“Operation Crossbow” is a blockbuster wannabe that was released in 1965. It is from the subgenre of war adventure similar to two other 1965 releases – “Von Ryan’s Express” and “The Heroes of Telemark”. It fits the typical 1960s model of all-star cast and big effects. The movie was directed by Michael Anderson (“The Dam Busters”). It was made in England and has a mostly British cast. A London power center was used for the underground missile facility. The producer Carlo Ponti cast his wife Sophia Loren in what was basically a glorified cameo. He then gave her top billing. It’s nice to be sleeping with the producer.
The film opens with Churchill demanding that his son-in-law Duncan Sandys look into the possible terror weapons the Nazis may be developing. These weapons turn out to be the V-1 and V-2. The V-1 is a pilotless missile launched against London via ramps in occupied Europe. The V-2 was a supersonic rocket with a large warhead. A subplot involves problems with the V-1 veering off and crashing before it can kill Brits. The famous test pilot Hanna Reitsch (Barbara Rutting) is brought in to determine the cause of the problem.
The movie concentrates on attempts to stop the V-2 program. Photoreconnaissance discovers the factory at Pennemunde. Churchill calls a meeting to decide what to do. His scientific adviser Lindemann (Trevor Howard) is your typical pompous, pooh-poohing egg-head. He argues that the site is not worth the effort. It would take the total resources of Bomber Command and could result in all 600 bombers being lost and thus the war lost. What a Debbie Downer! Luckily Churchill is sane and gives the green light.
The bombing results in the deaths of several key V-2 personnel, but the program continues in a new underground facility. A plan is hatched to send a team to infiltrate the factory. Naturally one of the operatives has to be a handsome, brash Yank. Lt. Curtis (George Peppard) and proper Brit nerd Henshaw (Tom Courteney) are paradropped behind enemy lines. Curtis has an encounter with Sophia Loren so she can appear on the movie poster and on the marquee. The lengths the movie goes to shoe horn her into the plot is laughable, but the resolution is satisfying and she is lovely.
Curtis gets a job in the factory. Meanwhile London is being hit by V-1s in some pretty spectacular explosions. To make matters worse, the V-2s add to the destruction. Something needs to be done. Bomber Command schedules a bombing raid, but someone needs to open up the launch door so bombs can go down the hatch. This looks like a job for James Bond or Lt. Curtis. Prepare to see what one man with a submachine gun can do to lots of Germans and what collateral explosions look like. Spoiler alert: we win the war.
The movie is loosely based on the truth. The V-1 (known as “buzz bombs”) and V-2 are accurately portrayed in their use and effects. Hanna Reitsch is an actual person and one of the most fascinating figures in the war. She was Hitler’s favorite pilot. She became famous for her test pilot skills. She worked on perfecting the notoriously fickle Me-163, one of the first jet fighters. She was awarded the Iron Cross. She flew into besieged Berlin in the last week of the war in Europe to deliver Goering’s successor to the Bunker. She personally tried to persuade der Fuhrer to escape with her. Imagine if he had taken her up on her offer. Her test flight in the movie is close to reality. She actually was trying to determine why the piloted version of the V-1 was crashing on landing. The piloted version was developed as a possible “kamikaze”, but even Hitler would not give final approval. This version was launched by another aircraft, not by way of a ramp like the unmanned version.
Several characters in the film are historical. Lindemann was Churchill’s scientific adviser and he was skeptical of the terror weapons. He thought they were most likely a Nazi deception to divert Allied resources. Churchill did overrule him at a meeting and had Sandys pursue Operation Crossbow. This included the bombing raid on Pennemunde depicted in the film. The movie exaggerates the deaths of key Nazi scientists, but the damage to the factory and the subsequent relocation to an underground site was close to reality. At this point the film leaves reality behind. None of the operatives are based on real people and the mission is pure bull. I found no corroboration for the bombing of the underground rocket base.
“Operation Crossbow” is a misfire. It has no flow to it and parts are boring. There is little suspense which is surprising for this subgenre. The action is stereotypical with a one man army vibe. The cast is distinguished, but some of the performances are flown in (in the case of Loren, probably literally). Peppard was forced to make the movie for contractual reasons and this might explain his wooden performance (although he was sort of known for those kind of performances). Howard has one of his few bad roles as the dunderhead Lindemann. There is a good turn by Anthony Quayle mainly due to the twist in his character. The dialogue is average, but kudos for the characters speaking the appropriate language. (That’s right young people, you will have to read subtitles.) There is no welcome humor to cut the faux suspense. The strength of the movie is its effects. It blows up things real good. One shot has a row of apartments destroyed by a buzz bomb. (The producers found a row of flats scheduled for demolition.) The music is pretty epic and sounds, not surprisingly, like Anderson’s “The Dam Busters” (a great score to crib from).
Speaking of cribbing, “Operation Crossbow” wants to be “The Guns of Navarone”. Unfortunately, it is a stupid movie with too many implausibilities. The public got that buzz and it did not do well at the box office even after they moronically changed the title to “The Great Spy Mission” under the theory that people were not going to it because they were thinking it was a medical movie! (Medieval medicine, I suppose.)
When I eventually do my post on the best movies of its subgenre, it will not be near the top. For now, here’s a taste:
1. Where Eagles Dare
2. Kelly’s Heroes
3. Inglorious Basterds
4. The Dirty Dozen
5. Guns of Navarone
6. The Eagle Has Landed
GRADE = D