The Night of the Generals

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The Night of the Generals
Night Generals.jpg
Theatrical release poster
Directed byAnatole Litvak
Screenplay byJoseph Kessel
Paul Dehn
Gore Vidal[1] (uncredited)
Based onThe Night of the Generals
by Hans Hellmut Kirst and an incident written
by James Hadley Chase
Produced bySam Spiegel
Anatole Litvak
StarringPeter O'Toole
Omar Sharif
Tom Courtenay
Donald Pleasence
Joanna Pettet
Philippe Noiret
CinematographyHenri Decaë
Edited byAlan Osbiston
Music byMaurice Jarre
Distributed byColumbia Pictures
Release dates
  • 29 January 1967 (1967-01-29) (London premiere)
  • 10 February 1967 (1967-02-10) (UK)
  • 24 February 1967 (1967-02-24) (US)
  • 1 April 1967 (1967-04-01) (France)
Running time
145 minutes
CountriesUnited Kingdom
United States
Box office$2,400,000 (US/ Canada rentals)[2]

The Night of the Generals is a 1967 World War II mystery film directed by Anatole Litvak and produced by Sam Spiegel. It stars Peter O'Toole, Omar Sharif, Tom Courtenay, Donald Pleasence, Joanna Pettet and Philippe Noiret. The screenplay by Joseph Kessel and Paul Dehn was loosely based on the beginning of the novel of the same name by German author Hans Hellmut Kirst. The writing credits also include the line "based on an incident written by James Hadley Chase"; a subplot from Chase's 1952 novel The Wary Transgressor.[3] Gore Vidal is said to have contributed to the screenplay, but was not credited.[1] The musical score was composed by Maurice Jarre.

The film was a French-British-American international co-production. Parts of this Western-made film were shot on location in Warsaw, which at the time was behind the Iron Curtain. The last scenes of the film were shot in Munich.


The murder of a prostitute, who was also a German agent, in German-occupied Warsaw in 1942 causes Major Grau of the Abwehr to start an investigation. His evidence soon points to the killer being one of three German generals: General von Seidlitz-Gabler; General Kahlenberge, his chief of staff; or General Tanz. Grau's investigation is cut short by his sudden promotion and 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 Hitler; for unexplained reasons, at this stage of the film he wears the uniform of a Waffen-SS General (SS-Obergruppenführer) – unlike earlier in the film when he wears a Heer uniform; this is done perhaps to emphasize his loyalty to the Nazi cause.

On the night of 19 July 1944, Tanz orders his driver, Kurt Hartmann, 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 is the 20 July assassination attempt. While Grau is accusing Tanz face to face, word arrives that Hitler has survived, so Tanz kills Grau and labels him as one of the plot conspirators to cover his tracks.

Jumping to 1965, the murder of a prostitute in Hamburg draws the attention of Interpol Inspector Morand, 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, soon finding a link to the 1944 murder as well.

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, recently released after serving 20 years as a war criminal, 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. It is implied in the film that the reasons that the other two generals were so evasive about their whereabouts at the time of the wartime murders was because Kahlenberge was secretly plotting with others against Hitler, while von Seidlitz-Gabler was secretly womanising.



Both O'Toole and Sharif were hesitant to take on their roles for this film. Feeling they owed it to producer Sam Spiegel for making them international stars in Lawrence of Arabia, they did so anyway.[4] Due to their previous contracts, O'Toole's and Sharif's combined salaries were less than Donald Pleasence's.[5]

Gore Vidal, one of the many writers of the script claimed he urged Spiegel to use a "new, hot director", but Spiegel chose the experienced Anatole Litvak who owned the rights to the novel.[6]


Bosley Crowther, in an unenthusiastic review for The New York Times, described the movie as "a lurid and mordant screen account of the unmasking of a general officer who likes to disembowl prostitutes":

It is an engrossing exhibition that mainly gives Mr. O'Toole a chance to build up the tensions and the twitches of a sex maniac, with something of the glazed-eyed characteristic of those old vampires who used to suck blood. But once this phase is completed—once we know who the killer is and have made the obvious connection of his war crimes and his private deeds—the excitement of the picture is over. At least, it was for me.[7]


  1. ^ a b CNC
  2. ^ "Big Rental Films of 1967", Variety, 3 January 1968 p 25. Please note these figures refer to rentals accruing to the distributors.
  3. ^ p.762 Gifford, Dennis The British Film Catalogue Routledge; 1st edition (April 1, 2016)
  4. ^ 2015 Twilight Time Blu-Ray Liner Notes by Julie Kirgo.
  5. ^ p.281 Fraser-Cavassoni, Natasha Sam Spiegel Time-Warner Books U.K. February 28, 2003
  6. ^ p.170 Herzberg, Bob The Third Reich on Screen, 1929-2015 McFarland 2016
  7. ^ Crowther, Bosley (3 February 1967). "Screen: 'The Night of the Generals': O'Toole Stars in Story About Nazi Officers". The New York Times. Retrieved 7 November 2021.

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