Tuesday, 13 December 2016

The Odessa File (1974)

"You are not even worth a bullet..."

Frederick Forsyth is one of those guilty pleasures; hardly a literary writer, prose that makes no pretensions to be anything more than functional, and (especially late on) somewhat right-wing, Biafra aside. But he's a quick, undemanding writer and, dammit, exciting, so it's no surprise that, after the previous year had brought The Day of the Jackal to the big screen, 1974 should see a second adaptation in the shape of this Anglo-German production, with Hollywood star Jon Voight parachuted in to join the largely Anglo-German cast in a film which manages to impress in spite of all the English- speaking actors putting on comedy German accents. It's odd seeing a young Derek Jacobi in such a small role, but great to see the wonderful Mary Tamm, four years before Doctor Who, playing the leading lady.

It's an interesting artifact from the year of the Watergate scandal, and I think that's a valid thing to say even if the novel was published in the year of said burglary itself, starting with a moment of nostalgia for the very recent past of Kennedy. Except the West Germany of 1963 had some very dark shadows lurks by beneath the prosperity, the flawless constitutional democracy and the Beatles in the Reeperbahn; not all of them were SS, but many Nazis had quietly integrated into society and there was a quiet determination to cover things up, to be in denial: even the head of the police War Crimes Unit attends a deeply disturbing regimental reunion. And that kind of sinister doublethink is what the film is about. Peter Miller may represent a younger, less tainted generation who is horrified by the Holocaust (at last re-emerging as an event in its full enormity into the wider culture in the 1970s) but ultimately motivated by personal reasons.

This is an entertaining and exciting political thriller, even if the characterisation is close to non-existent. But the Holocaust flashbacks- filled in monochrome- certainly stay with you.

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