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Friday, December 14, 2012

THE NIGHT OF THE GENERALS (1967)

Producer Sam Spiegel loaded this WWII-flavored whodunit with a classy international cast & top tech elements, but nothing could camouflage its general crumminess. Peter O’Toole is wildly off his game as a neurasthenic Nazi general under investigation, along with fellow generals Donald Pleasance & Charles Gray, when a prostitute is found stabbed to death in Warsaw. Omar Sharif is the mild-mannered, but determined military investigator who gets a second chance at finding the culprit when all three generals turn up in occupied Paris along with another dead prostitute. Meanwhile . . . the Allies are getting closer to the city, art masterpieces are being prepped for a transfer to Germany, and half the cast is involved in a plot to assassinate Hitler! The perfect moment for O’Toole to take a couple of days off for some Paris sightseeing with his driver, Tom Courtenay. (Hey, no lines at the Louvre!) Physically, it’s a treat to look at, what with Henri DecaĆ« on camera & production design from the great Alexandre Trauner, but helmer Anatole Litvak, in his penultimate pic, seems past caring, letting a lux cast (including Harry Andrews, Philippe Noiret, Christopher Plummer & Coral Browne) get away with (thespian) murder. The whole ridiculous thing feels more like a contract being worked off than a motion picture.*

SCREWY THOUGHT OF THE DAY-I: *Indeed, O’Toole & Sharif ‘owed’ Spiegel a picture post-LAWRENCE OF ARABIA/’62 which may partially explain O’Toole’s outlandish perf.

SCREWY THOUGHT OF THE DAY-II: It was talk show host Dick Cavett who, in a revelatory flash, first noted that Peter O’Toole was the only movie star whose first and last names each refer to the male genitalia.

WATCH THIS, NOT THAT: It’s tempting to list IS PARIS BURNING?/’66 which told a similar endgame story of Occupied Paris. But it’s nearly as useless. Why not THE TRAIN/’64? Paul Scofield is the Nazi general trying to steal French art; Burt Lancaster’s the wily train station manager trying to stop him. Yes, much better.

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