Moore Not Less - Crossplot


After the end of his popular television series The Saint, Roger was approached by United Artists with the offer of a three film deal. He was keen to get back into films after years on the small screen as Simon Templar and an action comedy espionage caper called Crossplot (directed by Alvin Rakoff) was the result. Leigh Vance and John Kruse, two writers from The Saint, were brought in to write the screenplay and Roger took the lead role as Gary Fenn, an advertising executive who ends up in a John Buchanite adventure.
The film was not a success though and the two other proposed pictures for United Artists were quietly shelved - although Roger and Robert S Baker's production company did go on to make The Man Who Haunted Himself. In his memoir Roger suggested that Crossplot was rushed into production too soon without the nuts and bolts of the screenplay being in place. Production on The Saint had only finished a month before so you can see how difficult it must have been to make Crossplot with so little preparation. You'll struggle to make sense of the convoluted (if threadbare) plot in this film.
Crossplot is often described as a 'dry run' for Roger Moore at James Bond - only four years before he played 007 for the first time in Live and Let Die. Crossplot seems more influenced though by 'mistaken identity' Hitchcockian thrillers like North By Northwest and Swinging Sixties comedy capers. Crossplot is chock full of sixties comedy film tropes (like crazy chases with vintage cars, jaunty music, psychedelia, etc) and just about the only thing you don't get in the end is a bubble machine.
In the film, Roger is Gary Fenn, an executive for a model agency searching for a missing Hungarian model named Marla Kugash (Claudie Lange). He eventually finds her but it transpires that she has heard of an assassination plot involving a visiting African dignitary. Fenn and Marla are soon in great danger and on the run from an international organisation bent on this sinister plot and chaos and mayhem ensues. There isn't really any suspense though as the film is played for laughs.
Crossplot is clearly trying very hard and develops a fast pace with plenty of complications for our central heroes. One problem the film is always battling though is the transparently modest budget and there is some poor effects work visible in many of the chases. The film is very studio bound and there is some really terrible back projection work at times where they pretend the characters are outside when they clearly are not. This was a common money saving tactic in film and television of the time but it looks awful - especially to modern eyes. They'll frequently have characters chatting in a park or something but the park is back projected behind the actors and it's obvious they are just standing in a studio and pretending to be outside.
A boyish looking Roger (with his hair combed forward - as was evidentially the style of the era) throws himself into the action and gives a committed and energetic performance - even dispensing some Bond type quips. He has fist fights and is embroiled in chases and intrigue. He's like a more comic Simon Templar at times here as Fenn is less suave and poised and more flippant than the man with the halo. You can understand how the producers of the Bond films might have looked at Crossplot (and The Saint) and seen potential in Roger Moore as a safe pair of hands to caretake 007 for a few films.
The title sequence of Crossplot is quite Bond-esque and the film has that late sixties/early seventies British television atmosphere. Sort of like watching Randall & Hopkirk (Deceased) or something like that. Crossplot has a very 'made for television' aura and doesn't really look or feel like a proper feature film. This is a very small screen sort of production in terms of scope.
crossplot film
This is essentially like watching a feature length episode of The Saint but with much more comedy and Roger playing a more bumbling sort of character. As the film is never that funny, the comic antics soon become rather wearing and the jangly music that blasts away during the chase scenes eventually becomes irritating too. There is just something about some of these light, frothy, madcap sixties comedy/chase films that makes them a chore to get through in the end. They are like rich desserts that you can't eat too much of.
The supporting cast is interesting in the film though. Claudie Lange, only really known for Italian cinema, as the model, Hammer regular and voice of Captain Scarlet Francis Matthews, Carry On stalwart Derek Francis, Gabrielle Drake (later of UFO and Crossroads), and Dudley Sutton of (much later) Lovejoy fame. Look fast too for Norman Eshley (best known as George Roper's snobby Conservative voting neighbour in George & Mildred) and Michael Robbins (Reg Varney's sarcastic bone idle brother-in-law in On the Buses).
Also here is Bernard Lee - famously M to Sean Connery and George Lazenby in the Bond films. He would of course play M in four of Roger's 007 adventures. Roger Moore had known Lee for many years and enjoyed the chance to be in a film with him although in his book he did recall that Lee was rather sozzled when they went to shoot one scene and made a rather unfortunate comment about a hat Martha Hyer was wearing!
On a brighter note, the genuine location work in 60s London that we do get is enjoyable and gives an authentic sense of time and place. The scenes set in the countryside are very pleasant to look at too. There is a slapstick element to Crossplot that doesn't always work but it's nice anyway to see Roger allowed to play up his comedic side more than he was able to do on The Saint. You get some stereotypical sixties elements in the film like (unconvincing) Beatnik hippies in a laughable psychedelic basement bar and vintage cars (used for a chase with some more dreadful back projection work).
The best setpiece in the film is a helicopter sequence that is well staged but - unfortunately - does tend to draw comparisons with similar sequences in North By Northwest and From Russia with Love. Those two films are obviously vastly superior so Crossplot suffers as a consequence of evoking them in the memory but the chase here is decent enough all the same.
Crossplot is no classic and has a somewhat rushed aura hanging over it but the film is not bereft of charm and the cast make it more likeable than it might otherwise have been. If you do enjoy madcap sixties action/romance capers you might enjoy the film but don't expect Charade or North By Northwest.
- Jake


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