The Blind Spot Series – The Odessa File Review

The Odessa File (1974)

Starring Jon Voight, Maximilian Schell, Maria Schell, and Derek Jacobi

Directed by Ronald Neame

It’s going to be one of those months here at Entertainment Maven; a great number of film writers and bloggers all across the city of Toronto, including those at The Matinee, Toronto Screenshots and Eternal Sunshine of the Logical Mind, are taking part in a little something called “The Blind Spot Series”.  The series involves us as critics taking a look at films that in one circle or another are deemed to be classics and that we have never personally seen.  All of us as fans have our very own Blind Spot lists and now we are all sharing them with you.  Today, we go back to 1974 for a spy thriller in the post-war environment of 1960’s Germany that is now available on Blu-Ray for the very first time.  It’s time for “The Odessa File” to come out of the Blind Spot.

In The Odessa File the year is 1963 and the place is Hamburg, Germany.  An elderly Jewish man commits suicide leaving only a diary the eventually falls into the hands of a freelance reporter, Peter Miller (Voight).  This diary documents the unspeakable crimes of torture, acts of cruelty, and mass murders of thousands that were perpetuated by SS Captain Eduard Roschmann (Schell), the commandant of the notorious death camp at Riga, Latvia during the war.  Miller launches a personal manhunt to track down Roschmann and his investigation leads him to the heart of the secret organization known as ODESSA, formed by the SS themselves to protect and re-establish their members throughout the world with new identities.  On his hunt to track down Roschmann, Miller learns that the organization’s plans run even deeper and are more dangerous than anyone had imagined.

Coming on the heels of another film adaptation of a Frederick Forsyth novel, The Day of the Jackal, The Odessa File is a smart, sharp thriller that will reward those who like getting swept up in a big story. Director Robert Neame was a noted cinematographer before he slid over to the director’s chair and is probably best known for films like The Horse’s Mouth and The Poseidon Adventure.  Neame follows that action throughout the streets of Hamburg and Munich, making the city streets come alive as the character and vibrancy of the city plays a major role in the film. As a director Neame was adept at working in multiple genres and the script from Kenneth Ross and George Markstein keeps the story moving at a fairly deliberate yet intense pace, keeping the viewer engaged at every turn, which makes it a rewarding experience for the attentive viewer, even despite some questionable musical score cues throughout the film.

In the lead role, Jon Voight as Peter Miller, the reporter turned war criminal hunter, did a fine job as The Odessa File fell right in the middle of his peak creative period, coming only a couple of years before his Oscar win in Coming Home.  Voight kept his character’s true motivations in check until the final act of the film, making the motivation and reasoning for his quest all the more satisfying.  Maximilian Schell showed up in a small yet pivotal role and we also get an appearance from a young Derek Jacobi, but the film begins and ends with Voight as the strong, yet reluctant hero, forced into action by circumstance and happenstance.

New on Blu-Ray, the transfer of the film was excellent as the colors were vibrant and the film looked era-appropriate with excellent sound throughout.

While I have to admit that as a critic I do have a certain soft spot for spy thrillers from the 70’s, The Odessa File was a little different from the rest.  Most spy thrillers rely on the excitement of the chase, while this story had its real payoff at the emotional destination that it takes its characters to.  It’s a fantastic watch for anyone who appreciates high quality storytelling.

The Odessa File is available on DVD and Blu-Ray at video stores all across the city of Toronto and you can also watch it on demand via the Netflix streaming service.

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