With an important theme about the nature of guilt and the promise of a teasing battle of wits, this is an interesting feature that lets the tension run slack, being afflicted with galloping inflation of its running-time.
Plot opens in Nazi-occupied Warsaw in 1942, with a prostie being brutally murdered and the killer being recognized as wearing the uniform of a German general. But that’s the only clue for Major Grau (Omar Sharif), the Military Intelligence man in charge of the hunt, and he establishes that only three brasshats could have committed the crime, having insufficient alibis.
One is Tanz (Peter O’Toole), a ruthless and devoted Nazi who destroys a quarter of Warsaw as an exercise in discipline. Another is Kahlenberge (Donald Pleasence), a cynical opportunist who has few scruples, but plenty ingenuity. And the third suspect is the pompous Galber (Charles Gray).
Adapted from Hans Helmut Kirst’s bitter novel, the story is told in flashback and the technique adds to the somewhat languid effect. But the chief factor militating against conviction is the central performance by O’Toole, which lacks the firm savagery Tanz seems to require.