The Night of the Generals

The Night of the Generals (1967) La Notte dei Generali

The murder of a prostitute in German-occupied Warsaw in 1942 causes Abwehr Major Grau (Omar Sharif) to start an investigation, as she was also a German agent. His evidence soon points to the killer being one of three German general officers: General von Seidlitz-Gabler (Charles Gray); General Kahlenberge (Donald Pleasence), his chief of staff; and General Tanz (Peter O’Toole). Grau’s investigation, however, is cut short by his summary transfer to Paris at the instigation of these officers.

The case in Warsaw remains closed until all three officers meet in Paris in July 1944. Paris is then a hotbed of intrigue, with senior Wehrmacht officers plotting to assassinate Adolf Hitler. Kahlenberge is deeply involved in the plot, while von Seidlitz-Gabler is aware of its existence but is sitting on the fence, awaiting the outcome. Tanz is unaware of the plot and remains totally loyal to the Führer.

On the night of 19 July 1944, Tanz orders his driver, Kurt Hartmann (Tom Courtenay), to procure a prostitute; Tanz butchers her so as to implicate Hartmann, but offers Hartmann the chance to desert, which he accepts. When Grau, who is now a Lieutenant Colonel, learns of the murder, committed in the same manner as the first, he resumes his investigation and concludes that Tanz is the killer. However, his timing is unfortunate, because the very next day, the assassination attempt against Hitler takes place. So when Grau accuses Tanz face to face, the general kills Grau and labels him as one of the plot conspirators to cover his tracks.

Many years after the war, the murder of a prostitute in Hamburg in 1965 draws the attention of Interpol Inspector Morand (Philippe Noiret), who owes a debt of gratitude to Grau for not revealing his connection to the French Resistance during the war. Almost certain there is a connection to Grau’s 1942 case, Morand reopens the cold case and the film begins to shift between the Europe of the 1960s and the Europe of the 1940s.

Years later, Morand begins to tie up the loose ends: he finds no criminal activity from Kahlenberge or Seidlitz-Gabler, but learns of one man who knew which man is the real killer. Morand confronts Tanz at a reunion dinner for Tanz’s former panzer division. When Morand produces Hartmann as his witness, Tanz goes into a vacant room and shoots himself.

Music by Maurice Jarre

 

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