the better by the tensions between Peck vs. Niven, Peck vs. Quinn, Peck vs. Baker, and Peck vs. the Germans. It’s a wonder Peck’s character wasn’t a raging alcoholic.

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  5. What a pair of DIVAS! 😉 I must watch this, it sounds wonderful. Peck’s speech sounds particularly emotive – and very un-Peck-ish. Clearly impossible missions can test even the best of our on-screen heroes!

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    1. I absolutely love this movie, and watch it at least once a year. Great script, great tension, great cast. Gregory Peck carries the movie effortlessly, but doesn’t dominate the scenes – except the one where he gives David Niven what-for.

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  6. What a hilarious twist on the “Dueling Divas” theme, Ruth – love it, and am also very fond of THE GUNS OF NAVARONE. That hard edge to the character relationships you describe so well above (not to mention the threat that Anthony Quinn makes to Peck’s character that underlines the whole film), gives the Boys’ Own Adventure action beats a cold, ruthless sort of realism. The women in the cast are good too, especially the tough-as-an-old-boot Irene Pappas.

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    1. Yes, like you I chose “dudes” for divas. 😉 A diva doesn’t always have to be a woman, right?

      As for “The Guns of Navarone”, I encourage you to see it. It’s a terrific action yarn, with a top-notch cast. The tensions between Gregory Peck and David Niven are only part of the intrigue.

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  7. This is a grat movie! And your view was so original, with Peck and Niven as the Dueling Divas!
    And, oh, thanks for telling me Navarone is a fictional island. I’d make a fool of myself looking for it in Europe. LOL
    Thanks for th kind comment!
    Le

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  8. Ruth, I’m delighted that your Diva match is a fella for a change (nothing personal, ladies!)! THE GUNS OF NAVARONE, showing that strong men can get as pissy as divas, by man or woman! Great post, my friend, as always, and may you and yours have a wonderful weekend!

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    1. Yes, I thought it was time the concept of “Diva” was broadened to include men, and I think Niven and Peck, in this film, fit the description. But I don’t mean this in a derogatory way – without their friction, it would be less of a movie (Anthony Quinn notwithstanding).

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  9. I’m so glad to read about this movie. It has always been one of my dad’s favorites so I have wanted to see it, but never have. I also love Gregory Peck so I will have to get this one from Netflix. You described the relationship between Peck and Niven so well, Ruth. I could just feel the hostility coming from the page. Thanks for reminding me about this one and your insights will help me enjoy it even more.

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    1. This is a great choice for a home movie night (along with with extra-buttery popcorn). It’s a bit long, but it sure doesn’t feel like it. There are a lot of plot twists, which I didn’t even address. I hope you get the chance to see it! 🙂

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