Friday, 20 March 2015

Crossplot (1969)

I’m always on the lookout for movies that have been overlooked, and few movies have been as comprehensively overlooked as Crossplot. Made in 1969, it’s a Swinging 60s spy thriller starring Roger Moore. Moore was already a big star on television but it would be a few years before he found even greater fame in the Bond movies (starting with Live and Let Die in 1973). If you’re expecting Crossplot to be a kind of dress rehearsal for the Bond movies you’re going to be disappointed. Crossplot is, or at least it attempts to be, more in the style of Hitchcock’s thrillers in which some poor schmuck somehow gets mixed up in an espionage plot (North by Northwest being the most famous example. Unfortunately the director of Crosssplot, Alvin Rakoff, is no Hitchcock and Crossplot is no North by Northwest.

Gary Fenn (Roger Moore) is an irresponsible womanising advertising executive. He’s just sold a campaign to a major client. The product is cosmetics so the centrepiece of the campaign is to be a very special model. She has to be very special, and also new and exciting. Gary has found just the right girl and the client is delighted. The only problem is, as he discovers afterwards, someone has switched the photo of the model he’d picked for a photo of another model. And this other model is someone he has never set eyes on and never heard of, and he has no idea ho to find her. But somehow he has to find her, since the client has seen her photo and wants her for the campaign.

It doesn’t take Gary too long to track her down. She is a Hungarian, Marla Kugash (Claudie Lange). So everything is sweet, except that somebody is now trying to kill her, and to kill Gary as well.

Marla knows something about an espionage plot of some kind, but she doesn’t know that she knows. She overheard a conversation, and what she overheard is the key, if only she knew what it was or what it meant.

Pretty soon Gary and Marla are being chased about all over the countryside, with the bad guys making some remarkably ineffectual attempts to kill them. 

The movie’s rather incoherent plot eventually leads them to the stately home of Tarquin (Alexis Kanner). Tarquin is a lord but he’s also an irritating hippie peacenik and the nefarious plot has something to do with his band of unwashed flower childen.

The basic idea has some potential but the execution is rather horrid. What could have been a very entertaining chase sequence involving a vintage car and a helicopter is marred by some very poor rear projection shots. In fact there are lots of very poor rear projection shots in this movie. The chase just doesn’t generate the excitement it should, and unfortunately the same can be said for all the action set-pieces. You don’t need a dazzlingly brilliant script for a movie like this but you do need a director with a flair for action scenes and that’s where this movie falls down badly.

The budget was clearly rather limited and that doesn’t help. The 60s was a decade that saw some great action adventure laced with humour and romance movies, movies like Charade and Arabesque, but those movies had lavish budgets that permitted clever and genuinely exciting action sequences. It’s entirely possible to do this sort of thing without big money, but in that case you do need an inspired director. Crossplot has neither the money nor the inspiration. 

On the plus side it has Roger Moore. He’s certainly the right actor for this sort of thing and he throws himself into it with commendable enthusiasm. He’s charming, as always, and he does his best. Claudie Lange was a European starlet who did quite a lot of work in the 60s and 70s without ever breaking through as a star. She’s adequate at best although she looks glamorous enough. Bernard Lee is given too little to do and the supporting players are generally unexciting.

The really big problem is the lack of a memorable villain for Roger Moore to cross swords with, and to trade one-liners with. This means that Moore has to carry the movie entirely on his own.

The details of the conspiracy really needed to be revealed earlier in order to set up the race-against-time angle which might have added a bit more tension. As it is the screenplay is too muddled and too confusing to engage the viewer’s attention.

MGM’s DVD is letterboxed and the transfer is adequate. There are no extras.

Crossplot might have worked well as an episode of The Saint. In fact producer Robert S. Baker and writers Leigh Vance and John Kruse had all worked on that series and that might be why the movie comes across as an unsuccessful attempt to transfer the magic of that series to the big screen. The excruciatingly cheap special effects might have looked quite OK in a television production.

Roger Moore went on to make some of the best and most original thrillers of the 1970s, including classics of the genre like Shout at the Devil, The Wild Geese, The Sea Wolves and ffolkes. Crossplot was his first attempt to translate his TV stardom into big screen stardom. It’s a misfire. Worth a rental if you’re a Roger Moore completist.

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