Color, 1974, 130 mins.
Directed by Ronald Neame
Starring Jon Voight, Mary Tamm, Maximilian Schell, Maria Schell, Derek Jacobi, Peter Jeffrey
Indicator (Blu-ray) (UK R0 HD), Image Entertainment (Blu-ray & DVD) (US RA/R1 HD/NTSC), Sony (DVD) (US R1 NTSC) / WS (2.35:1) (16:9)

The The Odessa Fileworldwide appetite The Odessa Filefor espionage fiction, fueled in large part by writers like John le Carré and Ian Fleming, found a perfect narrative gimmick in the ‘70s with a real-life subject: Nazi hunters, who scoured the globe unearthing war criminals who had escaped justice. Among the many novels on the subject, three about Nazis in hiding were high profile enough to earn major studio movie adaptations: Ira Levin’s The Boys from Brazil, William Goldman’s Marathon Man, and the only one directly inspired by fact, Frederick Forsythe’s The Odessa File, named after the actual ODESSA escape plan set up for SS officers near the end of World War II. The actual scope and validity of the organization remains debated to this day, but it made perfect material for the 1972 book and its big screen version coming hot on the heels of another Forsyth thriller, 1973’s The Day of the Jackal. Though incorporating real people, the fictionalized novel was altered significantly for the film (especially the ending) but, in a rare feat equaled by only a handful of other films, had an impact in real life when its villain, the real Eduard Roschmann, was publicly identified in South America and died before he could be officially extradited. Even more surprisingly, Simon Wiesenthal, the most famous real Nazi hunter of them all and a character in both the book and the film, later revealed he had influenced Forsyth and the filmmakers as a means of forcing the criminal out into the open. In this case, truth was really stranger than fiction.

The opening of the film quickly gives away the nefarious plot at its center, namely the use of West German technology at the hands of escaped Nazis to use Egyptian weaponry to wipe out Israel. How that plan is put The Odessa Fileinto action is the mission of German reporter Peter Miller (Voight), who tails an ambulance to the scene of a Holocaust survivor’s suicide on the same day Kennedy is assassinated in The Odessa File1963. The diary of the deceased puts Miller on the trailer of Roschmann (Maximilian Schell), a brutal SS officer who evaded capture. Miller further uncovers details about the ODESSA plan, which he investigates by going undercover as an SS veteran himself and putting his own life at risk to unveil the scheme to upend world order.

A fascinating and often gripping film, The Odessa File was yet another change of pace for British director and former David Lean collaborator Ronald Neame just after making Scrooge and The Poseidon Adventure.  His cast really delivers here with Voight and real-life siblings Maximilian and Maria Schell (their only film together) delivering grounded, convincing performances. Despite the PG rating it's also a pretty brutal piece of work at times including an impalement, bloody bullet wounds, and other mayhem sprinkled throughout. However, the most shocking thing about it might be the fact that the soundtrack was composed by none other than Andrew Lloyd Webber (during a lull between Jesus Christ Superstar and the troubled Jeeves), the same year fellow Broadway legend Stephen Sondheim was scoring Stavisky. Frequent collaborator Tim Rice even supplied lyrics for a couple of the songs, too, as they were warming up for Evita. Strange but true.

Despite its pedigree, The Odessa File never received a special edition until the 2018 U.K. Blu-ray release from Indicator, easily surpassed the no-frills (and less impressively encoded) U.S. Blu-ray from Image Entertainment issued in 2012. If you're familiar with other '70s Sony catalog HD transfers you'll have an idea of what to expect here: rich colors, deep and thick shadows throughout, and no attempts to tamper with the original grain structure. It's a real beauty, and the LPCM English mono track (with optional The Odessa FileEnglish SDH subtitles as usual) is also pristine. The film can also be played with 2003's The Odessa File"The BFI Interview with Ronald Neame" conversing for a bit over an hour with Matthew Sweet at London’s National Film Theatre, essentially providing an extensive biographical overview of his major dual film careers. The Lean material is fascinating of course as he dances around their acrimonious break-up, and he's full of stories about bouncing between big Hollywood productions and more scaled-down English ones. A third audio option is 2006's "The BFI Interview with Oswald Morris," again just over an hour, with the cinematographer joining Anwar Brett for a discussion following a screening of The Man Who Would Be King with a lot of material about John Huston, plus digressions about contemporary cinematographers he admired (Roger Deakins!), the use (or lack thereof) of Steadicams, and a few audience Q&As. In the new "Safe But Real" (2m31s), stunt man Vic Armstrong briefly chats about being Voight's stunt double and pulling off that harrowing train scene. Then "Foreign Friends” (6m17s) features continuity supervisor Elaine Schreyeck recalling her first work with Neame on Scrooge and the warm camaraderie they enjoyed from that point including this particular shoot. A condensed Super 8 version (16m48s) is fascinating as it tries to shoehorn a complex story into what amounts to a glorified trailer, with some interesting editorial license taken to make the final confrontation vaguely coherent. An image gallery compiles stills, international posters, and other odds and ends (a Perry Como 45!), while the usual essential limited edition booklet features new liner notes by Carmen Gray and Keith Johnston, a note from Neame, credits, and vintage review excerpts.

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Reviewed on August 31, 2018.