Operation Crossbow

Movie Information

In Brief: Reasonably well-produced, fairly standard 1960s war movie (there seemed to be a new one every week through 1967, mostly thanks to the wildly popular The Guns of Navarone in 1961), Operation Crossbow (1965) was largely sold on Sophia Loren's name (well, it was produced by husband Carlo Ponti). It was good business sense but not terribly honest. She doesn't appear for about 50 minutes and only remains for maybe 20 minutes once she does show up. The whole film is kind of like that, since it spends nearly 30 minutes setting up the premise of the Nazis developing their rocket warfare and only then gets to the story and the appearance of George Peppard. Overall, this is a typical mix of history — the development of the V1 flying bomb and the V2 rocket — and a completely fictional story of Brit and American spies and saboteurs. It's not bad, but for what is really a pretty silly story, it's awfully downbeat stuff. And the idea that any German is going to mistake Peppard for a native speaker of the language is on the far side of far-fetched.
Genre: War Drama
Director: Michael Anderson (Around the World in 80 Days)
Starring: Sophia Loren, George Peppard, Tom Courtenay, Jeremy Kemp, Anthony Quayle, Lilli Palmer
Rated: NR



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.

About Ken Hanke
Head film critic for Mountain Xpress from December 2000 until his death in June 2016. Author of books "Ken Russell's Films," "Charlie Chan at the Movies," "A Critical Guide to Horror Film Series," "Tim Burton: An Unauthorized Biography of the Filmmaker."

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