Cult Movie: The Night Of The Generals offers stylish crime thrills in Nazi uniform

Donald Pleasence and Peter O'Toole in The Night Of The Generals
Ralph McLean

The Night Of The Generals

IT'S a well known fact that there were several unsuccessful attempts to murder Adolf Hitler during the bloody reign of the Third Reich. There were suicide missions, bombs in beer halls and even a conspiracy to bump him off that was brewed up by his own officers.

It was the latter attempt to end his life and leadership, at a time when the war was bending notably towards the Allies, that is revisited for The Night Of The Generals. Well, to be precise, that 1944 plot to kill Hitler is merely part of a convoluted storyline that also incorporates the murder of a prostitute in Nazi occupied Warsaw from several years earlier and several other oddly complicated plot twists.

When that prostitute is killed her attacker is identified only as a German general but the crime remains unsolved for years until the killer strikes again and the serial killer in the Nazi ranks must be identified.

Freshly reissued on Blu-ray by Eureka Entertainment, Anatole Litvak's film is, first and foremost, a stylish crime drama which delivers the kind of slow-burning tension that is rarely seen today.

A vast international co-production, it's also a glamorous star vehicle for some of the most sparkly of 1960s actors, from Peter O'Toole and Omar Sharif to Tom Courtney. As such, it can be a bit showy and stagey at times – the array of actors with cut-crystal English accents playing German officers a little distracting.

However, now given a stunning 4K restoration, The Night Of The Generals does look amazing, way better than any film released way back in 1967 has any real right to. Images jump from the screen, colours vibrate and the sound resounds dynamically in every scene.

Occasionally, the quality of the new transfer shows up the actors' caked-on make-up, but that's a minor quibble really.

Superficially a war movie without any real war action, this is really a traditional crime film that uses its Nazi setting to play out a familiar but entertaining tale of cruelty and murder to full effect.

Litvak, whose CV includes the likes of Decision Before Dawn and The Snake Pit, directs with a fluidity that is generally impressive and a cast headed up by those previously mentioned heavyweight talents cruise effortlessly through proceedings giving acting master classes as they go. The sheer quality of the entire cast here, with the likes of Donald Pleasence and Christopher Plummer shining further down the credits, makes for a thoroughly enjoyable movie experience in itself.

It was producer Sam Speigel who reunited Lawrence Of Arabia stars Sharif and O'Toole as two Nazi officers, while French novelist Joseph Kessel and British writer Paul Dehn provide a script that teases out the tension with admirable efficiency.

It may not grab modern audiences used to more sophisticated on-screen visions of Nazis, but The Night Of The Generals still works as a slow-moving yet enjoyable exercise in old-school thriller gear-shifting that you could while away a lazy Sunday afternoon to without much difficulty at all.

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