September, 1963: Israel is under threat of extremist rocket attacks, with their enemies mere steps away from being able to rain death upon them. A group known as O.D.E.S.S.A. (Organisation der Ehemaligen SS-Angehörigen, translated to Organization of Former Members of the SS) is manufacturing the final pieces of equipment needed for the attack. The Jews have placed two men into the organization thus far; one was found dead, the other is missing without a trace. With time running out, a journalist (Jon Voight) seeking out an escaped concentration-camp commander for personal reasons is their last hope in stopping the terrorist attack.
Sounds pretty darned kick-ass, don't it? Years before the publication and adaptation of the somewhat-similar 'The Boys From Brazil,' this story of Nazi war criminals on the lam took the same route, going from a Frederick Forsyth novel to feature film in just two years. Yet, that's where the comparison ends. 'The Odessa File' didn't earn any Academy Awards. It was less positively received by critics, and it most certainly doesn't star any film legends (apologies to Maximilian Schell and Derek Jacobi, but Sir Laurence Olivier and Gregory Peck, they are not), but that doesn't mean it can't be a massively enjoyable, taut little thriller with a number of great strengths among its noticeable weaknesses.
'The Odessa File' has a truly captivating plot, as the true to life and fictional stories of escaped Nazis hiding in plain sight make for some of the most interesting aftermaths of the conclusion of WWII. Films like 'The Stranger,' 'The Man in the Glass Booth,' or even 'Apt Pupil' have benefited from this plot device, since the stories regularly write themselves, yet remain tense and enjoyable complex cat-and-mouse type films. Here, Eduard Roschmann, a real life concentration-camp ringleader was flushed out into the public eye and subsequently arrested due to the attention given to him in the film. Media, what a weapon, right? And while the charges in the film are trumped up due to personal agenda by the historic advisor for the novel, a Nazi hunter much like Olivier's Ezra Lieberman in 'The Boys From Brazil,' it's the result of the fictionalization of the real man that matters most.
'The Odessa File' weaves "little known" factual anecdotes with fictional and historical characters to create a very believable story. Voight's journalist character Peter Miller is a myriad of people put into one: a tireless journalist who happens upon the diary of a former camp tenant of Roschmann's, an agent of espionage when he's conscripted by Israeli forces also seeking to take down O.D.E.S.S.A., and yet, a fool, as his regular missteps due to inexperience threatening both his life and that of his lover (Mary Tamm). The story changes tone dramatically, as we see a man enveloping himself in the story he reads from the now-dead victim, deciding to put his life on the line to aid a man he never met. The threat level increases, the various odd threatening characters with various motives seeking to stop Miller in his tracks. Yet, Miller inches forward until he finally has the noose around Roschmann's neck, and when there, the truth of his convictions become known, adding a fantastic twist to an already chilling thriller.
'The Odessa File' seamlessly grafts its fictional tale into the history of the time, working in the assassination of JFK as a catalyst to the story. It takes an everyman character and tells his story in the midst of extraordinary and dangerous circumstances. The film is wall-to-wall tension and revelation, with very interesting tonal shifts and plot devices that make the slow burn nature of the story that much more intriguing. Simply put, this is an underrated, almost forgotten period piece that would be infinitely better if it weren't for the over-use of English (in a story taking place mostly in Hamburg, there are very few German scenes) or the overacting of Voight. It's an almost unheard of mismatch today: a great story and film, led by a fairly incompetent leading man who never grips the audience, where you're still left feeling satisfied about the overall experience.
The Disc: Vital Stats
'The Odessa File' comes to Blu-ray from Image Entertainment (through Sony's distribution deal) on a Region A locked BD25 disc. There is no audio or extras tab on the menu, just subtitles, scenes, and a play button.
With many of the titles from major studios that get pushed to other distributors (see Anchor Bay's Fox titles), quality is often a concern; low quality, to be precise. Often times, these discs are very poor looking dumps on titles greatly in need of a restoration, using old masters. With 'The Odessa File,' the opposite is true. This is one of the best looking discs from the 1970's!
Presented in 1080p using the AVC MPEG-4 tool, 'The Odessa File' is not the kind of film whose visuals will blow you away. Far from it, in fact. What makes this disc so worthy of high praise is the way that dirt is an absolute foreign material, with no debris of any kind cluttering the picture. There's no odd wobble, either, as the film holds straight and narrow. Colors are solid, detail levels appreciable (yet nowhere near as sharp as modern films). Skin tones remain mostly pure and accurate, with only a few sequences with excessive warmth. Black levels are appropriate, especially in the black and white flashback sequences to the Riga camp, where the picture is truly phenomenal. Picture depth is regularly superb. The only real concern is the random softness that creates a little bit of haze in a number of scenes. Throw in perfectly clean whites and no digital tampering (clean edges and a grain structure that never falters), and this disc is a real winner.
A surprisingly high quality disc that blows its peers out of the water.
All that praise for the video is much deserved. The audio? Well...it stinks.
Presented in uncompressed Linear PCM 2.0, 'The Odessa File' sounds its age. Dialogue is mostly clear, but there are a number of sequences with horrible dynamics and awkwardly hollow sounds. While busy areas do have plenty of appropriate ambiance, there's also some random background hum that can be quite distracting. The Andrew Lloyd Webber music (it's cheesy, folks. It's really, really cheesy) has some light bass hints, and some good high range pop, but it is hardly a sonic marvel.
I suppose Sony could only get so much blood out of a turnip, and they put it all into the video.
This disc is barebones, without even a single trailer.
'The Odessa File' is a very unique film. It bounces its themes and tone all over the place, yet retains the hooks it sinks into its viewers. A clever mish-mash of reality and fiction, the story is believable, tense, and quite honestly, really damn cool, with one of the best endings imaginable. The film is somewhat forgotten today, and seems almost archaic compared to '3 Days of the Condor,' which came out the very next year, but it's a nice blast from the past. This Blu-ray disc has forgettably poor audio, but that isn't enough to keep it from being a solid disc due to how fantastic the film looks in 1080p. A catalog winner, worthy of having money set aside for it. Recommended.