The Odessa File

The Odessa File

Frederick Forsyth’s novels usually make for good movies. The Day of the Jackal (1973, our review here) and The Fourth Protocol (1987, review here) are among my favorite Cold War-era films. The Odessa File (1974) is not in the same league.

Not having read the novel, I can’t say if it’s the story or the adaptation. It sounds good on paper, though. The year is 1963. A West German journalist (Jon Voight) stumbles on the diary of a recently deceased survivor of the Riga Ghetto. He takes it upon himself to hunt down the SS officer who ran it. That brings him into contact with the famed Nazi hunter Simon Wiesenthal (Shmuel Rodensky) and ODESSA, a secret organization of former SS members.

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The Fourth Protocol

The Fourth Protocol

Frederick Forsyth’s The Fourth Protocol (1984) was turned into a movie, starring Michael Caine and Pierce Brosnan, only three years after it was published. Given that the film largely follows the plot of the book, I’ll cover both in this review.

In the novel, it is the infamous British defector Kim Philby who helps draw up a Soviet plot to detonate a nuclear weapon in Britain and trigger a Labour victory. A left-wing government (Neil Kinnock had yet to defeat far-left Militant entryists at the time) would — the Russians hoped — withdraw the United Kingdom from NATO, kick the Americans out and give up the country’s nuclear deterrent.

To make it seem like an accident, the Soviets plan to smuggle in the nuclear weapon in stages, assemble it in Britain and detonate it near an American military base. This would violate the fictional Fourth Protocol to the 1968 Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty, which supposedly banned the non-conventional delivery of nuclear weapons.

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Topaz

Topaz

Topaz has a lot to work with. Based on the real-life Martel affair, in which a Soviet defection triggered a crisis in American-French relations, it has a good spy story, believable characters and exotic locations.

Alfred Hitchcock does a competent job weaving it all together, but the end result somehow lacks momentum.

The story sounds exciting on paper. A high KGB official defects to the United States and reveals the presence of nuclear missiles on Cuba. The CIA recruit a French secret agent, André Devereaux (Frederick Stafford), to get proof from a member of the Cuban delegation — who would not cooperate with an American — that is visiting New York for the United Nations.

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The Day of the Jackal

The Day of the Jackal

When French president Charles de Gaulle agreed to Algerian self-determination in 1961, his right-wing supporters were outraged. They had returned the general to power only three years earlier so he could put down the bloody uprising in France’s most prized colony. Some of the pieds-noirs, the Algerian French, and their sympathizers in the army banded together in the paramilitary Organisation de l’armée secrète (OAS) to stop the independence process with assassinations and bombings.

The Day of the Jackal, based on Frederick Forsyth’s novel of the same name, fictionalizes the group’s plots against De Gaulle.

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Seven Days in May

Seven Days in May

Seven Days in May, based on the highly successful novel of the same name by Charles W. Bailey II and Fletcher Knebel, tells the story of an attempted military putsch in the United States.

It’s the early 1970s. An unpopular President Jordan Lyman (Fredric March) has signed a nuclear disarmament treaty with the Soviet Union and is facing strong opposition from the military and the right. The charismatic Air Force General James Mattoon Scott (Burt Lancaster) has convinced all but one of the Joint Chiefs of Staff to support him in a coup against the president. Colonel Jiggs Casey (Kirk Douglas), director of the Joint Staff, finds out about the plan and teams up with Lyman to stop it.

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The Legend of Tarzan

The Legend of Tarzan

There have been dozens and dozens adaptations of the famous books by Edgar Rice Burroughs of which The Legend of Tarzan is the latest in line.

This version is a bit of a mixed bag. They do take a good amount of parts from the books, such as Jane Porter being an accomplished adventuress in her own right and not a damsel in distress, and including the legendary city of Opar (without any of the actual literary backstory and with different characters) and couple it to some historic facts about the Belgian occupation of the Congo. With a lot of fiction added in, of course.

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Alice Through the Looking Glass

Alice Through the Looking Glass

Tim Burton’s sequel to his Alice in Wonderland adaptation from a few years ago is once again based on a book by Lewis Carroll, this time Through the Looking Glass and What Alice Found There, published in 1871.

As far as adaptations go, this is very liberal. Burton doesn’t follow the book much at all, uses very little elements of it and weaves them into what is essentially a sequel to his previous Alice movie. If you haven’t seen that one, make sure you do before you see Alice Through the Looking Glass or you’ll be very confused.

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The Man from U.N.C.L.E.

The Man from U.N.C.L.E.

Guy Ritchie — maker of the two recent steampunky Sherlock Holmes movies starring Robert Downey, Jr. — gives us a great spy-fi comedy adventure this summer that dieselpunk fans ought to be interested in.

Although the The Man from U.N.C.L.E., based on the 1960s television series of the same name, takes place in the post-dieselpunk era, it contains many of the genre’s tropes and themes: spies, unrepentant Nazis in a plot against the two superpowers, missing nuclear weapons, speedboats, helicopters, industrial decors reminiscent of Thunderbirds and dashing Space Age costumes.

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