The premise of this film is very simple and very implausible. An aged former Nazi (Laurence Olivier) has “escaped justice,” ending up in New York. He has a stash of diamonds in a safety deposit box worth tens of millions of dollars. He wants to get them out and go back to safety in Uruguay, but he’s afraid he is being watched and might be robbed while leaving the bank with such a hoard. Put yourself in his shoes and guess which of the following plans would make sense to get the loot out of the bank:
1. Find an anonymous friend or cousin — even if you have to fly him in from somewhere else in the world — to go into the bank like any other customer and get the stuff.
2. Lease an armored transport company to carry the stash out of the bank.
3. Hire a large staff of cronies to set off a bomb in a baby carriage, slit the throat of some Arab antique dealer at the opera, try to assassinate a double-agent (Roy Scheider) in Paris, but failing that, lethally wound him in NY, let him get away and crawl bloodied through the streets of Manhattan to his brother (“Babe” Levy, played by Dustin Hoffman), then kidnap and torture Levy dentally to find out “if it’s safe,” let him seem to be rescued by more agents, get him again, torture him again, then after determining that he doesn’t know anything, take him outside, but he escapes, so use a foxy German babe to lure him to a country farm house to be killed, slash a passer-by in the diamond-dealing district using a wrist-mounted switchblade, and finally, when all that has failed, just walk into the bank and get the diamonds.
Hint: this is not literature; it is Hollywood. By now, you should have guessed that Olivier settles on plan (3).
As my summary indicates, the plot is contrived and absurd at every single step, so much so that you can’t believe you are continuing to watch it. But it is the hollow and stock-stereotyped characters that finally mark this as the work of a literary hack. The criminal writer is “William Goldman,” aka Simon Morgenstern.
Actually, that judgment only applies if the film actually intended to be literature. If instead we see the movie as a cunning and sustained anti-gentilic smear, we should compliment “Simon Morgenstern” on a job well done.
The history of the warfare of the Judaica against Christian America exactly parallels the history of Hollywood, and this film opens a new chapter. The ante is upped to include explicit blasphemy, slander, the rape and slaying of the shicksa, and in short the degradation of everything that we hold dear. I will illustrate this claim with a few examples.
It is not about just any Nazi: no, this Nazi was a dentist at Auschwitz that knocked gold out of jews’ teeth “before he burned them.” And guess what his name is.
Christian. Get it?
In case you think this is just a coincidence, consider the scene in which “Christian” is introduced. As he gazes out the window, the camera pans across his desk, on which is a newspaper “Christ und Welt” (German for The Christian and the World — but even lacking German, the word “Christ” would plant a meme in the American audience).
Then, as the camera continues to pan, it reaches a cluster of human skulls. Get it? See what happens when Christ/Christian meets the world!
His last name is Szell, which sounds like an odd foreign way to say “sell.” This Christian will sell people for anything: money is all he wants. Thus, a deliberate reversal of the centuries-ratified stereotype of the Talmudic jew.
On the other hand, Levy’s nickname “Babe” reinforces the idea of the jew as innocent and harmless.
On Yom Kippur, Szell’s brother Klaus leaves the diamonds in a safety deposit box, then tries to drive off. His car stalls. He is taunted by a hook-nosed Semite who shouts, “you anti-semitic bastard you.” All over, people with yalmakas are hanging around. (Sounds like a typical snapshot of Americana, no?)
The torture sequence hinges on Szell wanting to know, “is it safe?” Levy “must” know because Szell’s people know Levy’s brother got to him before he died. But why did they leave the brother not-dead in the first place, then? This can only be plausibly answered if they wanted him to get there and spill the beans; but what beans? and what possible reason would they have for thinking he could get there while so severely wounded? and that he actually would use his dying breath to mix his brother up in all the cloak and dagger?
The real question should be, “is it safe” to be torturing people in the middle of Manhattan? But no slander however outrageous is out of bounds if dealing with a Nazi.
Levy is a graduate student writing a dissertation on all the ways America has been oppressive. Professor Biesenthal (Fritz Weaver) suggests focusing on McCarthy in the dissertation. McCarthy framed Levy’s father, who though “innocent” committed suicide as a result of the persecution: but Levy knows the problem is much much deeper than that. Much deeper! Coolidge breaking up strikes. Roosevelt putting Japanese into concentration camps. McCarthy is only scratching the surface!
So we see that the ruthless, inhuman, torturing Nazi is really just a symbol for America itself. The connection is reinforced in various other ways. For example, (1) the beautiful prairie-like farmhouse (read: middle America) whither (2) the tall, pretty Aryan girl (Marthe Keller) takes Levy after his escape from the torturer — only to find that she is in with Szell too and is set to betray him.
But she gets her just deserts! Earlier, after the short, beady-eyed Levy first seduced her she pants, “Oh no, not again; I can’t.” But he is powerful and could do it!
Near the end, in a sewer scene our literary genius cribbed right out of Third Man, Levy asks “all this happened because you might be robbed?” then ejaculates our Savior’s holy name: not in worship, but as a reviling oath.
As if to say, “also your god is about to go down into the sewer, you $*%! Christian!”
Cornered by the ever-nimble Levy, the Nazi taunts “you won’t [shoot me]; you can’t. You’re too weak. Your father was weak in his way; your brother in his; and now you in yours. You are all so predictable” and then spits in Levy’s face.
That is simply incredible, both as to any known German character and for the situation. But again, no slander however outrageous is out of bounds if dealing with a Nazi.
Indeed, Levy doesn’t kill him directly. Dustin Hoffman is Jewish, he says in the on-DVD interview, so he couldn’t kill Olivier in cold blood.
The Nazi and the America he symbolizes deserve to be killed; but a jew is far too kind to contemplate such a thing!