Dir.: Anatole Litvak; Cast: Peter O’Toole, Oma Sharif, Tom Courtenay, Donald Pleasence, Philip Noiret, Charles Gray, Joanna Pettet, Christopher Plummer; France/UK 1967, 148 Min.
Based on the novel by popular West German author Hans Hellmuth Kirst and adapted by resistance authors Joseph Kessel and Paul Dehn, Anatole Litvak’s penultimate feature is a monumental historical portrait of WWII and the aftermath, stretching from 1942 to the mid 1950s. Litvak poured his own experiences into the action thriller, having left the Soviet Union for Berlin in the 1920s, before escaping from the Nazis via France to Hollywood in the following decade.
Paris under German occupation in 1942: A sex-worker is brutally murdered, and a frightened witness tells German MP Major Grau (Sharif) that he has seen a man wearing the uniform of a German General leaving the house of the crime. Grau is keen to know the alibis of three suspects: General Tanz (O’Toole), a vicious SS commander, General Kahlenberg (Pleasance), who will be one of the supporters of the 20th July 1944 plot against Hitler, and the careerist Von Seydlitz-Gabler (Charles Gray), who hedges his bets when it comes to resisting Hitler. Whilst his investigation in Paris is unsuccessful, Grau meets all suspects in Warsaw, finally being able to interview them. Tanz is destroying parts of Warsaw single-handed with his tanks, but the other two are not too keen to help Grau. The action returns to Paris in July 1944, just before the plot. Grau works with the French inspector Morand (Noiret), who is also a member of the resistance. He warns Grau to be aware of Tanz, but Grau corners the SS General, who shoots him in cold blood on the 20th of July, claiming that Grau is one of the conspirators.
More than a decade later, Morand visits Germany to take up the case. Tanz has just been released from prison for war crimes. Meanwhile the other two generals are making a good living as civilians, particularly Von Seydltz-Gabler, who is writing his memoirs. But his daughter Ulrike (Pettet) and her husband, ex-corporal Hartmann (Courtnenay) (who started their affair in Paris when Hartmann was an adjutant of Tanz) are the key witnesses for Morand.
Litvak (1902-1974), worked in Soviet cinema before becoming assistant to GW Pabst for Freudlose Gasse (1925) in Berlin. He directed popular features such as Dolly Macht Karriere (1930) for the Ufa, and fled the III. Reich to direct his first French feature Maylering, before settling in Hollywood where he shot, among others, All this And Heaven Too and Snake Pit (1948), a feature about outdated psychiatric methods. In 1949 he returned to France, where he directed Aimez-vous Brahms, based on Françoise Sagan’s novel.
The Night of the Generals is innovatively photographed by Henri Decaë, midwife to the French Nouvelle Vague with features like Les Cousins (Chabrol), Ascenseur pour l’echafaud (Malle), Bob Le Flambeur (Melville) and Les Quatre cents coups (Truffaut). The film is carried by Peter O’Toole’s manic psychopath Tanz, who is in love with violence and “entartete Kunst”; nearly fainting in Paris in front of Van Gogh’s self-portrait, whilst visiting an exhibition of paintings destined to be shipped to Germany for leading Nazis. O’Toole portrays Tanz as a member of the master race and is only able to express himself through violence, torn apart by the fascination of murder and suicide. AS
Eureka Entertainment to release THE NIGHT OF THE GENERALS, a suspenseful WWII thriller starring Peter O’Toole, Omar Sharif, and a star-studded cast, presented for the first time ever on Blu-ray in the UK, taken from a stunning 4K restoration, as part of the Eureka Classics range from 13 May 2019, featuring a Limited Edition Collector’s booklet [2000 copies ONLY].