An English language film about World War II told from the German perspective, The Night of the Generals isn’t about combat, but murder. Based loosely on a novel of the same name by German author Hans Hellmut Kirst. Due to apparent legal issues with the book, writer James Hadley is given a credit as well.
Warsaw, 1942. A polish prostitute, who also happens to be an occasional informant for the Germans, has been brutally murdered. A frightened witness tells investigating Officer Major Grau (Omar Sharif), that while he couldn’t see the killer’s face, he did catch a glimpse of the man’s military trousers with a red stripe, the uniform of a German general. Grau quickly whittles down the suspect list to three generals whose whereabouts can’t be established during the night of the murder. Gen. Von Seydlitz-Gabler (Charles Gray), head of the city’s military garrison, has a fondness for prostitutes. Gen. Kahlenberge (Donald Pleasance), his chief of staff, seems the most likely, due to his habitual secrecy and lack of personal attachments. Gen. Tanz (Peter O’Toole), newly arrived in the city from the Russian front, is in charge of the “Nibelungen” Division of the SS, personally detailed by Hitler to quell resistance.
Grau, determined to bring the killer to justice, starts hounding all three men. Gen. Von Seydlitz-Gabler and his wife (Coral Browne) are much too involved with their busy social life to care much about the murder of a prostitute. The highly professional Gen. Kahlenberge (Donald Pleasance) is offended by the mere suggestion that he should have the time to care about such a lowbrow thing, let alone having committed a murder. In contrast, Gen. Tanz seems too scattered to have committed a murder and escaped the scene successfully.
The officers, eager to have the investigation closed, have Grau transferred to Paris. Two decades after the end of the war in 1965, the murder of a prostitute in Hamburg draws the attention of Interpol Inspector Morand (Philippe Noiret), who feels in debt to to Grau for not revealing his connection to the French Resistance during the war. Fairly certain of a connection between Grau’s 1942 investigation and his case, Morand reopens the cold case. From there, the film switches between 1965 and 1942.
To avoid spoilers, I’ll say nothing more about the film’s plot, but I do have some additional thoughts to share. This was the first Western film made behind the Iron Curtain. Some of the sets and scenery look absolutely amazing. Produced by Sam Spiegel (The Bridge on the River Kwai, Lawrence of Arabia) whose motto might have been, “Go big, or go home,” intended to produce another amazing epic, and in the process alienated director Anatole Litvak, and according to many on the set, he angered Peter O’Toole from day one to the extent that it affected his performance. It’s impossible to say whether all of that is true or not, but this is certainly not O’Toole’s best work. While he certainly is commanding, his potential madness occasionally comes dangerous close to camp. With that said, Donald Pleasance is excellent as Kahlenberge and Charles Gray is equally good as von Seidlitz-Gabler. Omar Sharif Grau is convincing and though his part is totally unnecessary, the always enjoyable Christopher Plummer turns up briefly as General Erwin Rommel.
Presented in the 2.35:1 aspect ratio, Twilight Time has produced a wonderful 1080p transfer. The image has a nice amount of detail, and the superior cinematography by Henri Decae really shines. Black levels are inky and whites never appear blown out. While there are a few moments of softness here and there, age related artifacts aren’t an issue.
The English 1.0 DTS HD-MA soundtrack is impressive, considering the age of the film. Dialogue is clean and clear throughout, and Maurice Jarre’s stirring score sounds wonderful. The track is free of hisses, pops, and other distortions.
English SDH subtitles are included.
The following extras are available:
- Isolated Score Track: presented in DTS-HD Master Audio 2.0.
- Teaser Trailer ( HD, 1:26)
- Original Theatrical Trailer (HD, 4:03)
- Six-Page Booklet: contains a selection of black and white stills, original poster art on the back cover, and film historian Julie Kirgo’s thoughtful analysis of the film.
There are only 3,000 copies of this Blu-ray available. Those interested should go to www.screenarchives.com to see if product is still in stock. Information about the movie can also be found via Facebook at www.facebook.com/twilighttimemovies. You can also place orders at Twilight Time’s newly launched website www.twilighttimemovies.com.