Eduard Roschmann was a real-life wanted war criminal living in South America. He became even more wanted after the book and movie, and he turned up dead, rumoured to have been killed by Odessa to stop the search for him that the media had begun.
The character played by Hannes Messemer is not referred to by name in the dialogue. However, it is intended to be SS-Gruppenführer Richard Glücks, former SS Inspector of Concentration Camps, who disappeared after World War II and is rumored to have been one of the founding members of the ODESSA.
From Hamburg, the film unit moved to what was to be its permanent base during the rest of the three and a half month shooting schedule: Munich's famous Bavaria Studios, considered at the time to be one of the most modern film-making facilities in the world. Other than a four-day detour to a location near Salzburg in Austria, where an Austrian castle was used as the palatial home of the character played by Maximilian Schell, all of the interior and exterior scenes were filmed at the studio, or in the environs of Munich.
Both producer John Woolf and director Ronald Neame were convinced that the film must be made in Germany in order to achieve the authenticity and atmosphere of the source Frederick Forsyth novel. Since the author had based his story on real-life happenings following long research, it would have done an injustice to the work to film it other than in a setting which would give it the presence of reality. Even the studio settings were filled with real props and the designs of Zehetbauer were carried out in real wood, brick, and steel.
The supporting cast was for the most part German. Most of the character actors were major film and theatre personalities of the German stage and screen. The English speaking players were given special coaching by dialogue director Osman Ragheb to acquire German accents which would be identical to those of the native actors. Not only did Jon Voight and Mary Tamm have to learn to use the accent, but had to do it with North German dialect nuances because of their characters' Hamburg origins in the story.
One of the unique scenes in the film took place in the well-known Salvator beer hall in Munich. Ex-soldiers were recruited to take part in a rally of former SS men with the beer running freely during the scenes to authenticate the enthusiasm.
Publicity for the picture stated -- and it was not generally known -- that the character of Eduard Roschmann in Frederick Forsyth's story, played here by Maximilian Schell, was taken from real life, and, of course, that there was a functioning Odessa organization during the 1960's when the action of "The Odessa File" takes place. To add to the verisimilitude of the film, the world's leading authority on Nazi war criminals, Simon Wiesenthal, was a special advisor to the producers on the real facts behind the suspenseful story. Wiesenthal, in fact, is actually a character in the film, and his part is played by a noted Israeli actor Shmuel Rodensky, who was the star of "Fiddler on the Roof" in its long-running German stage production.
To bring in a motion picture of this complexity and scope through an arduous schedule exactly on time is no small tribute to the expertise of the personnel who guided the film to its successful conclusion. One example of a problem surmounted happened in Hamburg, Germany when the scene representing the Riga Docks called for a heavy layer of snow. When the normally snow-and-ice-bound Hamburg determined to stay dry, the unit transported ice by the thousands of pounds on a string of barges, and with snow-making machinery, converted the dock into a realistic Latvian winter scene.
The movie's opening prologue by source novelist Frederick Forsyth reads: "This film is based on carefully documented research. There really was a secret society called Odessa, linking former members of Hitler's murderous SS, among them Roschmann, the 'butcher' of Riga Concentration Camp. Nasser [Gamal Abdel Nasser] did seek to perfect a strike force of 400 rockets to wipe Israel off the face of the map. His key scientists were mostly from Hitler's former rocket programme. For obvious reasons the names of some people and places have been changed - Frederick Forsyth."
Jon Voight was chosen to play the key role of Peter Miller, a young German journalist whose quest for a former concentration camp commandant, played by Maximilian Schell, leads him into conflict with the sinister Odessa organization which protects former war criminals. Mary Tamm, a then young English actress who had appeared in only one film previously, was signed to portray Sigi, a nightclub entertainer and Miller's girl-friend.
On a bitterly cold January day in the city of Hamburg, Germany, "The Odessa File" went before the cameras. For the next two weeks, the streets and docks of the northern-metropolis, its Elbe tunnel, and the glittering Reeperbahn, became backgrounds for the movie.
Jon Voight, a dedicated and superb actor, was on the set virtually throughout the filming, with the script calling for his appearance in 80% of the scenes. The production notes declared that the part was (at least at the time) perhaps Voight's most grueling screen role. Welcome breaks on the set included regular visits from his wife Marcheline Bertrand and their then infant son, Jamie, who became the pet of the cast and crew.
Final cinema movie music score [to date, December 2015] composed by Andrew Lloyd Webber. It was only Webber's second for a theatrical feature film after his music score for the earlier film Gumshoe (1971).
Because of the long work week, it became tradition for the unit to have a company party on the set each Saturday night with either the cast or production personnel sponsoring the party. Highlight of "The Odessa File" party season was a Saturday night when a couple of the younger members of the crew streaked through the throng. The still photographer was so surprised he forgot to photograph the historic event.