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The Night Of The Generals  

Review: written 2006

Detailed and superbly acted, though overlong

Nominally a detective story spanning decades, this story will appeal to all those who enjoy terrific acting and period detail (the period here being WW II, Warsaw 1942 and Paris 1944). However, be warned it takes some stamina to make it through the meandering and overlong plot.

A truly star-studded cast seemingly stolen from the best of David Lean movies (Peter O'Toole, Omar Sharif, Tom Courtenay) complemented by Maurice Jarre's music, make this look like it should be more epic. Truth be told the story is rather more intimate. Sharif is Major Grau in Intelligence, who investigates the murder of a Polish prostitute, killed in a savage manner. The sole witness saw only that it was a German general. Only 3 generals did not have alibis, and Major Grau tries to flush the guilty one out, intent on justice. The story goes on to Paris some years later, where another murder occurs when all 3 generals are in town, and finishes in an overlong coda at the end when the murderer is finally brought to justice. The Generals are equally convincingly played by Charles Gray (Blofeld from `Diamonds are Forever'), Donald Pleasance and of course Peter O'Toole when he was a mesmerising presence on screen.

The theme is evident in Major Grau's ironic observation that `..what is admirable on the large scale is monstrous on the small.' Just because a man kills many as a soldier, does this give him a right to kill one innocent and get away with it? Grau's conviction is that the general is confident his title protects him, and is determined (at risk of his career and in fact life) not just to bring justice, but to show him he is not God. Surely the idea is still topical - when war and killing occur on a large scale, it certainly does not mean that justice should be ignored on even the small scale. Perhaps the idea is a peculiarly European one, as evidenced by this being a Franco-English production, and a failure at the time at the box office.

The whodunnit becomes clear fairly early in the movie, and the middle third of the movie overwhelmed by the plot to kill Hitler - a murder which threatens to overshadow the finding of a murderer. So we're left therefore with a long and winding road to the finish line, but worth the stroll to take in some of the finest actors of the 60's in their prime, and a literate and thought provoking script.

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