The Night of the Generals (1967) 3.57/5 (1)


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Rating: The Good – 75.8
Genre: Thriller, Mystery, War
Duration: 148 mins
Director: Anatole Litvak
Stars: Peter O’Toole, Omar Sharif, Christopher Plummer

A rather unique war drama that focuses primarily on a German military police officer’s attempts to identify a murderer of women at the height of the Second World War. As the story follows the main suspects, three untouchable Generals of the Wehrmacht and the SS, from Warsaw to occupied Paris, the investigation is interleaved with a military plot to kill Hitler and a romance between the daughter of one of the Generals and a lowly corporal. Though a little unorthodox in its set up, the strength to this film is, firstly, the several characters it devotes almost equal time to and, secondly, the manner in which it sets them against a most interesting historical backdrop. Peter O’Toole is the fanatical SS General whose cruelty is matched only by his manic obsessiveness. Donald Pleasence’s more genial General is more interested in military politics while Charles Gray is the self serving philanderer. Omar Sharif is the Colonel on their trail whose only interest is in seeing justice being done but who, nonetheless, gets a curious kick from taking on his higher ups.

O’Toole plays it very close to the edge but his twitchy psychopath makes for compelling viewing. Pleasence offers his usual steady presence infused with just enough duplicity to carry the intrigue of his subplots while Sharif is about as close as we come to a central protagonist even though he has a tad less screen time than the others. Enough however to raise the charm of the overall film. Director Anatole Litvak is to be largely commended for bridging the different plots into a smoothly progressing film. Though much varied in their pace and tone, he manages not to let the tension spill and, in those moments when O’Toole is ratcheting up the crazy, he sets a chilling tone just quirky enough to complement the unique aspects of the project. With figures like Field Marshal Rommel (played by Christopher Plummer) popping up during key scenes and depictions of the Valkeryie assassination attempt not to mention the decision to tell the story in retrospect from the point of view of a 1960’s Interpol investigation into the original murder, one will find The Night of the Generals difficult to predict and even categorise but ultimately that becomes as compelling a strength as the characters and its wider setting. Highly recommended.


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