The Night of the Generals
Release Year: 1967
Director: Anatole Litvak
Starring: Peter O’Toole, Omar Sharif, Tom Courtenay, Donald Pleasence, Joanna Pettet, Philippe Noiret, Charles Gray, Coral Browne, John Gregson, Nigel Stock, Christopher Plummer, Juliette Gréco
Moviegeek Sunday Classic #308, week 20 2020
In Nazi occupied Warsaw in 1942 a prostitute and German agent is murdered. Suspicion falls on three German generals who have no alibis for that night.
The Night of the Generals was released during a time when movies set during World War II was far from unusual, but it sets itself apart by succesfully combining two genres: war drama and crime mystery. The film opens with the sadistic murder of a prostitute. Unfortunately for the murderer, the case is handled by the resilient Major Grau, played by Omar Sharif (Doctor Zhivago, 1965), who is dead-set on seeking justice for this woman in the midst of the horrors of war happening all around him. A terrified witness saw a man in a general’s uniform leaving the scene of the crime, and only three generals i Warsaw have no alibis: Generals Seidlitz-Garbler (Charles Gray), General Kahlenberge (Donald Pleasance), and Genereal Tanz (Peter O’Toole). We follow the investigation from 1942, to a second case in 1944 in Paris, until its conclusion decades later, cutting back and forth between the present (i.e. late 1960s) and long flashback from 1942 Warsaw and 1944 Paris. We follow the three very different Generals and explore the very different characters of the three men. Gray and Pleasance are both great, but O’Toole (The Lion in Winter, 1968) stands out, which is partly due to the eccentric nature of his character; a demanding war hero slowly cracking beneath the surface as the war goes on. On top of that the film involves a subplot having to do with the famous 20th July 1944 attempt on Hitler’s life as well as a nice romantic subplot that for once doesn’t feel tacked on. Very interesting and unusual war film that works very well both as a character drama and a crime mystery topped of by great performances. Highly recommended.
Christopher Plummer, who appears shortly as Field Marshal Rommel, received a Rolls Royce as payment for his work.
Sharif and O’Tooler were both under contracts with the film company signed years earlier when neither of them were very big stars. Their combined salary was lower than that of Donald Pleasance, even though he had a lower billing.
The year The Night of the Generals premiered, Charles Gray and Donald Pleasance also appeared together in the James Bond movie You Only Live Twice (1967).