Peter Miller: [Peter Miller's first lines; he pulls to the curb after hearing about the assassination of John F. Kennedy on the radio] Events that can change history sometimes hang on tiny chances. If I hadn't pulled to the curb, I wouldn't have caught the traffic light, nor seen the ambulance, never have heard of Salomon Tauber or Eduard Roschmann. Nor got involved with the agents of Israel, or with the sinister and deadly men behind the Odessa. That night I was just a reporter with a nose for a possible story.
Peter Miller: [in disgust, to Roschmann] You are not even worth a bullet!
Israeli General: [Opening scene, in Israel] Hannah, would you mind? What I am going to tell you is, of course, top secret. The Egyptians have rockets based at Helwan. The targets are Acre, Haifa, Tel Aviv-Jaffa. That would be the first strike. The second strike would straddle the whole country. The rockets will have special warheads. They will contain bubonic plague and strontium. If it succeeds, it will be the end of Israel.
[Miller is trying to sell his editor a story based on the diary]
Eduard Roschmann: Is that why you came? Because of the diary of some old Jew? A dead man's diary is no evidence.
CoverUps.com Rating: 3 UFOs
By the CoverUps.com staff
Watching "The Odessa File" now makes you realize how far downhill modern cinema has gone in the thriller genre. Here is a movie which doesn't do anything that most other competent thrillers of the time don't also do — but it sucks you in and keeps you involved as it tells its tale. There are no tricks, no ridiculous CGI-fueled action sequences — just a book which has been skillfully adapted into a movie that thrives on atmosphere and a performance from Jon Voight demonstrating what a great actor he was back in the '70s — a male lead in his prime.
Freelance journalist Peter Miller (Jon Voight) finds himself in possession of a diary written by an elderly Jewish man who has committed suicide. It recounts his time in a POW camp where SS Captain Eduard Roschmann (Maximilian Schell) earned the nickname "The Butcher" for his brutal treatment of Jews. The diary touches Peter in a way he never imagined possible. Realizing Roschmann is still alive and an active part of a secret SS group called the ODESSA, Miller sets about tracking him down and bringing him to justice as a war criminal, putting himself and his girlfriend Sigi (Mary Tamm) into harm's way in the process.
While Frederick Forsyth deserves praise for writing the novel on which "The Odessa File" is based, director Ronald Neame deserves just as much praise for making it work cinematically. And one of the key things Neame does is get us on Miller's side very quickly. Our introduction to him as he tracks a police car and ambulance in search of a story initially paints him in a shallow, disparaging light, but when we watch him read the dead man's diary it is moving — we feel what Peter feels: compassion and anger. That, dear reader, is how character development is effectively and efficiently done.
How much truth is there to the notion of secret organizations bent on helping war criminals stay hidden from justice? Hard to say. But in this telling it's believable enough. As such you get that dawning realization ride as Peter starts to comprehend that ODESSA is not some small old boys club but a powerful organization with members in important positions across the globe. And we see how his snooping leads him to become a problem for them with an attempt on his life, a short but brilliant scene which establishes the organization's deadly seriousness.
The funny thing is this: for the most part, what happens in "The Odessa File" is nothing new. The way the plot unfolds, with Peter slowly learning things while both his and Sigi's lives are endangered is, cinematically speaking, no big deal. It's the same bag of tricks peddled to audiences by many a thriller back in the '70s. But it's all delivered with great style and atmosphere — and that's what makes it worth watching. When Peter is immersed in the training process you can feel the tension as some of what he is taught leaves him deeply troubled, and when the time finally comes to do the work you have to wonder — can he pull it off convincingly? This is why we can say that after you watch "The Odessa File", the mediocrity of modern thrillers is painfully obvious.
With the exception of two supporting performances — from Mary Tamm as Sigi and Maximilian Schell as Roschmann — "The Odessa File" belongs to Jon Voight. His performance as Peter Miller is magnificent, in fact one of his best, but there is no big acting on display, no scenery chewing. It's all about the calm, measured performance of a character and how he changes as he pursues Roschmann and closes in on him. It's the small things, the eyes under questioning, the fear manifesting as subtle twitches when Peter knows he's in trouble.
It all boils down to the fact that "The Odessa File" in many ways is typical of a '70s thriller. But in this case "typical" is high praise, because even now, nearly 30 years after its release, it stands head and shoulders above far too many contemporary thrillers.