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“Operation Crossbow” delivers the rousing, World War II action goods

Updated: Jun 8, 2022


German actress Barbara Rütting plays Hanna Reitsch considered one of the best-known test pilots of the German Third Reich. Adolf Hitler presented her the Iron Cross Second Class in 1941. During test flights of the V-1 cruise missile, Reitsch identified the vibration from the pulse-jet engine that caused it to fly off coarse. After WWII she was banned from piloting in Europe until 1954.

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Blu-ray, 1965, some German with English subtitles, PG-13, war violence

Best extra: The archival short, “A Look Back at Crossbow”

A DISTURBING rumor reaches Old Blighty in the run-up to D-Day: The Nazis are building rockets that will disrupt plans for the invasion and leave London in ashes. That’s not the half of it. As the good guys learn, Hitler’s secret weapons program also includes V-1 Buzz Bombs (they’d be called drones today) and a long-range missile big enough to destroy New York City.

Three agents, including 1st Lt. John Curtis (George Peppard, “Breakfast at Tiffany’s,” “The A-Team”), a cocky MIT-trained engineer, are recruited to infiltrate the German command. There’s just one hitch: Right after they parachute into enemy territory, word is sent to abort because the mission has been compromised.

Cast from the same mold as “The Guns of Navarone” (1961), “Operation Crossbow” is terrific flag-waving fun as it seamlessly mixes fact and fiction—and borrows from the 007 playbook—in building to its explosive finale deep in the Germans’ steel-fortified mountain fortress.

That’s not all that this corker has going for it.

(1) The MGM movie "Operation Crossbow" strangely opened on Easter weekend in April 1965. The New York Times said in its review, "'Operation Crossbow' is a beauty that no action-mystery-spy movie fan should miss." (2) A V-1 test flight from the German base in the Baltic Sea. The buzz bomb had a range of 360 miles. (3) British military officers and scientists, Chief of MI6 - General Boyd (John Mills), Prof. Fredrick Lindemann (Trevor Howard), Colonel Kenneth Post (Moray Watson) and Duncan Sandys (Richard Johnson) theorize the threat of German missiles. (4) Hanna Reitsch and General Ziemann (Paul Henreid) and General Linz (Helmut Dantine) watch a V-1 crash into the sea with a pilot on board.


It was directed by Michael Anderson (“Logan’s Run”), whose “The Dam Busters” a decade earlier also spun a rousing tale of British fortitude, and co-written by the great Emeric Pressburger (“49th Parallel,” “Black Narcissus,” “The Red Shoes”), who doesn’t whitewash the high stakes of war—not only do major characters die early, few of them get out alive. Having the saboteurs speak in German adds to the authenticity.

It also boasts a top-flight cast, including Sophia Loren, Trevor Howard, John Mills, Tom Courtenay, Paul Henreid, Anthony Quayle, Jeremy Kemp and Richard Johnson, who plays Duncan Sandys, the real-life minister Churchill summons to “find out about those rockets.”  Barbara Rütting as Hannah Reitsch, who test-piloted the V-1, and Sylvia Syms as Constance Babington Smith, the British photo-analyst who determined where the Buzz Bombs were being built, are more-than-solid, too.

That said, Loren’s role as the wife of the man Peppard is impersonating bogs down the story. She’s not bad at all, just superfluous. Why cast her? That’s easy. Carlo Ponti, the producer, was her husband, and you know that having “Loren” on the marquee helped fill seats.

Remastered in 2K, “Crossbow” is a nice addition to the Warner Archive Collection. The guess here is it wasn’t retooled in 4K because the original negative was unusable or unavailable, but no matter — detail is sharp, the print is spotless and the color, which was readjusted for the occasion, pops at every turn. The audio is mostly funneled into the center-speaker but never gets jumbled. 

The only extra (the trailer doesn’t count) is the short feature, “A Look Back at Crossbow.” Another seamless mix, this one of wartime archival footage and scenes from the movie, it puts the story in context.

All you have to bring to the table is a big bowl of popcorn.

— Craig Shapiro

(1) Flight Officer Constance Babington Smith (Sylvia Syms) discovers the V-1 base on the Baltic coastline in Peenemünde, Germany. She shows several reconnaissance photographs to Wing Commander Kendall (Richard Todd) and another Flight Officer. (3) Lt. John Curtis (George Peppard) is interviewed by British intelligence to infiltrate the German rocket factory as scientist Erik Van Ostamgen. (4) Dutch engineer Robert Hanshaw (Tom Courtenay) and Lt. Curtis arrive at a Holland Inn. (5) Lt. Curtis meets face-to-face with Van Ostamgen's wife Nora played by Sophia Loren.


(1) A German intelligence officer (Anthony Quayle) questions Dutch engineer Robert Hanshaw one final time. (2&3) Lt. Curtis and other British spies arrive at the rocket factory in the heart of Germany.


(1&2) A German V-2 rocket, the world's first long-range guided ballistic missile heads toward London and hits a neighborhood. (3&4) Lt. Curtis takes the final steps to help guide Allied bombers to the location of the German underground factory.





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