The Odessa File (1974)

One of a top drawer selection of 1970s Nazi thrillers — The Day of the Jackal, Marathon Man, Eye of the Needle, The Boys From BrazilThe Odessa File delivers a decent balance of outrageous Nazis, investigative action, crap disguises and credible global threat to make it stand out from any crowd of period family entertainments.

The ideal of these films was something partially lost today — the intricate plot, leading in circles, as if we are almost blindfolded by the writer, who is the only one who knows where we are going.  It wasn’t just the emerging fantasy of the post-Nazi Nazi threat, but of all the films of its time, The Odessa File suggested more flatly than any other, that Nazis might still be in charge.  We know now that Allied administrations did leave many Nazis in charge in Germany, so above all (and this is a Frederick Forsythtrait) there is credibility in spades.

The film adaptation process is not always one of complete destruction. The book of The Odessa File contains more detail and complexity in every aspect and is a far richer and more believable story, and yet it does contain many passages which translate directly to the screen.  In this instance both are strong and enjoyable.  The book is a book!  The film is a film!  And they both have great merits, and don't disappoint their audiences.

The opening scene in which Peter hears about the death of Kennedy and then immediately hears of the death of Solomon Tauber, is identically realised. The huge events in history have the power to drag every small event along with them, and the historical process is at any rate prone to chance. It's

Most of the conflations and omissions in The Odessa File movie are done well. In the book for example, Peter has to do quite an amount of detective work to uncover the existence of the file itself, eventually meeting the forger Wenzer’s mother in a hospital. In the movie, which kills off SS hitman Mackensen early, Peter gets the information he needs by stumbling upon her bedroom when breaking into Wenzer’s printshop. Other quirks of adaptation stand — this is one example which I can think of in which there are more explosions in the book than there are in the film.

Nazis weren’t just a popular subject in the 1970s, they were still the stuff of recent history, and so there were many exciting seams of reality and conspiracy to explore. There are beer hall scenes in the film of The Odessa File which are like a revelation, even down to the screaming Hitler figure at the helm, and watching this scene you begin to ask yourself where all the young Nazis of World War II went — if they really did become the middle aged citizens of 1960s Germany. It’s believable that these characters escaped into civilian professions after the war and now run so many aspects of daily life that they might as well have society sown-up.

There are some notable inclusions into The Odessa File film, which as I have said removes explosions rather than add them. But in this film version The Odessa are on to journalist Peter Miller almost immediately, while in the book they remain randomly removed as their forces pan out in curious ways as they track down the inquisitive journalist, who remains perilously one step ahead, or to the side, at each moment.

One great inclusion in the film is the train stunt during which the man who was once called by the Guinness Book of World Records as the world’s most prolific, Vick Armstrong, doubles for Jon Voigt, and jumps out of the way of an underground train.

The score of The Odessa File is strange in places, although one can hear the definite flavour of Andrew Lloyd Weber as some pieces perfectly segue the sound of string quartet with a modern jazz funk band. Often the music is the highlight in a 1970s thriller, with the action endorsed by a funky foot-tapping band playing some Lalo Schiffrin, or in this case a muted and occasionally inappropriate Andrew Lloyd Webber. The music isn’t so great in The Odessa File, although it does have the most memorable opening theme, sung by Perry Como.

Reminiscent of a German folk tune. Superb homely melody and performed by mellow voiced Perry Como.

Mary Tamm, who is known for being in virtually everything on television, including EastEnders, Coronation Street, Dr Who, The Professionals and Brookside, plays Sigi. Sigi has a reasonable role in the Frederick Forsyth novel of The Odessa File, but she has possibly even less of a role here, and although we don’t see her pleasing men all the time as she does in the book, so much as denying journalist Peter his conjugal rights, she acts the victim instead in a short but intense stalk and pursuit scene with Klaus Lowitsch.

Half way through The Odessa File, Jon Voigt grabs a moustache that didn’t even look good in 1974, and we first see it in the scene where he receives his SS brand — all SS officers are tattooed with their blood group, it appears, and so this is the preparation of a scar that indicates such a thing may have been removed, if the Israeli underground are to send him into deep cover in the Odessa.

The branding, done by a Yul Brenner look alike is accompanied by some conversation on the ‘commercial utilisation’ of the corpses from concentration camps. The whole scar thing avoids the unpleasant scene in the book in which the Odessa check that Peter Miller is not Jewish for asking for a glimpse of his penis. Not as painful, but the penis glance is definitely not cinematic, and the red-hot branding is.