I first saw OPERATION CROSSBOW (1965) at the old Capitol Plaza theater. I was nine-years-old at the time and I thought it was a pretty exciting WWII action-adventure film. I watched it again this afternoon and it holds up fairly well. It's an earnest, solid film but it's not a great one.
Based on the true story of the development of offensive rockets by the Germans in WWII, CROSSBOW takes an almost documentary like approach to the subject matter of discovery of the enemy missile bases and their eventual destruction by British forces. Richard Johnson (who starred in Robert Wise's brilliant THE HAUNTING (1963)) is tasked by British Prime Minister Winston Churchill with finding and destroying the Nazi missile bases. He assembles a team of both military men and scientists (including John Mills and Trevor Howard) to begin "Operation: Crossbow".
The German high command established a missile testing range at Peenemunde where they were testing the V-1 rocket propelled aircraft which were essentially flying bombs. These devices, nicknamed "buzz bombs" had design flaws that could only be overcome by building a cockpit into the craft and putting a test pilot on board. These sequences feature Barbara Rueting, as a female German pilot who solves the problem and Paul Henried, as a German general. It's interesting to watch the man who played Victor Lazlo, the ultimate anti-Nazi freedom fighter in CASABLANCA (1943), play a Nazi in these scenes.
The British launch a bomber attack on Peenemunde which causes a long enough delay in the V-1 program to make the missiles unusable during D-Day (June 6th, 1944). Still, the Germans press on and rebuild the weapons and their "ski jump" launching ramps and send the missiles on their way to wreak havoc in London.
At the same time, the Germans are developing even larger, more destructive long range missiles capable of destroying both London and New York City. The V-2 and V-10's are being built and tested in a mammoth underground facility deep in the heart of Nazi Germany and the Third Reich is using hundreds of European scientists to construct the weapons.
Johnson and his team determine that they must get some agents into the facility and that's where George Peppard, Tom Courtenay and Jeremy Kemp come into play. They're all fluent in German and have scientific backgrounds. The plan is to get the men inside the underground fortress from whence they can relay information and engage in sabotage.
They set out on their mission but things instantly go wrong. Courtenay has assumed the identity of a man who is wanted by the police and he's soon arrested and executed leaving Peppard alone. Then, Sophia Loren, who is the wife of the man Peppard is impersonating, shows up. She threatens to ruin the whole operation but Peppard earns her trust and eventually makes his way into the missile base where he meets up with Kemp.
Eventually a massive air raid by British bombers is launched against the base and it's up to Peppard and Kemp to open the launch doors which will provide the bombers with a well-illuminated target. They sacrifice their own lives to do so, the bombing raid is a success and the threat of German missiles is ended.
OPERATION CROSSBOW has a good cast and good production values. The flying models are convincing, the mammoth sets of the underground missile base are spectacular and there's a fair amount of suspense at the end of the film .Believe it or not, Sophia Loren actually gets top billing in the film. That's because her husband, Carlo Ponti, was the film's producer and since he was writing the checks and calling the shots, he made sure she was top billed even though her screen time is fairly short.
While far from a great film, OPERATION CROSSBOW is a serviceable WWII yarn, the kind of movie that studios were cranking out on a regular basis in the 1960s. Thumbs up.