Reviewed by Colin Jacobson (December 12, 2019)
In the same vein as 1962’s The Longest Day, 1965’s Operation Crossbow brings a sprawling, star-studded World War II epic. In 1943, Hitler’s forces attempt to develop powerful rockets that can reach and raze London and even the US.
When the Allied Command in Britain learns of these developments, they realize they need a plan to counteract the Germans’ actions. Dubbed “Operation Crossbow”, the Allies will send engineers into enemy territory to sabotage the Nazi research.
Already a perilous plot, Operation Crossbow gets riskier when it becomes apparent that the mission might be compromised. Though their bosses try to abort the endeavor, the engineers already fell on foreign land, so they need to fight against the odds to pull off this mision and stay alive.
Though that synopsis doesn’t convey it, Crossbow offers a more balanced story in terms of character focus. While my summary emphasizes the Allies’ interventions, much of the film follows efforts on the German side.
On one hand, this seems like an odd choice. Because the main plot pursues the efforts of the Allies, the German scenes can feel somewhat out of place.
That said, they pay off eventually, as the character development seen in Germany manages to connect later in the film. In addition, those sequences bring some much-needed action to a story that initially spends a lot of time in stuffy rooms with stuffy men.
Without those scenes that involve the Germans’ efforts on their rockets, we’d need to wait forever to get to any fireworks. Not every movie needs big theatrics right off the bat, of course, but a film about WWII that lacks action for an extreme period of time threatens to lose the viewer, so these rocket-based scenes work out in the end.
Once Crossbow finally recruits its operatives about one-fourth of the way into the tale, it seems ready to become taut and tense, but instead, it tends to lollygag. We continue to see the plot proceed at a slow pace, and the movie appears more interested in character melodrama than spy-related action.
Though top-billed, Sophia Loren doesn’t enter the movie until about 45 minutes in, and once she locks eyes with George Peppard, we know that romance will develop. Oh, the movie sets them up as antagonists initially, but face it: no one pairs people as good-looking as Loren and Peppard and doesn’t create a love match between them.
At times, Crossbow feels more like a soap opera than a war movie, and the emphasis on gooey interactions becomes a major drawback. Not that I think this kind of tale needs to stick with action 100 percent of the time, but the various character developments feel forced and don’t suit the story in an organic sense.
During its final act, Crossbow offers a better emphasis on the mission at hand, but at that point, it feels too late. The viewer likely checked out much earlier in the movie.
That makes Crossbow a disappointment. What should become a vivid, taut tale of espionage tends to feel slow and sappy.