Crossplot (1969) ***

Roger Moore – in his first movie in seven years – almost auditioning for James Bond with his lothario instinct, light touch for dialogue, a nice side-line in double takes, and enough action to show that even in his early 40s he was still nimble enough. Not in the Charade (1963) or Arabesque (1966) league and over-reliant on the Swinging Sixties and other “Tourist Britain” clichés and a plot that takes far too long to get going, it takes all the actor’s charm to make it watchable.

After one of his staff Warren (Dudley Sutton) switches the photo of a model in his portfolio, ad-man Gary (Roger Moore) finds himself on the trail of Marla (Claudia Lange), a sometime fugitive hiding out on a houseboat. Meet-cute is prompted when she pushes him into the Thames. On leaving he is knocked out and framed on a dope charge and once he manages to get her into the photographic studio Warren attempts to throw her off the roof, the would-be killer himself eliminated by his boss Ruddock (Francis Matthews) who in a marvelous piece of quick-thinking throws his gun to Gary who instinctively catches it, further implicating himself.

After going all round the houses (including a stately home), evading pursuit via an antique car race and a wedding, Gary finally gets to the bottom of why Marla is in such danger – she overheard a conversation between her aunt Joe (Martha Hyer) and Ruddock. Only problem is – she can’t remember it. And it takes even more time for Gary to figure it out, (not realizing, how could he,  that the clue is in the title, in fact two clues in a crossword puzzle). You can imagine how it goes from then.

This poster takes the easy route by trying to sell the picture on the back of “The Saint.”

On the plus side is mostly Roger Moore. “I come from a long line of hippopotamuses,” isn’t the sort of line you can deliver without some skill. But Moore’s performance lifts what is for the most part  a shaggy dog story, and he’s game enough to do all the running and fighting required, even the heavy lifting (of his eyebrows), to keep the story moving. It’s far from as funny as it thinks and not as funny as it needs to be, but there are still some good stabs at humour, a pistol held to Gary’s head discovered to be a toy gun, Gary turning the tables in a shower on Marla, telling the bride that her groom is a bigamist, and a running joke about the Marla being perennially hungry.  

The politics barely touches on the conspiracy aspects that Hollywood would have pounced upon and made a better fist of, although the idea that Britain could be undermined by civil strife was not far off the mark for the times. It needed some smarter thinking, though, for that element to work.

A much better attempt at selling a thriller with scenes from the film,
including the toy pistol pointed at Roger Moore’s head.

The rest of the cast are game enough. Claudie Lang (The Gatling Gun, 1968) is no Sophia Loren or Audrey Hepburn but nobody is pretending she is and she just about gets away with the dumb model approach. Martha Hyer (The Chase, 1966) delivers a glamorous villain and the suave Francis Matthews (Rasputin: The Mad Monk, 1966) her ideal match.

There’s quite a supporting cast: Veronica Carlsen (Dracula Has Risen from the Grave, 1968), Gabrielle Drake (Suburban Wives, 1972), Dave Prowse (Star Wars, 1977),  Bernard Lee (You Only Live Twice, 1967), Alexis Tanner (The Ernie Game, 1967), Ursula Howells (BBC’s The Forsyte Saga, 1967) and Dudley Sutton (Rotten to the Core, 1965).

If Alvin Rakoff (The Comedy Man, 1964) is in charge of the material he doesn’t have enough material to work with. He does enough to keep it on course but would have benefitted from a a tighter screenplay from Leigh Vance (The Frightened City, 1961). Both had done better in the past, but it is easy to be seduced by the romantic thriller format, almost a mini-genre in itself, assuming it is easier to pull off than it looks. The likes of Alfred Hitchcock (North by Northwest, 1959) and Stanley Donen (Charade) made it look easy but they had the advantage of big stars in Cary Grant and Audrey Hepburn who possessed the ability to make the lightest confection work.

Author: Brian Hannan

I am a published author of books about film - over a dozen to my name, the latest being "When Women Ruled Hollywood." As the title of the blog suggests, this is a site devoted to movies of the 1960s but since I go to the movies twice a week - an old-fashioned double-bill of my own choosing - I might occasionally slip in a review of a contemporary picture.

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