The Odessa File (1974)

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The faction novel by Frederick Forsyth has a special place in my heart because it was the first book I borrowed when I finally got a ticket to join the Adult section of my local public library after I turned 12. And it stunned me when I discovered that Forsyth was merely fictionalising in very approximate fashion the story of the Butcher of Riga, Eduard Roschman (Maximilian Schell) who is protected by the Organisation der Ehemaligen SS-Angehoerigen (Former SS Members) in winter 1963. Journalist Peter Milller (Jon Voight) happens upon the story by simple expedient of pulling over in a Hamburg street to hear that President Kennedy has died and then literally chases an ambulance to an apartment building where an elderly Holocaust survivor has gassed himself. A policeman friend hands him the man’s diary and he uncovers the story behind the suicide of Salomon Tauber which contains one gleaming detail:  the murder by Roschmann at Riga port of a colleague who won a very rare German military medal. After meeting many unhelpful people in authority in a Germany still clearly run by the Nazis (there were 12 million of them after all, and they all just returned to civilian life and kept their pensions) he goes to Vienna where he visits Simon Wiesenthal who tells him about the ODESSA. He is beaten up, his dancer girlfriend (Mary Tamm) is threatened by some ex-Nazis and then ‘befriended’ by a policewoman when Miller goes off grid. He’s kidnapped by Mossad agents who want to know who he is and why he’s after Roschmann, supposedly dead almost two decades ago.  Then he dons a disguise … There are a few alterations to the source by Kenneth Ross and George (The Prisoner) Markstein and this is a fairly conventional procedural but still satisfying considering the strength of the subject matter (a topic plundered years later by novelist Sam Bourne aka Guardian journalist Jonathan Freedland.) Voight is very good in what could be a difficult part and he gets a superb twist ending – when we learn the deeply personal reason for his search in addition to the quest for a great story. In a nice touch Maria Schell plays Voight’s mother, making this the only time she and Maximilian acted in the same film. The lovely Mary Tamm would later become a notable assistant to BBC’s Doctor Who and would have a good role as Blanche Ingram in TV’s Jane Eyre opposite Timothy Dalton. She died too soon.  There is an interesting score by Andrew Lloyd Webber with a special mention for Perry Como’s rendition of Christmas Dream and some superb cinematography by the great Oswald Morris and scene-setting by production designer Rolf Zehetbauer in this Anglo-German production – which might just account for the somewhat cleaned-up account of post-war Nazism. As it’s directed by multi-hyphenate Ronald Neame you wouldn’t expect anything less than a great-looking movie.  In another pleasing twist to the narrative, this prompted the tracking down of the real Roschmann to South America. But you’ll have to consult the history books to find out what happened next …

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Interlude (1957)

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What does anyone see in June Allyson? Goodness knows, but she was the go-to wife next door for the 1950s and Rossano Brazzi was the go-to exotic Romeo in any number of films featuring WASPy women looking for a bit of rumpy-pumpy away from home. James Cain’s story had already been adapted and filmed by John M.Stahl but here it’s German auteur Douglas Sirk on directing duties, returning to home turf, with Allyson as a reporter taking a job at an American cultural mission in Munich. She meets up with an American doctor, Morley, who is very keen on her – but not as keen as she is on the troubled symphony conductor who charms her and takes her on a spin in his sports car to Salzburg and then to his lake house … After spending the night, she finds out that he is married. He literally has a madwoman in the attic, as it were. With a change in cinematographer (William Daniels) and location, Sirk focuses almost entirely on the workings of desire in all his characters. Stahl’s melodramas were rich resources for Sirk’s particular avocations, as we have seen in Magnificent Obsession and Imitation of Life, but this operates in a different, more clearly musical mode, as you’d expect in a classical melodrama – with contributions from Frank Skinner and Henry Mancini. You will recognise one piece of music from two of his other films of the period:  how many times did he use it?! Candice Bergen’s mother Frances plays the disapproving co-worker and Marianne Koch does a fine job as the wronged and crazy wife. And, y’know, grudging kudos to Allyson, playing girlish at 40. Jane Eyre on Tour in Yerp.