The Odessa File (1974)

Want a serious spy movie that isn’t a grim le Carré or Melville film?  This one isn’t half bad.

At times you find yourself wondering why Miller is going to such extremes even for the valid reason of bringing a Nazi war criminal to justice.  Altruism gets you pretty far but the personal vendetta didn’t make much sense to me until the end.  The reporter going undercover angle made more sense to me but then Voight went beyond just an amazing story and surprised me a little.  I suppose as an audience we were supposed to assume this made sense and go along with it until we get the truth.

Roschmann was an interesting device for a point in cinematic history and social history where the escape of incognito sleeper Nazis hidden in normal society was a very big deal (Marathon Man, The Quiller Memorandum, The House on Garibaldi Street, etc. etc. etc.).  The question at the heart of it all is really “What is the statue of limitations on the Holocaust?” followed closely with “What are the legal and moral obligations of the nations of the world on capture and extradition of war criminals?” and finally, severally, by “What are the differences between punishment meted out by the individual or by society, what rights are afforded really terrible people and what are the internal implications for the avenger who executes vigilante justice?”

Nazi hunter Simon Wiesenthal’s influence on the film is a fascinating subtext to the movie, with his successful effort to use the movie to force the real Eduard Roschmann into the open.

It’s a complicated moral issue.  Is it right to kill a man who was a willing and ardent participant in the Holocaust?  If yes, then what is the minimum number of deaths can he be responsible for and still justify his own murder?  Which is the greater motive for his punishment, a personal tragedy or genocide?  Does it change society’s thirst for justice if the man is presented as a monster or revealed as an appalling, but still human being, as Eichmann was?  Who bears the onus for seeing war criminals punished especially if the victims are incapable of seeking that justice?  What wrongs are committed in pursuit of that justice?

I do think it was odd that Miller’s girlfriend was a stripper…