TV REVIEW : 'Crossing to Freedom': Escape Takes No Prisoners


The name of the movie airing at 9 p.m. Sunday on CBS (Channels 2 and 8) is "Crossing to Freedom." So much for suspense.

The absence of jeopardy in this World War II escape tale is its biggest flaw. Despite the obstacles confronting them as they cross Nazi-occupied France in 1940, the British hero and French heroine and seven small children in their charge never appear in much danger en route to an intended coastal rendezvous with a boat going to England. Oh, the Jerome Kass script (based on a novel by Nevil Shute) says they're in peril, but nothing on the screen convinces you.

The heroic John Sidney Howard, a stock, gruff-old-bird-with-a-heart-of-mush character played by Peter O'Toole, begins his odyssey with two children placed in his care by their fearful French mother. He picks up the others one by one. He also acquires a chaperon for the kids in Mare Winningham.

"Crossing to Freedom" is burdened by artificial script conveniences (topped by its farfetched ending) and inconsistencies. Although the story immediately establishes Howard as having a serious heart problem, he's later shown running at full speed seemingly without a problem, and still later suffers what appears to be a massive heart attack, from which he immediately recovers without medical care to finish out the story.

More critically, "Crossing to Freedom" is a movie without an edge, with director Norman Stone never finding a way to involve us in the sentimental odyssey of these children and their adult caretakers. Moreover, while Winningham turns in yet another good performance, the mannered O'Toole is at no time believable as this patriarchal Lawrence of child care.

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