The Movie Waffler Blu-Ray Review - THE NIGHT OF THE GENERALS (1967) | The Movie Waffler

Blu-Ray Review - THE NIGHT OF THE GENERALS (1967)

the night of the generals review
A Nazi general is suspected of being the culprit behind the murders of prostitutes.

Review by Eric Hillis

Directed by: Anatole Litvak

Starring: Peter O'Toole, Omar Sharif, Tom Courtenay, Donald Pleasence, Joanna Pettet, Philippe Noiret, Christopher Plummer, Charles Gray

the night of the generals bluray

Much like today, in the mid 1960s Hollywood was in a malaise. Audiences were either staying at home, enjoying the fresh thrills of colour TV, or they were embracing the work of European and Asian filmmakers, who free of the restrictive self-imposed censorship of Hollywood, could explicitly explore the sort of adult themes American cinema could merely skim the surface of. Hollywood's response, again much like today, was to offer cinemagoers more bang for their buck with extended running times and bloated all-star casts in a series of overblown international co-productions, which often struggled to fit their cast lists on their posters. With a few exceptions, most of these films are failures which have been largely forgotten, the sort of movies you now fall asleep to on a Bank Holiday Sunday afternoon. Few movies sum up how mediocre Hollywood's mid '60s product had become quite like The Night of the Generals.

Adapted loosely from the novel by Hans Hellmut Kirst, The Night of the Generals boasts what should be a winning premise - a serial killer mystery set amid the ranks of Nazi officers, with the doomed plot to kill Hitler unfolding in the background - but it fails on practically every level.

the night of the generals review

The Night of the Generals is the Woodstock of miscasting. First up is Omar Sharif as a German military intelligence officer (Omar Sharif!!!), Major Grau, who finds himself investigating the murder of a prostitute in the occupied Warsaw of 1942. If you can get past the very non-Aryan Sharif's casting, he's actually quite good here, and seems to somehow contort his facial bone structure to resemble Klaus Kinski, which begs the question of why Kinski himself wasn't cast in this movie.

Why the Nazi authorities would bother investigating such a crime when they were in the process of reducing the Polish capital to rubble is the first of several hurdles the film asks your suspension of disbelief to vault. A nervy witness claims to have seen the killer leave the building, but only from the waist down, and it appears his trousers sported the distinctive red stripe of a Nazi general. Grau's colleagues scoff and call the man a liar, but Grau takes the man at his word, instigating an investigation that could make him the most unpopular man in the German ranks.

Three primary suspects are lined up - General von Seidlitz-Gabler (Charles Gray) and General Klaus Kahlenberge (Donald Pleasence), both of whom are involved alongside General Rommel (Christopher Plummer) in Operation Valkyrie, the plot to assassinate the Fuhrer; and General Wilhelm Tanz (Peter O'Toole), a cleanliness obsessed weirdo with an unfailing allegiance to Hitler.

the night of the generals review

What should be Columbo vs the Nazis instead morphs into an unfocussed mess, dropping the murder mystery element early on to follow a series of rambling sub-plots. The Valkyrie storyline simply gets in the way, and it's played out with a lack of suspense, not helped by our awareness of its outcome. The miscasting continues with Tom Courtenay playing a young Nazi Corporal in his distinctive Yorkshire drawl, his sensitive British New Wave acting style sticking out against the more theatrical performances of his international co-stars. In order to stick a woman's name on the poster, a romantic sub-plot is shoehorned into the drama involving Courtenay's Corporal and Joanna Pettet as the daughter of General von Seidlitz-Gabler.

A Jewish refugee who fled Germany in the '30s and went on to direct a variety of pro-Allied dramas and documentaries during the subsequent conflict, Anatole Litvak seems like a natural fit for this story, but his direction has all the energy of C-Span coverage. The Night of the Generals has a flat, stagey look, with most scenes playing out in wide shots as Litvak struggles to fit his bloated cast onscreen. The mystery element is considerably mishandled, with scenes playing out after the killer's identity has been revealed in a manner that suggests the scriptwriters have forgotten the audience is already aware of whom the guilty party is. At two and a half hours, The Night of the Generals feels longer than WWII itself.

What little entertainment there is comes courtesy of O'Toole's hilariously histrionic performance. Resembling a drunken out of costume drag queen at an after party, O'Toole camps it up to a degree that makes Peter Sellers' Dr. Strangelove seem like a gritty take on a Nazi. There's a great scene where Tanz is given a tour of the Louvre and appears to succumb to Stendahl Syndrome while staring at Van Gogh's self portrait, his face contorting and sweating as though he's transforming into Mr Hyde, but such moments of cinematic extravagance are sadly missing from the film as a whole.

the night of the generals review

It should come as no surprise that Donald Pleasence is the best thing about The Night of the Generals, because Donald Pleasence is always the best thing about every movie he appears in. His sarcastic General Kahlenberge is the most interesting character on display here and the only one that comes across as real and honest. Had the film put Kahlenberge front and centre, it may have been a more rewarding experience.

"Patience is one the few virtues that I possess," Charles Gray's General utters at one point. Good for him; he'll need a lot of patience to get through The Night of the Generals.

New feature commentary by author Scott Harrison; original theatrical trailer and teaser; collector's booklet featuring writing by Harrison.

The Night of the Generals is on blu-ray May 13th from Eureka Entertainment.