EVERYTHING ABOUT A MOVIE?
|NIGHT OF THE GENERALS, THE (director: Anatole Litvak; screenwriters: Paul Dehn/John Kessel/from the novel by Hans Hellmut Kirst/from an incident written by James Harrey Chase in his book The Wary Transgressor; cinematographer: Henri Decae; editor: Alan Osbiston; music: Maurice Jarre; cast: Peter O'Toole (General Tanz), Omar Sharif (Major Grau), Tom Courtenay (Lance Cpl. Kurt Hartmann), Donald Pleasence (Maj. Gen. Kahlenberg), Joanna Pettet (Ulrike von Seydlitz-Gabler), Coral Browne (Mrs. Gabler), Charles Gray (General Gabler), Philippe Noiret (Insp. Morand), Nigel Stock (Sgt. Otto), John Gregson (Colonel Sandauer), Veronique Vendell (Monique, Parisian Prostitute), Christopher Plummer (Field Marshal Rommel), Juliette Greco (French chanteuse), Michael Goodliffe (Hauser); Runtime: 145; MPAA Rating: PG; producers: Anatole Litvak/Sam Spiegel; Columbia Pictures; 1967)|
|"Quirky character study in Nazi evil."
Reviewed by Dennis Schwartz
Anatole Litvak ("Mayerling"/"Sorry, Wrong Number"/"The
Snake Pit") directs this quirky character study in Nazi evil that takes
itself so seriously but is unintentionally a hoot. It's based on a best-selling novel by Hans Hellmut
Kirst along with some
plot lines taken from James Hadley Chase's book The Wary Transgressor. Paul Dehn and John Kessel are the writers
of the murky screenplay. Though it has a major international cast, the
acting is standard issue blockbuster acting except for Peter O'Toole's flamboyant over-the-top
psychopathic one that is so zany it moves the pic into camp territory
and takes away any attempt to get at anything worthwhile in the study
of Nazi depravity (if that indeed was the pic's intention).
Warsaw, in 1942, in occupied Poland, a Polish prostitute who is also a
German spy, is brutally stabbed to death over a hundred times and a
witness only sees the uniform of a Nazi general leaving the vic's
apartment and not the face of the killer. Investigating the murder is Major Grau
(Omar Sharif) of German Intelligence, who narrows down his search to
three generals: the
calculating General Kahlenberg (Donald Pleasence), the old guard
General von Seidlitz-Gabler (Charles
Gray) and their rigid ruthless young battlefield hero commander General
Tanz (Peter O'Toole).
The persistent Grau is
transferred by the brass. But two years later in occupied Paris there's
another similarly brutal murder of a Parisian prostitute (Veronique
Vendell ), and the evidence
points to the driver of General
Tanz, Lance Cpl. Kurt
Hartmann (Tom Courtenay). Grau
is also there to investigate, but the investigation coincides with the
day there was a botched plot in 1944 by the generals to assassinate
Hitler (which included Kahlenberg
& Gabler in the plot). When
Grau goes to arrest the madman Tanz for the murder, Tanz kills him and
charges him with treason as being a traitor who was part of the
assassination plot. Hartmann was forced to go on the run by Tanz and
vanished into thin air, never heard from again.
The story picks up again in
1965, in Hamburg, where a prostitute is brutally murdered like the ones
in Warsaw and Paris on the day that Tanz turns up in Hamburg to be
honored by a neo-Nazi group after serving a twenty year sentence as a
war criminal. Insp. Morand (Philippe Noiret) of Interpol, a friend of Grau's from
their days in occupied Paris when Morand was a resistance sympathizer who formed a warm
alliance with Grau and knew
about his investigation of the generals, gets the proof needed that
Tanz is the fruitcake killer of the prostitutes by locating the key
witness Hartmann--now under a new name and a farmer in Munich married
to the estranged daughter (Joanna
Pettet) of the wormy survivor,
The big budget pedestrian film with the uneven narrative was a box office flop, nevertheless it had a few startling sequences that were effective in depicting Nazi depravity. But as a whodunit, it suspends all suspense from the get-go, as the O'Toole character is insane from beginning to end and leaves no doubt he's a nutty serial killer (but linking this degenerate to Hitler and those evil fascist loonies never came across as anything but cartoonish). There were those who believed O'Toole sabotaged the pic giving his part no development or chance to be looked at seriously because of his disdain for the way the vulgarian producer Sam Spiegel humiliated director Litvak on the set, in front of the actors, throughout filming. Nevertheless it's worth seeing, even if for all the wrong reasons.
REVIEWED ON 9/11/2010 GRADE: B-
Dennis Schwartz: "Ozus' World Movie Reviews"
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