Color, 1978, 126 mins. / 118 mins. 35 secs.
Directed by Guy Hamilton
Starring Robert Shaw, Harrison Ford, Barbara Box, Edward Fox, Franco Nero, Carl Weathers, Richard Kiel, Alan Badel
Indicator (Blu-ray) (UK RB HD), Kino Lorber (Blu-ray) (US RA HD), MGM (DVD) (US R1 NTSC) / WS (2.35:1) (16:9)
When 1974's The Godfather: Part II ushered in the idea of major studio sequels to hit films that went beyond the idea of ongoing series like James Bond or Inspector Clouseau, moviegoers were gradually pelted with a wild variety of "Part 2" successors to everything from Walking Tall to The Omen. The sequel bug eventually bit the all-star Hollywood epic around the end of the decade with two films in particular aiming high, Beyond the Poseidon Adventure and Force 10 from Navarone. Though neither was especially lauded at the time, the latter (a very belated sequel to the popular 1961 war film by J. Lee Thompson) fared better in the end and enjoyed something of a cult reputation due to its frequent TV airings and its solid cast including Harrison Ford fresh off the success of Star Wars. Very loosely adapted from Alastair MacLean's own follow-up novel from 1968, the film was prepared in two different cuts: a 118-minute version for U.S. distribution by American International Pictures (who was aiming for major commercial acceptance with films like this and Meteor to its ultimate financial destruction) and a longer, international cut for Columbia Pictures, who had handled the original film but ended up using the AIP cut in major theatrical markets overseas anyway. Strangely, each version has some exclusive footage of its own and sports a number of editorial differences including the placement of some voiceover and lines of dialogue, meaning both are worth a look for fans.
Having directed three back-to-back James Bond films in the 1970s (in fact, there are 007 connections all over the place here), director Guy Hamilton had been MIA on the scene for four years due to local tax issues when he took on this ambitious project shot in Eastern Europe with some interiors back in England. The plot is another "men on a mission" saga with the two main characters, Mallory (Shaw) and Miller (Fox), stepping back into the fray for roles originally played by Gregory Peck and David Niven. Here they're out to stop Captain Lescovar (Nero), the current alias taken by the treacherous German spy who tried to sabotage their prior mission; now he's in Yugoslavia plotting to wound Allied forces from the inside. Taking out a key bridge in the area via a dam nearby could prove extremely advantageous to the war effort, so off they go with to merge with the titular Force 10 consisting of some American military sabotage experts including Lieutenant Barnsby (Ford) and Sergeant Weaver (Weathers). Along the way they encounter numerous locals both friendly and hostile, some even double agents, including recent The Spy Who Loved Me stars Richard Kiel and Barbara Bach (the latter getting a significant role as far more than she first appears to be). After numerous foot journeys and plot reversals, the big operation finally kicks into gear for a bullet-spraying climax worthy of a disaster film.
Impressively mounted and buoyed by a solid adventure score by Ron Goodwin (already very familiar with this kind of material thanks to Where Eagles Dare, Battle of Britain, and 633 Squadron), this film was accused of being tired and out of date when it opened in the wake of Star Wars and found itself jockeying against films like Grease, Midnight Express, and The Deer Hunter. It's an old school "men's adventure" paperback-style yarn at heart, which is easier to appreciate now outside of trends of the time as well as a chance to savor one of the last appearances by Shaw (just after his underrated starring turns in Black Sunday and The Deep). This one really doesn't try to reinvent the wheel in any way; it's just pure war, espionage, and globe-hopping distraction designed to kill a Sunday evening with popcorn in hand. As such, it's been a regular fixture on cable TV and home video for decades with MGM in particular keeping it around in various forms since inheriting the AIP library. A DVD release featured the option of the extended cut or the theatrical one, though only the former was widescreen; later on, a 2009 Blu-ray from MGM offered only the extended cut with DTS-HD 5.1 or Dolby Digital mono options, plus the trailer.
2020 saw no less than two releases of the film on Blu-ray, with the first one out of the gate by a nose coming in the U.S. from Kino Lorber sporting a fresh 2K scan of the extended version and looking quite a bit fresher and more detailed than before. It's quite a beauty of a transfer, with 5.1 and 2.0 stereo English DTS-HD MA audio options offered; both are fine, though the stereo offers a bit more oomph for the Goodwin score. Optional English SDH subtitles are also included. The trailer is included (along with a batch of other war trailers like The Devil's Brigade) but the main extra here is a new audio commentary with King Cohen director Steve Mitchell and war movie expert Steven Jay Rubin chatting about a wide variety of aspects about the film including the importance of the original film, MacLean's authorial influence at the time, their muted reactions to the film upon its release versus their appreciation for it now, the significance of the actors at the time (especially Shaw who would pass away before the release), and the logistics of shooting big combat scenes with practical stunts. The U.K. edition from Indicator offers a more expansive package as a limited (5,000 units) two-disc set featuring the extended version on disc one with the Mitchell-Rubin commentary (plus 5.1, 2.0, and original mono audio options) and the theatrical cut bare bones with a mono track on disc two. Both look excellent and are freshly remastered, with the extended cut looking pretty much indistinguishable from the U.S. release.
Disc one also features all of the video extras starting off with "This Is a Giant Movie" (21m24s), a great little vintage location report by Channel Television on site in Yugoslavia featuring interviews with producer Oliver A Unger and Fox and Weathers, narrated by Robert Hall. In the new "Tour de Force" (23m50s), actor Angus MacInnes chats about his early gig on this film's "crazy shoot" being surrounded by big stars (including Weathers, whom he's remained friends with) and the daunting nature of being on such a big production, including some interesting recollections of Hamilton who had just lost out on Superman due to his tax exile status at the time. Then the new interview compendium "From Žabljak with Love" (27m42s) pulls together recollections by construction manager Terry Apsey, stuntman Jim Dowdall, grip Dennis Fraser, chief hairdresser Colin Jamison, and chief make-up artist Peter Robb-King explaining how some past experience on The Eagle Has Landed came in handy, the finger-deprived head of explosives took an unorthodox approach to his job, Shaw was hitting the bottle hard at the time, MacLean popped by for a visit on the sit and entertained the crew with his pianist skills, and Ford (who was "fussy about his hair") was still in a state of shock over his sudden Han Solo fame after working as a carpenter not long before. "A Life Behind the Lens" (32m16s) is a very affectionate look at the film's cinematographer, Christopher Challis, featuring interviews with fellow directors of photography and camera crew Dennis Fraser, Oswald Morris, John Palmer and Sydney Samuelson, as well as archival interview footage of Challis (who passed away in 2012 and excelled on such films as Two for the Road, Evil Under the Sun, and Mary, Queen of Scots). Of particular value to film score buffs is "The BEHP Interview with Ron Goodwin" (88m44s), a camcorder-shot video history made as part of the British Entertainment History Project with the composer covering his entire career in conversation with Linda Wood. It's a real treasure trove capturing the memories of a man who really saw the British film industry go through some massive changes over the decades as he worked on everything from sci-fi cult classics to major productions like Frenzy and Those Magnificent Men in Their Flying Machines. Finally, "A Show of Force" (24m41s) is a very thorough breakdown of the many, many differences between the two cuts, including the dramatically different narrations and editorial variations (sometimes down to single lines of dialogue) found throughout the two variants. Also included are a Super 8 version (17m10s) offering another nostalgic look at the condensed edit offered to home collectors around that time, the U.S. and U.K. trailers, a TV and radio spot, and an extensive gallery of stills and promotional material. The package also comes with an 80-page book featuring liner notes by Sheldon Hall, press reports from the location featuring sound bites from the cast and crew, a Robert Shaw interview, selections from Challis' and screenwriter George MacDonald Fraser's memoirs, and sample critical reviews, plus five replica production stills.
Reviewed on August 2, 2020.