Shot on the actual location where the events took place, the classic TV movie is new on Blu-ray from KL Studio Classics
21 Hours at Munich is now available on Blu-ray from Kino Lorber Studio Classics.
This Blu-ray edition includes both full frame and widescreen versions of the film, so this article utilizes screen captures from both. The comparisons are made as closely as possible, but are not necessarily the exact same frames.
In 1972’s Olympic Games at München, a group of terrorists, members of an organization called Black September, famously stormed the Olympic Village, taking several Israeli athletes hostage. After a tense day of negotiations and a rescue attempt, the event ended in tragedy.
21 Hours at Munich, which hit screens in 1976, tells the story.
There’s an immediacy to this telling, which released only 4 years after the event. As footnoted at the opening, it’s a true story shot on the actual locations where they took place. It’s a kind of realism that I don’t think could be manufactured so authentically, and has even made me rethink my aversion to filmmaking that’s “pulled from the headlines” of recent events. Historically, this is not only a retelling of a then-recent event, shot where it occurred, but a snapshot of our feelings about it.
Italian superstar Franco Nero features as “Issa” (real name Luttif Afif), the head of the terrorists, intelligent and passionate but willing to murder in the name of his cause — namely, the freedom of many of his imprisoned comrades which include his brother.
The great William Holden stars as Manfred Schreiber, who opposes Issa and his unit, heading up the counter-response and negotiations with as much ferocity and tact as he can muster.
Holden and Nero are terrific actors and make compelling opponents in this battle of wits, though they both seem to brace somewhat against their characters’ nationalities. Nero does an excellent job with the role, but it does ultimately seem a little weird that he’s playing an Arab. Holden plays his role with conviction and determination, but no differently than he would an American character.
Actress Shirley Knight fares better than either, putting on a subtly Ingrid Bergman-esque performance as Anneliese Graes, a police officer who acted as a mediator between the sides, emotionally appealing to Issa’s better nature and trying to convince him to cease the group’s hostilities.
While it would be a fallacy to mistake films for reality, this telling of a tragedy is both effective and educational for understanding the event in its historical context, especially as it approaches its fiftieth anniversary and gradually recedes from recent memory.
The film was originally aired as an ABC television movie, which also brings up an interesting point — 1970s TV movies, shot on film, are more cinematic and “real movies” to my eyes than a lot of what screens theatrically these days.
The Aspect Ratios
This home video edition of the film includes both the theatrical and television versions of the film, 1.78 and 1.33 respectively.
As the screen comparisons indicate, the 1:33 version is the full frame, while the theatrical 1.78 version is cropped. Other than the framing the versions appear to be nearly identical with no major differences in color or clarity.
Like many TV movies it appears the film was shot with both aspect ratios in mind (as such TV films often screened theatrically in international markets), and it tends to center the action. Neither version seems “obviously better”, the 1.33 is arguably the original vision, while the 1.78 version seems more suitable for modern televisions and suffers no significant loss for its tighter vision.
Special Features and Extras
- Audio Commentary by Film Historian/Screenwriter Gary Gerani
- Theatrical Trailer (2:34)
- Promo Trailers — Additional theatrical trailers for other KL Studio Classics titles: The Devil’s Brigade (3:46), Enter the Ninja (2:53), Juggernaut (2:54), The Mercenary (1:53), and The Revengers (2:10)
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Except where noted, all 16:9 screen images in this review are direct captures from the disc(s) in question with no editing applied, but may have compression or resizing inherent to file formats and Medium’s image system.