Operation Crossbow (film)

Operation Crossbow (film)
Operation Crossbow

Theatrical film poster by Frank McCarthy
Directed by Michael Anderson
Produced by Carlo Ponti
Written by Emeric Pressburger,
Derry Quinn and Ray Rigby (screenplay)
Duilio Coletti and Vittoriano Petrilli (story)
Starring George Peppard
Sophia Loren
Trevor Howard
John Mills
Tom Courtenay
Music by Ron Goodwin
Cinematography Erwin Hillier
Editing by Ernest Walter
Distributed by Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer
Release date(s) March 1965
Running time 115 mins
Country United Kingdom
Language German

Operation Crossbow (later re-released as The Great Spy Mission) is a British 1965 spy thriller and World War II film, made from a story from Duilio Coletti and Vittoriano Petrilli and filmed at MGM-British Studios.[1] It is a highly fictionalised account of the real-life Operation Crossbow, made with a veritable galaxy of film stars but it does touch on the main aspects of the operation. The film alternates between German developments of the V-1 flying bomb and V-2 rocket (with a German cast speaking their own language) and British Intelligence and its agents who are attempting to defend against the threats.[2] This film has not yet been released on DVD in the United Kingdom.



In 1944, Nazi Germany is working on terror weapons, the V-1 flying bomb and V-2 rocket while British Intelligence learns about a new secret weapon. Technical problems with the V-1 lead the Germans to create a manned version to ascertain the flight problems of the rocket but all the test pilots are killed flying it. Aviatrix Hanna Reitsch (Barbara Rütting) successfully flies and lands the V-1, discovering the problem and how to solve it, which leads to the mass production of the V-1.

As D-Day approaches, Winston Churchill (Patrick Wymark) is concerned about rumours of a German flying bomb and orders Duncan Sandys, his son-in-law (Richard Johnson), one of his ministers, to investigate. Sandys is convinced by intelligence and photo-reconnaissance reports that the weapons exist, but sceptical scientific advisor Professor Lindemann (Trevor Howard) dismisses the reports as extremely fanciful. He is proved wrong when V-1s start falling on London. Bomber Command launches a raid on Peenemünde to destroy the factory producing them.

The Germans move their factory underground in Southern Germany for protection and rush ahead with the development and production of the larger, more deadly V-2. The head of British intelligence (John Mills) learns that engineers are actively being recruited across occupied Europe for the new weapon and decides to infiltrate the factory. He finds three qualified volunteers, all experienced engineers who speak fluent German. They are hastily trained and sent to Germany via the Netherlands. Amongst the volunteers interviewed but not selected is a British officer named Bamford (Anthony Quayle), who is actually a German undercover agent.

Just after the British agents are parachuted into occupied Europe, British Intelligence learns that one of them, Robert Henshaw (Tom Courtenay), has been given the cover identity of a man wanted by the police for murder. Sure enough, he is arrested, but released after being blackmailed into becoming an engineer and an informer. However, he is recognised by Bamford, now working as a security officer. Refusing to reveal his mission, he is tortured by the Gestapo and then shot when he refuses to cooperate.

A further complication occurs when Nora (Sophia Loren), the wife of the man whom US Air Force Lieutenant John Curtis (George Peppard) is impersonating, comes to visit her husband to obtain custody of their children. Although innocent, the wife can compromise the mission. Curtis assures Nora that she will be allowed to rejoin her children, but, in order to maintain the mission's secrecy, after Curtis leaves, the German contact, Frieda (Lilli Palmer) who runs the hotel where Curtis is staying, kills Nora.

Curtis and Phil Bradley (Jeremy Kemp) manage to infiltrate the underground factory. Bradley is only able to work as a porter/cleaner, but Curtis manages to work his way into the heart of the project, where he is assigned to fix the problem of engine vibration that is holding up the V-2's development.

The two agents send back information and learn that the Royal Air Force is mounting a nighttime bombing raid on the facility, but the protective doors on the ceiling, that cover the ready-to-launch large A9/A10 "New York Rocket", must be opened to expose the plant and provide a landmark for the bombers. The controls are in the powerhouse; Bradley is killed, but Curtis is able to shoot his way in. As the Germans frantically try to break in, the fatally wounded man opens the doors before he dies. The raid succeeds in obliterating the factory.



To help the box office, Sophia Loren appears, courtesy of her husband and producer of the film Carlo Ponti, in a cameo role. Despite getting lead billing, she has only a modest role in the hotel sequence. She plays the Italian wife of engineer Erik van Ostamgen, a dead man whose identity has been appropriated by Curtis, Peppard's character. He provides her with a travel document, but she is killed to maintain secrecy. Peppard was chosen for his role because of contract difficulties. MGM held his contract and insisted on a movie before he gained his release and cast him in this film.[3]

Ponti and the production company worried that the authentic name chosen for the film was confusing and led to a poor initial showing. This reappraisal led to new names, Code Name: Operation Crossbow and The Great Spy Mission, the name chosen for a re-release in North America. The film was also known as Operazione Crossbow in Italy.[4]

Realistic props in addition to detailed sets added to the look of authenticity in recreating the German secret weapons projects.

Historical accuracy

Some real people were portrayed quite accurately in the film:


The New York Times designated Operation Crossbow, a Critic's Pick by film reviewer Bosley Crowther who noted the film was a complex mix of fiction and fact that was "grandly engrossing and exciting melodrama of wartime espionage, done with stunning documentary touches in a tight, tense, heroic story line."[9]Variety reviewers had a similar evaluation, praising the "suspenseful war melodrama" that boasted ambitious production values but also commented that "what the Carlo Ponti production lacks primarily is a cohesive story line."[1]A later review by Alun Evans reinforces the more prevalent view that a "starry cast add to the attractive vista but a tighter script would have been appreciated."[2]


Lilli Palmer won the Prize San Sebastián for Best Actress at the 1965 San Sebastián International Film Festival.[10]

Home video

The film has been released worldwide on DVD in 2006, following earlier videocassette versions with a PAL release for United Kingdom and other markets.[11]

Despite this, this film has not been given a British DVD release.


  1. ^ a b "Film review:Operation Crossbow." Variety, April 7, 1965, p. 6.
  2. ^ a b Evans 2000, p. 145.
  3. ^ Atkins, David. "George Peppard's Great War Movie." Turner Classic Movies, May 8, 2008.
  4. ^ Erickson, Hal. "Synopsis: Operation Crossbow." AllRovi. Retrieved: September 21, 2011.
  5. ^ Fort 2004, p. 237.
  6. ^ King and Kutta 2003, pp. 176, 184.
  7. ^ Piszkiewicz 1987, p. 86.
  8. ^ Kreis, John F. et al. Piercing the Fog: Intelligence and Army Air Forces Operations in World War II. Washington, D.C.: A.I.R. Force Historical Studies Office, 2002, First edition 1996. ISBN 978-9996642456.
  9. ^ Crowther, Bosley. "Review: Operation Crossbow (1965)." The New York Times, April 2, 1965.
  10. ^ "Archives: 1965 San Sebastián International Film Festival." San Sebastián International Film Festival. Retrieved: September 21, 2011.
  11. ^ "Operation Crossbow DVD Movie." cduniverse.com. Retrieved: September 21, 2011.
  • Babington Smith, Constance. Air Spy: The Story of Photo Intelligence in World War II. New York: Harper & Brothers, 1957.
  • Dolan Edward F. Jr. Hollywood Goes to War. London: Bison Books, 1985. ISBN 0-86124-229-7.
  • Evans, Alun. Brassey's Guide to War Films. Dulles, Virginia: Potomac Books, 2000. ISBN 1-57488-263-5.
  • Fort, A. Prof: The Life and Times of Frederick Lindemann. London: Pimlico, 2004. ISBN 0-7126-4007-X.
  • Harwick, Jack and Ed Schnepf. "A Viewer's Guide to Aviation Movies". The Making of the Great Aviation Films, General Aviation Series, Volume 2, 1989.
  • King, Benjamin and Timothy Kutta. Impact: The History Of Germany's V-weapons in n World War II (Classic Military History). New York: Da Capo Press, 2003. ISBN 978-0306812927.
  • Orriss, Bruce. When Hollywood Ruled the Skies: The Aviation Film Classics of World War II. Hawthorne, California: Aero Associates Inc., 1984. ISBN 0-9613088-0-X.
  • Piszkiewicz, Dennis. From Nazi Test Pilot to Hitler's Bunker: The Fantastic Flights of Hanna Reitsch. Westport, Connecticut: Praeger Publishers, 1997. ISBN 978-0275954567.

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