[Originally published in Movietone News 37, November 1974]
Even as an adaptation of an un-book bestseller, it’s amazing what a non-event The Odessa File is. I may owe Fred Zinnemann, director of the previous Frederick Forsyth adaptation (Day of the Jackal) an apology, or at least a reconsideration. Meanwhile, the film version of Forsyth’s second book manages to botch up or overlook the few effective contrivances found in the novel, and substitutes little for them.
Despite an earnest and doggedly intelligent personification by Jon Voight, the protagonist, a freelance journalist trying to find a certain notorious Nazi in 1963 West Germany, makes little sense. Forsyth at least propelled him with the historico-literary fuel of a comprehensive diary kept by a concentration-camp inmate who was dubiously privileged to observe the Nazi, Eduard Roschmann, at key points in his loathsome career, so that the reader might graft onto the journalist those motivations he expected him to have: a sense of outraged humanity coupled with the hereditary guilt of a postwar German youth and a resentment of and suspiciousness toward his forebears. Peter Miller’s (Voight’s) quest turns out to be considerably more personal than that; but what comes as a mildly gratifying fillip at the end of the book operates in the film as a last-ditch supplying of motivation, for the adaptors and director Ronald Neame so scant the diary (via a hasty, insensitive snippet of monochrome WW2 memory footage) that it has no chance to establish the particular hatefulness of this officer. Miller’s campaign against the Odessa, a society of surviving SS veterans still hopeful of making bad on the Führer’s pronouncements, are likewise diminished and compressed beyond the possibility for even token suspense. Neame’s journalist, unlike Forsyth’s, gets his man; and Neame’s villain, unlike Forsyth’s, is such a seedy thug that either his survival or his demise seems equally irrelevant.
THE ODESSA FILE
Direction: Ronald Neame. Screenplay: Kenneth Ross and George Markstein, after the novel by Frederick Forsyth. Cinematography: Oswald Morris. Editing: Ralph Kemplen. Music: Andrew Lloyd Webber. Production: John Woolf.
The Players: Jon Voight, Maximilian Schell, Mary Tamm, Peter Jeffrey, Maria Schell.
Copyright © 1974 Richard T. Jameson