Crime In Plain Sight: A Review of ‘The Night Of The Generals’

Posted in Blu-Ray/DVD, Movies by - July 08, 2015
Crime In Plain Sight: A Review of ‘The Night Of The Generals’

Don’t you just love it, when you come across a movie that you’ve never seen which is a good 48 years old, and it is more dark and twisted then you ultimately expected?  The Night of the Generals is a demented crime thriller taking place in a backdrop that you’d never anticipate, deep inside the horrors of the second World War.

It’s Warsaw, Poland, 1942 and a Polish prostitute who also happens to be a German agent is murdered in a hideous and unspeakable way.  Major Grau (Omar Sharif) of intelligence is on the case and determined to not let a crime like this go unpunished.  He quickly finds himself focusing on three key suspects, Tanz (Peter O’Toole), Kahlenberg (Donald Pleasance) and Seyditz-Gabler (Charles Gray) none of whom have an alibi for the night in question, however there are a couple of snags in his way.  All three of these men are high ranking generals, and even more there is a damn good chance that one or all of these men are also involved in a plot to kill Hitler.

A dark and twisted movie inside a unique backdrop, The Night of the Generals is easily the most famous work for director Anatole Litvak that is less about the war itself and more about what can get forgotten about in the face of so many other tragedies.


Based on the novel by Hans Hellmut Kirst, this is a tight and well constructed film that immediately makes sure our focus is on the murder and not any of the circumstances around the murder.  It moves with a distinct and clear cut flow trying to drop us into both the ignorance that surrounded the Nazi culture at the time.  It’s not trying to make a political statement, it is trying to solve a crime…in a world where crimes against humanity are being committed every day, and it isn’t easy by any stretch.  Adapted for the screen by Paul Dehn and Joseph Kessel, the movie never tries to rush anything as the exposition of it all is really a beautiful thing as we see the interplay of these generals who are trying to end a war, and intelligence officers and resistance fighters who don’t hate each other by any means they just know that they have been forced into sides that are irrevocable to who they actually are as human beings.  Inside all of this, watching these characters are bond or evade other characters because of this murder is fascinating to watch.  The filmmakers never hit us over the head with anything but rather they let it all unfurl slowly and naturally and that is cemented by some very good performances.

Only 5 years removed from the likes of Becket & Lawrence of Arabia, Peter O’Toole must have jumped at the chance to play this creepy bastard that was General Tanz.  A hard and deliberate man you are never quite convinced if he is just a maniacal military man or just genuinely nuts and he dives into the role with some legitimate zeal and fervor, chewing up the scenery whenever he can.  Donald Pleasance and Charles Gray offer a great counterpoint to O’Toole’s Tanz as men determined to survive in a system that they know is crumbling around them.  Omar Sharif plays these men’s antagonist to an absolute tee.  His Major Grau just can’t go after these men with the full weight of his office, he has to use wit, intelligence and guile to get his man and you can’t help root for him along his journey.  Yes, he’s a soldier in the Nazi party but he isn’t happy about it and through everything that he has witness he has managed to keep the correct perspective on what is right and what is wrong.

That is ultimately what The Night of the Generals is all about, holding on to right and wrong in a world where it gets thrown out far too easily.  While it has a couple of gaps, it is an unquestionably entertaining affair.

Now available on Blu-Ray from Twilight Time that you can purchase right here, the hi-def transfer is top notch and the special features include an isolated score track of a haunting musical score by Maurice Jarre and the theatrical trailer.

This post was written by
David Voigt is a Toronto based writer with a problem and a passion for the moving image and all things cinema. Having moved from production to the critical side of the aisle for well over 10 years now at outlets like, Criticize This, Dork Shelf (Now That Shelf), to.Night Newspaper he’s been all across his city, the country and the continent in search of all the news and reviews that are fit to print from the world of cinema.
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