Over Ambition is its Downfall
When a tenant in a Warsaw home hears a scream from the room up the stairs he hides in the toilet, watching through a crack as a man leaves, before then going up to find the mutilated body of a Polish prostitute. Having only seen the distinctive red markings of a General on the man's trousers he is unable to give Major Grau (Omar Sharif) any more information but Grau quickly narrows his search down to General Kahlenberge (Donald Pleasence), General von Seidlitz-Gabler (Charles Gray) and General Tanz (Peter O'Toole) as their whereabouts cannot be accounted for and are unwilling to co-operate. Just as Major Grau gets close to solving the case he finds himself promoted and forced to leave Warsaw for Paris but the unsolved case stays with him and over the next 23 years he continues to probe in to what happened that night in Warsaw, 1942.
How can I put this; 95% of "The Night of the Generals" is very right but 5% of it is wrong and unfortunately that 5% causes serious issues when it comes to keeping hold of your attention. It is a shame because "The Night of the Generals" had pretty much everything needed to be an entertaining classic starting with this mystery surrounding a murder and the three generals who seem to be as thick as thieves when it comes to not divulging what happened that night. The elusiveness of these men is entertaining and it is very much a classic game of cat and mouse between them and Major Grau.
But then there is the styling and every now and then the storyline jumps to 1965 where an unseen person is talking to those who were around during the war and then it returns back to the war and back to the elusiveness of these three Generals when it comes to Grau's investigations. That may not sound like much as many movies have flashbacks and so on but not that many older war movies employed this technique. It grabs your attention as do some of the movies intentional impact scenes such as one featuring General Tanz in command of the destruction of a city ordering flame throwers and tanks to fire on buildings where some people are still hiding out, forced to jump from upstairs windows as they come under fire.
And then there are the performances and first things first is the fact that "The Night of the Generals" has a knock out cast of heavyweight actors from O'Toole and Sharif down to the likes of Gregson, Stock and Plummer. When it comes to the calibre of the cast "The Night of the Generals" is up there with the likes of "The Great Escape" and there is not a single performance which lets the movie down be it Omar Sharif making Major Grau a dogged but patient investigator to Peter O'Toole making General Tanz fearsome and somewhat sadistic in his enjoyment of dishing out pain whilst also clearly unhinged.
The trouble is that "The Night of the Generals" wants to be epic and so we have scenes which are full of dialogue but ironically the scenes don't go anywhere. It drags the movie out with needless scenes which only seem to have been included to extend the movie to the two and half hour mark so it seems an epic due to its length.
What this all boils down to is that "The Night of the Generals" ends up a good movie but suffers because those behind it tried to turn a very good movie into an epic and only end up dragging it out.