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The Night of the Generals (1967): Murder is the occupation of Generals

Inspector Morand: But, murder is the occupation of Generals. 

Major Grau: Then let us say what is admirable on the large scale is monstrous on the small. Since we must give medals to mass murderers, why not give justice to the small… entrepreneur.

A prostitute is found gruesomely murdered in Nazi-occupied Warsaw. The lone clue to the identity of the murderer is the red stripe on his trouser. Here begins a chase that will last a quarter of a century and cause many a tragedies in the lives of those involved.

The Night of the Generals (1967) is a thriller directed by Anatole Litvak. The movie had been adapted from Hans Hellmut Kirst’s Edgar Award nominated book, Die Nacht der Generale (1962).

I got the inspiration of watching The Night of the Generals from an unlikely person – my dad. He generally doesn’t talk about books or movies with anyone. But when I mentioned The Night of the Generals a few days ago, he remembered watching it while in college. As dad liking and ‘actually’ recommending movies is such an unlikely thing, I had to see what this movie was all about.

The Night of the Generals has a ‘Hitchcockian’ flavour to it. The slow disintegration of the characters – Major Grau’s increasing obsession with finding the killer, General Kahlenberg’s implied alcoholism, the collapse of General Seydlitz-Gabler’s family life – using murder as a backdrop reminded me of Hitchcock’s movies, particularly Rope (1948) and Frenzy (1972).

I liked watching Omar Sharif as the justice obsessed German officer Major Grau. His portrayal is believable enough for me to actually feel sad for him as he chases after a shadow.

Peter O’Toole at times goes overboard while playing General Tanz. In the movie he is supposed to be a cruel man who hides his cruelty well. To me it seemed like he wasn’t trying to hide it at all. His unblinking stare, clenched jaw and incredibly passive demeanour feel unnatural. I never noticed how scary his face could look when immobile!

       

Tom Courtenay as the ill-fated Corporal Hartmann rouses sympathy. Joanna Pettet looks really beautiful. But their romance doesn’t really work. It feels hollow somehow.

To my utter joy one of my favourites, Philippe Noiret, plays a prominent part in the movie. He is the reason I can watch Cinema Paradiso (1988) again and again. Watching two of my favourites, Omar Sharif and Philippe Noiret interact with each other was a treat.

The twist that comes near the end of the movie was shocking. I definitely didn’t see that coming.

The movie is set during the 60’s with flashbacks of 1942 and 1944. The transition between the time periods is not smooth. The movie abruptly jumps from decade to decade and from country to country.

I wouldn’t call The Night of the Generals a feel good movie. Not everyone gets a happy ending. Nevertheless it is an engrossing movie. I enjoyed it. So, ‘Thanks dad’!

(This review is offered as a part of  Tuesday’s Overlooked (or Forgotten) Films hosted by Todd Mason at his blog Sweet Freedom)

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