What an intriguing story concept this one has! It's 1942, in German-occupied Warsaw. A prostitute is brutally murdered, and a frightened witness swears he saw a German general leaving right afterwards. When it turns out the prostitute was also a German agent, intelligence officer, Major Grau (Omar Sharif) dives right into a murder investigation, fully intent on bringing the general to justice. There are three generals in Warsaw that do not have alibis for that night, and they become his chief suspects. The generals are played by Charles Gray, Donald Pleasance, and Peter O'Toole.
Of course, linking generals to murders is risky business, particularly in wartime, and Grau finds himself promoted and summarily shipped off to Paris before his investigation can get anywhere.
Two years later, 1944, another prostitute is murdered. Grau recognizes the MO, and also discovers that all three suspect generals are once again together. He resumes his investigation, but this time the background has shifted to post D-Day invasion, and also the German officer plot to kill Hitler.
I love this idea. I love the murder mystery set against history, from the German point of view. I love the idea that Grau is so intent on justice that he is willing to take down a German general while the war is causing the world to fall down around them.
But this movie doesn't quite reach the level of brilliance it should. It gets a bit derailed by various side plots. There's a whole subplot involving a secondary character's romance, and a very long bit while that secondary character works as Peter O'Toole's orderly and escorts him around Paris. And while I love the whole plot to kill Hitler as background... it takes over a portion of the movie and the murder investigation, the most interesting part, is pushed aside. The movie also jumps time periods, from the 40's to the 60's, with parts of the story told in flashback. It works, but some of the transitions were awkward. And Omar Sharif, who I thought was the lead of the film, disappears for long stretches at a time. It's almost like the movie couldn't make up its mind what it wanted to focus on, and it tries to do everything at once.
But that aside, the cast is great. Omar Sharif and Peter O'Toole are fabulous. Charles Gray and Donald Pleasance are both perfect (and it's quite interesting seeing two actors who both played Blofeld in James Bond movies together on screen!). The dialogue in this movie is smart and very good, and I think Donald Pleasance gets the majority of the best dialogue. Phillipe Noiret plays a French Investigator, and I quite liked him as well. And Christopher Plummer has a small role as Rommel, which was most welcome.
I won't spoil the mystery, but I was not surprised when the murderer was finally revealed. It was really the only logical conclusion. However, there was one plot twist in the film that caught me completely off guard, and I LOVE when that happens. It's hard to surprise me, and this was definitely a "whoa! I can't believe they just did that" rather awesome moment.
This is not a movie I need to own, but I'm glad I saw it for its cast and originality.