The Odessa File

The Odessa File (1974)
Image Entertainment
Cast: Jon Voight, Maximilian Schell, Mary Tamm, Maria Schell

"The Odessa File" is one of those movies that, despite being very good, you tend to overlook all too often, and then begin to let it fade away into the back of your mind. Fortunately, Image Entertainment now give us the chance to re-experience the film in its full glory in a wonderful high definition presentation.
digitally mastered new transfer. Based on a novel by Frederick Forsyth, the author who was responsible for some of the most impressive thriller adaptations during the 70s, "The Odessa File" once again masterfully blurs the lines between fiction and reality.

Peter Miller (Jon Voight) is a freelance news writer and photographer in Hamburg, Germany during 1963. Hamburg is flourishing and usually there is plenty to write about, but Miller is very selective with what he is reporting about. One night he stumbles into the scene of a suicide. Nothing remarkable according to the police, but a diary falls into Millers hands. The diary of the old man who just gassed himself in his apartment.

Miller takes the diary home and begins reading, only to uncover the horrors of the NAZI regime during World War II. The old man was Jewish and spend part of the war incarcerated in a Polish concentration camp under the inhuman grasp of SS Captain Eduard Roschmann (Maximilian Schell). Piece by piece the diary unravels the cruelty, the torture and inhumanity Roschmann put the people in the camp through, in a rage that did not even exclude his fellow NAZI comrades.

Interested and deeply moved by what he reads, Miller tries to find out whether Roschmann had ever been to justice after the war and realizes that the man is still at large and has constantly escaped the arm of the law. He is determined to track down the notorious war criminal and starts his own manhunt. But soon he discovers that he is not up against a single man. Under the surface of society, an organization has formed, called the ODESSA, that protects and re-establishes its fugitive SS war criminals. Before long he finds himself amidst an army of underground NAZIs, waiting to strike and once again dominate the world with their rule.

Most of "The Odessa File" has been shot in Germany, giving the film a distinctive look – and sound, I may say. Heavy accents dominate the film, but also authentic settings of Hamburg and especially its St. Pauli district during the 70s. The photography also gives the movie a stark and almost somber look at times, used to emphasize the coldness and inhumanity of the story at hand.

Jon Voight does a good job as newspaperman Peter Miller, although I found his acting a little too overt and loud. Many times it feels as if he is not talking but shouting his lines in an attempt to be heard. Apart from that minor distraction, "The Odessa File" is a harsh and forceful movie, that reminds viewers that under the surface of any society, forces and powers are brewing, only waiting to boil over. In fact, "The Odessa File" is much more a social-critic movie about society's obliviousness towards such forces, rather than a drama to bring justice to an animalistic war criminal.

Image Entertainment is presenting "The Odessa File" in a beautiful 1080p high definition transfer on this Blu-Ray Disc in the movie's original theatrical 2.35:1 aspect ratio. Unlike the DVD version, this high definition transfer exhibits notably less grain and renders an image that is stable an clean throughout. Color reproduction is also stronger and more balanced than on the DVD version, making this release a worthy upgrade for fans, as it accurately reproduces the somewhat muted 70s color palette created during the production.
The transfer holds a good level of definition, making sure to render even minute details with a gusto, while bringing out the depth of the image with solid black levels and a perfectly balanced image.

The disc contains the original mono English language track of the movie in a lossless PCM 2.0 format, supplementing it with a variety of subtitles. Due to the technical limitations of the production at the time the movie was originally produced, the audio sounds a little harsh with a limited frequency range. There is no notable bass extension and the music, as well as many sound effects appear flat, creating an atmosphere that oftentimes sounds very artificial. As I mentioned, this is due to the technical restrictions of the time however and not necessarily a fault of the release.

Unfortunately, the release does not contain any extras, not even the sparse notes and trailers from the DVD release. A commentary track would have been a great addition, given the fact that parts of the story are based on real events. It would also have been very interesting to learn how the political atmosphere was during the shooting of the film on location in Hamburg where the NAZI history is a very sensitive subject.

After all these years and despite the fact that "The Odessa File" has visibly aged quite noticeably, it is still a powerful thriller. Especially the climax of the movie comes across very nicely as it contains and exposes elements of the story that seemed completely insignificant before. Skillfully written with great diversions for viewers to keep guessing, this thriller keeps you on the edge for its entire length, and featuring a first class cast, this movie is undoubtedly one of the most memorable and powerful political thrillers of the 70s.