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The House on Garibaldi Street
MGM Limited Edition Collection

The House on Garibaldi Street
MGM Limited Edition Collection
1979 / Color / 1:33 full frame (TV movie) / 101 min. / Street Date May, 2012 / available through Screen Archives Entertainment / 19.95
Starring Topol, Nick Mancuso, Janet Suzman, Martin Balsam, Alfred Burke, Leo McKern, Charles Gray, Derren Nesbitt, John Bennett, John Cater, Edward Judd, Wolf Kahler.
Alejandro Ulloa
Film Editor Gene Fowler, Jr.
Original Music Charles Bernstein
Written by Steve Shagan, Isser Harel from his book
Produced by Mort Abrahams
Directed by Peter Collinson

Reviewed by Glenn Erickson

This 1979 TV movie recounts the hunt for Adolf Eichmann, an unusual and then- shocking event in which a sovereign government reached beyond its borders with secret agents to detect, kidnap and transport a man halfway across the world to stand trial. Israel spent twelve years watching 'friendly' countries refuse to indict Nazi war criminals, often enabling them to escape to hiding on other continents. In 1960 Israel bypassed diplomatic and legal channels and simply snatched a major Nazi villain from his quiet life in Buenos Aires, Argentina. A couple of other filmic accounts of this unilateral action were either over-dramatized or inaccurate. The humble The House on Garibaldi Street follows events with enough fidelity to provide a picture of what the mission was really like. The Israeli security officer on the case Isser Harel is the author of the film's source book.

Steve Shagan's screenplay decorates the case with a few trite personal conflicts of the participants, yet maintains a keen focus on the hard facts. In 1960 Isser Harel (Martin Balsam) becomes convinced that the escaped Nazi Adolf Eichmann, one of the top men in charge of the extermination of millions of Jews, gypsies and other minorities, is alive and living in Buenos Aires. With the blessing of David Ben Gurion (Leo McKern), agent Michael (Topol) leads a small group of operatives to Argentina, disguised as French businessmen. Prearranged contacts cautiously help the agents locate their prey. An official at the airport begins planning to help ferret Eichmann out of the country. A real estate agent (Derren Nesbitt) helps the agents snoop around properties recently occupied by Eichmann and his relatives. Michael's closest aides are Ari (Nick Mancuso) and Hedda (Janet Suzman). In various disguises, they locate one of Eichmann's sons, and then another working in a sewing machine repair shop. Pretending to be surveyors, they finally stumble onto Eichmann's residence on Garibaldi Street. Living under the name Ricardo Clement, Eichmann is working in a Mercedes-Benz factory.

The agents snatch Eichmann from the street but must hide him for more than a week while the suddenly- efficient local police search high and low for the missing man. The plan is to smuggle him out disguised as an injured airline employee, on a flight of Israelis in town to celebrate Argentina's independence. But the police are already at the airport and suspicious of the flight's manifest. Michael has given orders: in case of arrest, he alone will take responsibility for the kidnapping.

Governmentally sanctioned international kidnappings lacking the Israeli's historical justification are now blithely passed off with the Newspeak phrase "extraordinary rendition." But the Eichmann case was a huge topic in international politics, as it blew a hole in the Official Story of Allied diplomacy after WW2. Top Nazis including SS men were allowed to escape arrest. Some of them took important new posts in the West German government and businesses. By 1950 the C.I.A. was actively suppressing the truth about this process. Should any of these 'friendly' Nazis be arrested, they would have plenty to say about how the U.S. Army and even the Vatican came to their rescue, betraying any moral view of the WW2 victory. All of this was done in the interest of countering Soviet expansionism. In Argentina after Eichmann's capture, anti-Semitic riots ensued. If the Israelis sometimes seem cold and hostile to foreign opinion, it's more than partly due to the criminal injustice of these years.

The House on Garibaldi Street avoids these thorny issues and instead tells a straight story of daring heroes who happen to be playing the roles of kidnappers. The connection between Argentina and networks of Nazi fugitives becomes pretty clear when we see how careful the agents must be; the Argentine police watch them as closely as they dare. Eichmann is fairly easily taken but the pressure only mounts when the small group hide for days in a situation where they can all be arrested at any moment.

Many of the dialogue scenes discuss the mission's master plan and are fascinating. Others are flat exposition establishing Israeli's uncomfortable diplomatic position and its moral justification for what normally would be an international crime. These involve Martin Balsam and Leo McKern and shouldn't have to be so defensive in nature. They're also fairly clumsy: by 1960 David Ben-Gurion and his security chief would be beyond informing each other that the Nazis killed 6 million people, etc. That round-number figure pops up several times more in some fairly dreadful soul-searching monologues by Nick Mancuso, who we are supposed to accept as an experienced Mossad agent. He is nonetheless wracked with personal doubts about the morality of his mission. It's good that writer Steve Shagan lays out the very suspenseful mechanics of the kidnapping so well because these "whining and wailing" scenes are almost as bad as the ones given Jack Lemmon in Shagan's awful ode to self-pity, Save the Tiger.

Derren Nesbitt played his share of sick-o German SS men, so it's a nice switch to see him on the good side. The very classy English actress Janet Suzman has little to do except admit that she almost gave in to the temptation to poison Eichmann. Alfred Burke's Eichmann is an uncommonly accurate, un-sensationalized portrait of a man dubbed by Hannah Arendt as the embodiment of "The Banality of Evil". The slightly disoriented Eichmann never seems to realize what he's in for. He talks matter-of-factly into Michael's tape recorder about the logistical problems of murdering thousands, yet welcomes the trial as an opportunity to clear his name.

Edward Judd is a pilot with very few dialogue lines. Wolf Kahler plays a Buenos Aires real estate agent seemingly specializing in procuring quiet residences for rotten war criminals. Charles Gray is a haughty German émigré who carries the clout to direct the police investigation of Eichmann's disappearance. Once Eichmann is kidnapped, we see no more of his wife and sons.

The MGM Limited Edition Collection DVD-R of The House on Garibaldi Street looks rather good for a TV movie, with reasonably lively colors and a clear soundtrack. The composition of most scenes appears chosen to also work in widescreen for overseas feature use. The movie was filmed in Spain, which makes sense considering the image presented of Argentina as a happy rest home for fascist scum. Viewers interested in a really insightful and educational look at the harboring of Nazi war criminals by South American and U.S. interests will want to see Marcel Ophuls' eye-opening documentary Hôtel Terminus.

On a scale of Excellent, Good, Fair, and Poor, The House on Garibaldi Street rates:
Movie: Good
Video: Very Good
Sound: Very Good
Subtitles: None
Supplements: none
Packaging: Keep case
Reviewed: June 10, 2012

DVD Savant Text © Copyright 2012 Glenn Erickson

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