“The Night of the Generals” (1967)
The makers of any film based on Hans Hellmut Kirst’s 1962 novel The Night of the Generals face a formidable task in that the author indulges in an sizeable amount of strategically inserted future declarations of inculpatory evidence; time jumps which needlessly strain a concision of exposition already burdened with a fractured tandem narrative. Confounding a linear recounting of events, these interruptions, not only impart information which proves irrelevant to the resolution of the film’s central mystery but also induce the grinding fatigue of redundancy in that these expositional asides merely redress what has been or will be doggedly dramatized at an already excessive length.
Unwisely, while not profoundly tinkering with the novel’s initially awkward modus operendi, the filmmakers have injudiciously abbreviated the narrative threads bearing the weight of the historical event which which provides both versions of the material their title. Additionally, while preserving the most trivial of evidentiary insertions, the absence of the most important of the novelistic devices- a thematically encapsulating epilogue encompassing a philosophical polemic -extinguishes the very point of the film’s fidelity to Kirst’s dual narrative, rendering the entire story meaningless.
In his kaleidoscopic storyline, Kirst introduces an almost Tolstoyan density of characters assembled over two decades in several major locales, with the primary focus split between the June 20, 1944 plot to kill Adolf Hitler and the investigation of a series brutal wartime sex crimes in which prostitutes are savagely stabbed with particular attention given by the killer in mutilating the victim’s genitalia. Given the lurid nature of the crimes and the inherent decadent nature of one particular character, the novel never submits to easy prurience, and the film, to its credit, happily honors this reticence toward the gratuitous.
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