The 1960s were big on war movies — and war TV series for that matter — and because my father had been in the Army Air Corps during WWII, it followed that we saw all of them — or so it seemed. (I think this was exacerbated by the fact that my father’s war never got past Austin, Texas, so he felt compelled to live it vicariously.) It started — to the best of my knowledge — with The Guns of Navarone, which seemed to be reissued every year (possibly because it was the best one). And it just kept going and going like the Energizer Bunny of carnage. Somehow we missed seeing Operation Crossbow — and I find it hard to believe, because it would have been grist for my dad’s mill. I only caught up with it this weekend for this screening. Believe me, I do not seek out these pictures on my own. My idea of war movies was forever changed by Richard Lester’s How I Won the War (1967), Mike Nichols’ Catch-22 (1970), and Robert Altman’s M*A*S*H (1970).
While I can’t say that Operation Crossbow is by any means a bad movie, I find it strangely unable to achieve a coherent tone. It’s like the film doesn’t know what it wants to be. The first nearly 30 minutes is an all character actor show of the Germans working on the V1 flying bomb — very sober, almost docudrama stuff. Then its wholly fictional spies and saboteurs yarn starts up and it becomes something else, but that something else is in itself a weird mix of Guns of Navarone adventure and the deadly grim earnestness of something like The Counterfeit Traitor (1962). (I should note that The Counterfeit Traitor was a traumatic experience for my seven-year-old self. It both scared and depressed the hell out of me.) The two elements are at best an awkward fit with preposterous heroics jammed up against gravely serious sequences. The overall sense is a relatively enjoyable war adventure with an utterly downbeat flavor. I have seen the film’s mortality rate praised, but for me it just doesn’t quite work on either level.
The Hendersonville Film Society will show Operation Crossbow Sunday, Jan. 25, at 2 p.m. in the Smoky Mountain Theater at Lake Pointe Landing Retirement Community (behind Epic Cinemas), 333 Thompson St., Hendersonville.