In New York, the brother of an infamous Nazi war criminal in hiding is killed in a head-on collision with an oil truck. Shortly thereafter, members of a covert U.S. government group called the Division begin being murdered one by one. Meanwhile, graduate student and marathon runner Thomas "Babe" Levy researches history as his father, who committed suicide after the Communist witch hunts of the McCarthy era ruined his reputation. When he sees his brother, one Division member, stabbed to death, it is revealed that Christian Szell, the White Angel of Auschwitz, is wrapping up loose ends to smuggle priceless diamonds from the United States. Written by
Anthony Hughes <email@example.com>
Ghosts of the Holocaust on New York City streets...
Dustin Hoffman looks in great shape playing a Columbia graduate student, still haunted by his father's suicide (and perhaps in training for the New York marathon), who gets mixed up by proxy in his nefarious older brother's activities; seems his sibling has been working secretly as a courier in stolen gems, and has run afoul of Szell, a.k.a. The White Angel, the most notorious Nazi war-criminal still alive. Director John Schlesinger exercises a gleefully nasty side here, staging some dental torture scenes that are just about impossible to watch, yet not all of the pieces in William Goldman's adaptation of his own bestseller fit accordingly; Schlesinger just presses ahead so that the story gaps won't be so noticeable. There's much zig-zagging across the continents at the beginning, with red herrings, street bombs, and character intricacies just swept under the carpet. We learn so little about Hoffman's brother (played by an equally fit Roy Scheider) that, by the film's climax, we still don't know whose side he was he on--or why his cohorts lost trust in him. Marthe Keller's German mystery beauty is another character muddle, a pretense of writer Goldman who was really out to stack this deck against Hoffman's runner. Laurence Olivier's knife-wielding Nazi beast is perplexing as well, alternating a steely coldness with an aged confusion (why, for instance, is he staking out jewelry stores just for today's market values--isn't the diamond trade this man's forte?). The film could have eased up a bit on the torture scenes (which aren't really suspenseful as much as they excruciating) and been a bit more clear-headed about the chess game taking place. It leaves a bushel of questions behind, though it is a handsome piece of work, well-cast and with an intrinsically satisfying finale. *** from ****
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