The Night of the Generals

On the cold night of 12th December 1942 in Nazi occupied Warsaw, Maria Kupiecka was murdered; unknown by the killer, there was a single witness, the old man who lived downstairs who hid as the killer descended to leave and caught sight of their uniform, the characteristic red stripe on their regulation trousers identifying them as a German general.

Had Kupiecka been simply a prostitute it would likely have gone unremarked, but she was also an informant, and intelligence officer Major Grau (Doctor Zhivago‘s Omar Sharif) is inclined to believe the terrified witness, for what would they have to gain by lying? His investigation leads him to narrow the field to three suspects, the only three Generals in Warsaw whose whereabouts on that night he cannot ascertain.

They are General Herbert von Seidlitz-Gabler (The Devil Rides Out‘s Charles Gray), who “lived like royalty in the palace with his wife and daughter,” General Klaus Kahlenberge (Phenomena‘s Donald Pleasence), “an interesting man, no wife, no children,” and the newly arrived General Wilhelm Tanz (Lawrence of Arabia‘s Peter O’Toole), “a hero of Leningrad, a pet of Hitler, a remarkable officer.”

Each of them is unwelcoming to Grau and obstructive to his investigation and each of them has something to hide, but what their secrets might be will not become apparent until the four men come together again in Paris in July of 1944 and another woman is murdered in the same brutal fashion, allowing Grau a second chance to apprehend the killer.

A loose adaptation of Hans Hellmut Kirst 1962’s novel adapted for the screen by Joseph Kessel and Paul Dehn, Anatole Litvak’s 1967 film of The Night of the Generals was a major production, filmed on location in Poland, France and Germany, three stories across three cities in three time frames, the case not solved until 1965 in Hamburg, the final post-war reunion of the survivors.

Restored in 4K for Eureka Classics, The Night of the Generals is a long film as the three stories weave together across the decades, the murders, the love affair between Seidlitz-Gabler’s daughter Ulrike and Tanz’s driver Lance Corporal Kurt Hartmann (Casino Royale‘s Joanna Pettet and Billy Liar‘s Tom Courtenay) and the Valkyrie plot to assassinate Hitler, yet for all the period detail the characters remain opaque.

Grau’s obsession with the case above his loyalty to the Fatherland is never explored, nor is the killer’s motivation, made explicit in the novel, more than hinted at, and despite being driven by the love and hatred of women none of the female characters, including Theatre of Blood‘s Coral Browne as Eleonore von Seidlitz-Gabler, more than token presences, wives, lovers and victims.

The sole significant extra on Eureka’s new edition of The Night of the Generals is an often hesitant and drifting commentary by novelist Scott Harrison, full of detail on the cast and their vast cinematic resumes and useful historic detail providing perspective on the events of the war and considering other filmic perspectives of occupation such as the fictionalised It Happened Here but offering opinion rather than insight on the actual production.

The Night of the Generals is available on Blu-ray now from Eureka Classics



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