1 avril 1967. Le passant cinéphile déambule sur les grands boulevards parisiens. La capitale française est sous la pluie. Se mettre à l’abri semble être la meilleure solution pour ne pas finir trempé jusqu’aux os. Et ça tombe bien, on donne The Night of the Generals dans ce petit cinéma de quartier. D’autant plus qu’il l’a loupé lors de sa sortie américaine.
Critique d’époque :
« Within the malevolent environment of the Nazi high command conducting their cruel and intricate business in Warsaw and Paris during World War II, Anatole Litvak presents us with a lurid and mordant screen account of the unmasking of a general officer who likes to disembowl prostitutes. This he does in The Night of the Generals, a massive and ponderous color film, produced on a grand scale by Sam Spiegel. It opened at the Capitol and Cinema I yesterday.
Obviously the aim of this pictures, like the novel by Hans Helmut Kirst from which Joseph Kessel and Paul Dehn have derived their script, is to point up the shadow of difference between murder as an individual act and mass killing as a relentless and accepted practice in war. It’s to provide some commentary on the nature of the Nazis’ wartime crimes, and reflect, perhaps, on the justice meted out of their leaders for their deeds.
To a certain extent, these large intentions do begin to coagulate as ironic implications as the picture goes along, gathering together a scattered story. It’s that of a young intelligence major’s attempts to discover who of three generals in Warsaw in 1942 was responsible for the sadistic murder of a prostitute.Was it General Kahlenberge, the icy cynic and stringent authoritarian, who is played with supreme Teutonic tightness by Donald Pleasence ? Was it the married weakling. General Gabler, played craftily by Charles Gray? Or was it General Tanz, a brutal sadist, played by Peter O’Toole ?
Tension and excitement are developed as the suspects are initially introduced and the sleuthing major, Omar Sharif, patiently quests for his man. Also, hints drop rather clearly as the commandant. General Tanz, conducts a vicious maneuver to eradicate resistance and lay the city of Warsaw waste. That maneuver, incidentally, makes for the most vivid scenes in the film.But toward the middle of the picture, after all three generals have been moved to Paris and the sleuthing major is also conveniently there, the deeper philosophical implications and even the mystery are phased out in a splurge of conventional detailed specification of precisely who the murderer is.
It’s General Tanz, and we are shown this in a long and expensive account of how he, accompanied by a corporal, played sensitively by Tom Courtenay, goes on a sight-seeing tour of Paris and ends up murdering another prostitute. It’s an engrossing exibition that mainly gives Mr. O’Toole a chance to build up the tensions and the twitches of a sex maniae, with something of the glazed-eyed characterstic of those old vampires who used to suck blood.
But once this phase is completed – once we know who the killer is and have made the obvious connection of his war crimes and his private deeds – the excitement of the picture is over. At least, it was for me. Although there is a lot more to happen- the build-up and failure of the plot to assassinate Hitler, an involvement of the Paris police and a third and final postwar murder of a Hamburg prostitute – the rest becomes a mere assembly of elaborate but familiar incidents.
Be it said, however, that the picture is efficiently constructed and played, with the possible exception of that too wanton and waxy performance of Mr. O’Toole. All the business of action and intrigue is done with theatrical style, even though you may sometimes get the notion that these are British rather than German officers, Mr. Sharif is impressively tenacious, Mr. Courtenay is poignantly distraught and Philippe Noiret is beautifully casual as an inspector of French police. Coral Browne is a haughty vixen as General Gabler’s wife and Joanna Pettet is volatile as their daughter, who falls in love with the corporal. Mr. Courtenay.For those who like vivid melodrama, there is plenty of it here. I wish it were more sophisticated and articulate about the crime of war, not just about the idiosyncrasies of a Nazi general who likes to kill prostitutes« . Par Bosley Crowther lors de sa sortie en salle le 03 février 1967.
Bosley Crowther est partagé. Il trouve The Night of the Generals pesant tout en reconnaissant qu’il est bien construit. Il regrette une troisième partie trop convenue et que l’on ne s’attarde pas sur la guerre et ses crimes commis en son nom. Quant à l’interprétation, il la trouve de qualité hormis Peter O’Toole. Et, il ne se gêne pas de révéler le nom du tueur. Sympa pour les lecteurs et cinéphiles de l’époque…
L’article consacré à La Nuit des Généraux est à découvrir ici.