David Niven, Gergory Peck and Anthony Quinn in a promotional poster from the 1961 movie, "The Guns of Navarone"

David Niven, Gregory Peck and Anthony Niven in "The Guns of Navarone"

It’s not fair — and perhaps dangerous — to watch the Hollywood version of war. The good guys always win — or at least used to until Hollywood got a little messier and the lines between good guy and bad got blurred. Even then, as with any story of war, the narrative is framed by the winners.

But there are moments, in the writing, that seem to speak through the ages.

One of those moments comes about 18 minutes into the long drama that is the 1961 class, “The Guns of Navarone.” (It’s based on the 1957 novel of the same name by Alistair MacLean.) Gregory Peck, a retired mountain climber, is an officer and spy summoned to lead an impossible mission: Scale a never-climbed cliff, in the rain and dark, and take out German guns that are keeping Allied ships from rescuing British soldiers stranded on an island in the Aegean Sea. The allegiance of Turkey hangs in the balance.

I don’t know if MacLeon or screenwriter Carl Foreman wrote the lines that seemed to echo forward and back, and have special resonance in these fraught times. Commodore Jensen (played by James Robert Justice) has just dispatched what seems to be a doomed mission. When questioned by his aide de camp, he confesses the likely futility. Then he says this:

“Still, they may get there and they may pull it off. Anything can happen in a war. Slap in the middle of insanity, people pull out the most extraordinary resources. Ingenuity, courage, self-sacrifice. Pity we can’t beat the problems of peace in the same way, isn’t it? It would be so much cheaper for everyone.”

Someday someone will make an epic movie about the ingenuity, courage and self-sacrifice on display every day in Ukraine. The price paid already seems intolerable for both sides. We can only hope the narrative gets to be shaped with honesty, and by the good guys.

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