Tuesday, July 8, 2014

The Odessa File (Ronald Neame, 1974)

Some time ago, I came up with (wholly by accident) what I call my "Super Depressing Nazi Triple Feature"; three films that deal with the ugliness of Nazi Germany, each addressing different parts. It includes:
  • The Damned, which deals with the rise of the party, infighting among factions, and how it takes over.
  • Cabaret, which deals with Germany throughout the war, but directly with how the party in full force effects the populace.
  • The Night Porter, shows the bizarre relationship between a Nazi in hiding and one of his former prisoners, long after the war.
So, I thought to myself, "there must be a similar group of films that see things from a partisan perspective?" and came up with two: Casablanca and Flame & Citron. Both are favorite films, and match nicely with The Damned and Cabaret from a timeline perspective. But what of the third film? Certainly there are good films about post-war Nazi hunters? This led me to The Odessa File.

Based on the book by Frederick Forsyth (Day of the Jackal), The Odessa File is the story of a German journalist who comes across the diary of a man who recently committed suicide. The diary tells the story of the man's life in a concentration camp, and of the commander of said camp. The journalist, Peter Miller (John Voight), makes it his business to find the commander (Eduard Roschmann, played by Maximilian Schell) who he discovers is still alive. He traces Roschmann to a group called "Odessa" which harbors/assists former SS members from the law.

The movie has its ups and downs. I assume the book covers a lot, but no, I don't care to read it. Miller is somehow simultaneously stupid and skilled, the assumption is that he learns from his mistakes can be drawn. The Odessa members do a great job of twarting Miller, and frankly it is nice to not see a bungling group of thugs. There is a lot of conspiracy thought in the story, alluding that the German power structure is populated with former SS members, and that Odessa was behind a chemical warfare plot to defeat Israel, and even (perhaps) the Kennedy assassination. It gets a little heavy handed at times. The normally great John Voight really slogs through this one in an almost amateur fashion. Maybe it is the German accent or behaviors he is affecting, but whatever the cause it doesn't live up to his normal craft. Lastly, the end is rather disappointing.

So, this one will not be rounding out my Partisan Triple Feature, despite the premise being exactly what I want. I don't want to discourage you from seeing it. It is not all bad, and certainly held my interest, but when compared to two of my favorite films it does not hold up.

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