21 Hours at Munich remains a surprisingly competent retelling of the horrific hostage taking events at the 1972 Olympic games. The made for tv flick (from 1976, only 4 years later), portrays this gripping and emotional story with fluid faithfulness. Despite or because of the film's dated-ness, it continues to be compelling. Unfortunately, the dvd has no extras (it would have been great to include the documentary), but is still recommended for the film itself.
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36 of 36 people found the following review helpful
A solid television movie on the Munich massacre of 1972Feb. 4 2006
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I can tell you up front that "21 Hours at Munich" is a much more detailed look at that Olympic massacre in 1972 than you will find in Steven Spielberg's film "Munich." In point of fact, Spielberg is not telling the story of what happened on September 5, 1972 in his film but exploring its aftermath. This made for television movie aired in 1976 (in November, so it was after the Montreal Summer Olympics that year). The release of the film two decades later was certainly motivated by the impending release of Spielberg's Oscar nominated film, but since it is an earnest dramatization of the events of that day, it will make an appropriate counterpart to the theatrical film.
The screenplay by Howard Fast (writer of the novel "Spartacus") and Edward Hume ("The Day After") is based on Serge Groussard's book "The Blood of Israel and focuses on what happened in Munich, part of what was then West Germany, that day in September when a group of Palestinian terrorists calling themselves Black September invaded the dormitory rooms of the Israeli athletes, killing two of them and taking another nine hostage. Issa (Franco Nero), the leader of the terrorists, demands the release of 250 Palestinian prisoners being held by Israel, but Prime Minister Golda Meir (Else Quecke) flatly refused to deal with the terrorists. This left it to the German government to try and rescue the hostages. Chief of Police Manfred Schreiber (William Holden) became the point man for their efforts, although Chancellor Willy Brandt (Richard Basehart) and Interior Minister Bruno Merk (Noel Willman) are involved in the fatal decisions as the lives of Jewish men are once again in the hands of the German government, this time with the whole world watching. Having Holden take the lead role certainly invests the German effort with a level of competence, but this is not a story where the best intentions come to mean anything in the end.
If you were alive in 1972 then you probably still have a vivid memory of learning from ABC's sports anchor Jim McKay that despite early reports to the contrary all of the hostages were killed. So it is given that when you watch this television movie that you know what is going to happen in the end. At the time of the actual 21 hours of hostage drama we were only getting bits and pieces of what was actually happening, so "21 Hours at Munich" puts together the details in a vivid fashion. But there is also a sense in which we watch this film trying to pick the key moments where things could have been different and all these deaths avoided. I saw "Munich" today, and the first preview was for "Flight 93," about the plane that crashed in Pennsylvania on September 11th. I saw a television movie about the flight on cable last week and I found myself doing the same thing I did with "21 Hours at Munich," trying to find a moment when if the passengers had acted the outcome might have been different (they waited until the plane was over rural country before making their move, sealing their fates while saving others, which is certainly their legacy).
A film that shows a group of men with their hands and feet tied being murdered by other men with machine guns and grenades obviously takes sides. The film limits itself to this 21-hour period without getting into the politics that came before or after it. Director William A. Graham ("Guyana Tragedy: The Story of Jim Jones") also takes sides by allow Issa to explain the goals and objectives of his group and people to the point that they become irrelevant because we can no longer get past the obvious fact that he and the other members of Black September are holding guns on hostages. Then again, knowing that all of the hostages will be dead effectively poisons the pool. But ultimately, "21 Hours at Munich" is a rather clinical record of what happened at that time and place, leaving the rhetoric and public debate to other films and other venues.
2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
2 starsJan. 6 2013
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The best thing about this movie is that it was filmed at the actual places where the events took place. It is a very poorly acted movie. I suggest the documentary "One Day in September" which has a lot of actual news footage from the incident.
1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
Solid TV-Movie Dramatization of Historic TragedyDec 25 2013
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Television has always been quick to capitalize on real-life crime tragedies, and few such events were as earthshaking as the kidnapping of Israeli athletes at the 1972 Munich Olympics and the crime's eventual tragic resolution. 21 Hours at Munich is a surprisingly well made recreation of those events that boasts a cast considerably above the TV-movie norm.
William Holden stars as the German cop in charge of the investigation and negotiations, while Franco Nero plays the chief terrorist. Unlike Steven Spielberg's Munich, this movie concentrates solely on the crime itself, beginning by showing how the terrorists easily enter the Olympic Village and are able to subdue most of the members of the Israeli team. From there, it's a cat-and-mouse game of negotiations and threats between terrorists and police.
Holden is solid, and his casting was undoubtedly a coup for a TV movie of the week (the film was made immediately before he got his last Oscar nomination for Network). He makes no pretense at speaking with a German accent which some may find disconcerting, although if you are interested in what he is saying it shouldn't matter. His character is well aware of the importance of what they do and how the world will view it, which leads to eventual bickering among the police, military, and political leaders (including Richard Basehart as Willy Brandt).
Similarly, Nero is solid and grounded. The movie wisely avoids turning him into a wide-eyed fanatic; instead, he is a professionally determined man with a dangerous political agenda. By keeping the two leads as competent, solid professionals, the movie is able to build suspense, even if the eventual resolution is well known in advance.
21 Hours at Munich is a well grounded film that does not attempt to look at the wider picture of Mideast terrorism or the overall politics of the time. Instead, it's a solid, gripping procedural that, despite the limited budget of a TV-movie, succeeds at showing how a horrible crime happened step by step from beginning to end.
After watching this movie for about 40 minutes, I had to turn it off because I was so distracted by the miscasting of William Holden as the German Chief of Police and Franco Nero as the Leader of (and Chief Negotiator for) the Palestinian Terrorists that I couldn't concentrate on the story being told. Maybe my standzads are too high, but when actors portray characters of another country, I expect to hear accents and see mannerisms characteristic of that country. Neither actor delivered in this regard. William Holden played William Holden in this movie; every time I heard him speak, I had to remind myself that he was supposed to be portraying Germany's Police Chief, and not some American diplomat assigned to help resolve the Munich crisis. Nero similarly failed to present a believable character; rather his French accent combined with the numerous close-ups of him (& his blue eyes) made me think of his role as Lancelot in Camelot (a characterization in which he was very convincing). The movie (at least what I saw of it) did have some good points in authentically "re-creating" the clothing styles of the 1970's and in its "snapshots" of the Olympics environment, including its wide-angle aerial views of the Olympic Village & event spectators. I also thought that the performances of Shirley Knight as a representative of the Olympics Committee and the woman who played Golda Meir were pretty credible.
Impactful Movie Despite ShortcomingsAug. 21 2014
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Of course it is not technically perfect and some of the acting is wooden, but the movie is an honest and unbiased account of the tragedy in Munich. I appreciate that it was not made fraught with emotion and suspense. Suspense was unnecessary as I am certain no one who watched this movie did not know how it ended. And the impact of watching the Israeli athletes and coaches die is pure, gut-wrenching and no less difficult to watch than if it just happened.