Peter O'Toole and Omar Sharif star in this powerful thriller about a Nazi general who becomes a serial killer and the investigator who brings him in.
"Must you have an explanation? It happened, that's all."
Mysteries and thrillers can be tough genre nuts to crack. You want to keep the audience glued to their seats with their eyes wide open, taking in every little intricate detail. However you don't want to give them so much that they get ahead of the film and at the same time you don't want to hold back so much that when the big reveal comes and the killer is unmasked, the audience feels cheated. It's a balancing act, and a precarious one at that. Anatole Litvak's 'The Night of the Generals' is a precariously pitched murder mystery thriller that spans over twenty years and slips and slides between giving away too much and not showing enough. Thankfully the sharp script by Joseph Kessel and Paul Dehn manages to keep things balanced enough so that when the killer is revealed there are still more thrills and chills to experience.
On a dark and dreary night in 1942, a prostitute is savagely stabbed to death in Nazi occupied Warsaw, Poland. The only witness to the crime only saw the uniform of a Nazi officer leave the woman's room. It just so happens that this particular uniform bore the red stripe of a general running down the leg. Intelligence officer Major Grau (Omar Sharif) is tasked with solving the crime as it just so happened the murdered woman was an undercover agent working with the Nazi's. Was this a random heinous crime of savage brutality? Or was it something deeper than that - could this woman have found out something about her murderer?
Digging into the whereabouts of the various Generals in Warsaw at the time of the killing, Grau discovers that three men were unaccounted for that night; General von Seidlitz-Gabler (Charles Gray), General Tanz (Peter O'Toole), and General Kahlenbege (Donald Pleasence). The three men are the top brass of the Warsaw offensive and are virtually untouchable in the eyes of many, but for Major Grau Justice is absolute and rank does not make a man above the law. Grau relentlessly pursues each man, constantly being dismissed or avoided all together until one day he is transferred to Paris and given a promotion - effectively sweeping the murder and justice under the rug.
In Paris 1945 another murder happens in the exact same fashion as in Warsaw, and Major Grau is ready to take up the cause once again. It just so happens that all three of his original suspects are in Paris. Even as the Allied forces push closer and closer towards liberating Paris, Grau is determined to see Justice be done. Aiding him is a local French intelligence agent named Morand (Philippe Noiret). The two build a friendship as both have a respect for absolute justice. Not even learning of an orchestrated plot from within the Nazi party to assassinate Hitler can deter Grau from his target. When Grau gets too close to the killer and is murdered himself, it falls onto Morand to see justice be metered out to the right man. By interviewing witnesses and associates related to the happenings of the crime, Morand gets closer and closer to the murderer, but can he unmask the criminal who has stayed hidden for twenty years without being killed himself?
'The Night of the Generals' is one of those movies that turns on a dime, shakes up everything you've seen, and keeps running headlong towards a thrilling conclusion. This is the worst part of reviewing a movie like 'The Night of the Generals,' I can't really talk about it at all! I'm already feeling like my summation of the film gives away too much while still remaining vague about various details and omitting the presence of two key chracters. This leaves me to only speak of other merits of the film, which is just fine! I have to give a ton of credit to director Anatole Litvak for being able to navigate this thriller. There is a lot of story in this plot and thankfully nothing gets lost and everything serves a purpose - even the stuff you think may not come back into play - everything gets resolved in ways not necessarily happily, but none the less very fitting.
Performances are the key factor for 'The Night of the Generals' being a successful thriller. If Peter O'Toole, Donald Pleasence, Charles Gray or Omar Scharif were in any way off their game, the whole film would have crumbled. Also it's a lot of fun having Charles Gray and Donald Pleasence share some screen time, it isn't every day you get to see two Blofeld's in the same room together! Omar Scharif plays a level of tenacity that is chilling but at the same time exciting to see and even still it's more fun to see him share a few scenes with Peter O'Tool as they had so many wonderful moments together in 1962's 'Lawrence of Arabia.' A fun and yet all too brief appearance from Christopher Plummer as Field Marshal Rommel helps make the film all the more interesting as it works to weave fiction into and through important historical events.
Another enjoyable aspect of this film is Maurice Jarre's score. Fans of the man's work should detect many of the same intricacies from his score for 'The Train.' While it has a similar trumpeting, patriotic tone, there is a sinister note or two resting just underneath the main tunes that keeps this movie feeling edgy and the scenes urgent and thrilling.
Again, this is a movie I am constrained to speak about as saying too much would give away the show, but at the same time if I don't say more I worry that people who haven't yet seen this movie wouldn't be inspired enough to seek this title out and give it a viewing for themselves. While at times it's pretty clear who the main bad guy is, there is enough interplay from the cast and more than a few twists and turns throughout the run to keep the thrills and chills pumping. I found this to be one of those movies where I expected very little and was greatly rewarded from the entire endeavor. If you're a fan of murder mysteries or tense thrillers, give this one a go - I can't see too many people being put off by 'The Night of the Generals.'
The Blu-ray: Vital Disc Stats
'The Night of the Generals' arrives on Blu-ray thanks to Twilight Time on a Region Free BD50 disc. Housed in a clear Blu-ray case, the disc opens directly to the main menu. Insert booklet features an essay by Julie Kirgo
With a recent and fresh remaster, 'The Night of the Generals' has moments where it looks absolutely breathtakingly stunning. There are a few shots here and there where things are a bit softer and display a bit of flicker - but those few moments are scant, far between and the sole reason this release isn't getting a five star rating. Colors appear spot on and sharp, obviously given the nature of the crime in question, the color red is of special importance, but that doesn't keep other primaries having their presence. Flesh tones look nicely balanced and natural. With film grain retained and present, detail levels are exquisite and present numerous aspects of the film to stare at and appreciate. Black levels are nicely inky and deep but rarely if ever drift into any crush issues.
With a DTS-HD MA 1.0 mono track, the audio for this Blu-ray stays true and honest for 'The Night of the Generals.' As a largely dialogue heavy film, every spoken word comes through with fantastic clarity - to the point that one can actually detect a few instances where the actors had to loop a line or two in post. As a true mono track, sound effects and the films score stay strong and maintain their presence. A primary example of how powerful this audio track is comes when Major Grau attempts to interrogate General Tanz as the man conducts field operations in Warsaw. Even with just a single channel being used, there is a lot to hear and appreciate with this fine track.
Original Theatrical Trailer: (HD 4:03) A solid trailer but I would dare say that it almost gives away too much.
Teaser Trailer: (HD 1:26) A nicer, shorter trailer that gets your attention without giving away the show.
Going into 'The Night of the Generals' I was only aware that it was a murder mystery thriller with a hell of a great cast. Thankfully the film capitalizes on all of its best attributes to produce a taught and effective little thriller. The A/V presentation on this disc is absolutely first rate, sadly the lack of any kind of meaningful extras keeps this from being one of Twilight Time's better releases. Even without high-end extras I'm still calling this one as recommended, the movie alone is worth it.