was one among many '60s films aiming, in the wake of The Guns of Navarone
, to cash in on nostalgia for "the Good War" of 20 years earlier, plus snag a share of the spy-movie market stoked by James Bond. A decent-enough stiff-upper-lip thriller in its day, it's yet more enjoyable now. The nostalgia has deepened to include affectionate enjoyment of a fine, big cast now mostly departed, dependably hitting their marks in a jolly good yarn.
The tale begins around the midpoint of the war, with Hitler aspiring to hurl a second Blitz against London using "flying bombs" and rockets. The British War Office starts recruiting officers fluent in the necessary technical fields, as well as German, Dutch, and/or French--the languages of the Nazi-occupied countries from which the Germans are recruiting technical personnel. The screenplay follows two tracks: the Germans' progress with their new aerial weaponry, and the progress of the Allied infiltrators--chiefly Yank George Peppard, chirpy Englishman Jeremy Kemp, and Dutchman Tom Courtenay--sent to penetrate the V2 project.
Despite the resemblance between the Navarone caves and the underground V2 launch center, Crossbow is something of an anti-Navarone. Its heroes are resolutely small-scale, and the mission is fraught with more opportunities for horrible miscues and moral-ethical murkiness than commando derring-do. The most memorable, indeed disturbing, part of the film involves Sophia Loren as the apolitical wife of a collaborator she doesn't know has been killed (and his identity assumed by Peppard). John Mills and Trevor Howard are deliciously deadpan trading war-council flapdoodle at the highest echelon, and Anthony Quayle (the spiritual leader of the Navarone mission) does yeoman service in a tricky role. Time--or rather, the transfer to video--has also been kind to the film's thin, overlit Metrocolor and last-reel special effects, which looked feebler on theater screens. The writers include Michael Powell's longtime partner Emeric Pressburger (under the pseudonym Richard Imrie). --Richard T. Jameson
A fearsome rumor reaches Britain's World War II command. The Nazis are developing rocket technology that could rain death on London and, then, New York. Quickly, England develops a plan to send saboteurs into the sites manufacturing the rockets. Just moments after the carefully chosen commandos parachute into the drop zone, their pilot receives an urgent message. The mission may be compromised. Abort. Operation Crossbow is the partly fact-based tale of how that team succeeded against daunting odds. Michael Anderson (The Dam Busters, Logan's Run) directs, guiding a huge cast in a film that builds to a spectacular finale, yet never neglects war's unsparing personal costs. As a record of a wartime espionage incursion and as an intrigue-filled thriller, Operation Crossbow is on both counts Operation Accomplished.
Featurette:Vintage Featurette A Look Back at Crossbow