Boasting a fairly incredible all-star cast, Operation Crossbow is a particularly impressive WW2 epic that won't win too many awards for realism but is a highly effective combination of spy thriller and men on a mission movie. The mission is for undercover agents George Peppard, Jeremy Kemp and Tom Courtney to masquerade as skilled labor to infiltrate and help destroy the Nazi V-2 rocket factories, but the film is as much concerned with the development of Hitler's `wonder weapons' and the Allies' initial disagreements as to whether they could ever be practical as it is with their destruction. Indeed, it manages the rather neat trick of acknowledging the German test pilots' courage as it traces the development of the V-bombs without resorting to the `good German' clichés - they may be brave, but they're also Nazis committed to taking over the world - though that also means the film's heroes aren't introduced until half an hour into the film. Similarly, while there are some big bangs along the way, most of the action is relegated to the spectacular finale (which ended up as stock footage 12 years later in Peppard's dismal sci-fi road movie Damnation Alley!), yet the film is constantly engaging.
Superbly directed by Michael Anderson (a sentence you don't see very often) with an excellent use of the scope frame incorporated into Elliott Scott's production design, there's a fair amount of dramatic license in the strong script co-written by Emeric Pressburger (under his pseudonym Richard Imrie), particularly in one development with a German spy (the Nazis never had an effective intelligence presence in Britain during the war), but its rather well-judged balance of heroism and cynicism (the Allies can be just as ruthless here as the Nazis) makes it hold up remarkably well. True, at times it feels like its trying perhaps a little too hard to shoehorn in another familiar face to up the marquee value - the narrative almost comes to a halt when Sophia Loren's character appears, though her subplot has a memorably shocking payoff - but the cast more than earn their keep here, with good turns from Anthony Quayle, Richard Johnson, Lilli Palmer and John Mills, solid ones from John Fraser, Sylvia Sims, Trevor Howard, Paul Henreid (Casablanca's Victor Lazlo on the Nazi side!) and Richard Todd as well as bit parts for familiar faces like Ferdy Mayne, Maurice Denham, Richard Wattis, John Alderton and Philip Madoc, starting his career as he went on as a menacing German policeman not a million miles away from his snide U-boat commander in Dad's Army.
Warner Home Video's Region 1 NTSC DVD is an improvement over MGM/UA's laser disc, offering a good 2.35:1 widescreen transfer with brief original making of featurette and trailer, though sadly the deleted scenes with Gordon Jackson, John Le Mesurier and Basil Dignam aren't included.