One Day in September

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Riveting documentary about 1972 Munich Olympic massacre

Feb 19, 2010 (Updated Feb 22, 2010)
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  • User Rating: Excellent

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Pros:DVD-transfer, editing, candid interviews, especially Ankie Spitzer and Heinz Hohensinn

Cons:closing montage; lack of bonus features

The Bottom Line: Shocking ineptitude


Plot Details: This opinion reveals everything about the movie's plot.

The Oscar-winning 1999 documentary “One Day in September” directed by Kevin Macdonald’s (Emeric Pressburger's grandson, director of "The Last King of Scotland", "Touching the Void") starts with a "Willkommen!" to Munich for the Olympics video. The 1972 Summer Olympics aimed to show redemption from the 1936 Berlin/Nazi spectacle (in which Jesse Owens upstaged Adolf Hitler).

The Israeli team visited Dachau, only six miles from the Olympic Village. Far from being a police state, the Olympic Village had very lax security. With the aid of East Germans, the Palestinian terrorist group Black September had cased out where the Israeli athletes would be housed. Some American revelers helped eight of them over the fence early on 5 September, machine guns came out of the gym bags, and the Palestinians stormed a room where Israeli coaches were being housed.

A coach decided that the best bet on successful resistance was with the wrestlers and weightlifters, so led the terrorists there rather than to some other room. One escaped and two were killed. The kidnappers demanded the release of 200 German and Israeli prisoners (including Baader and Meinhof, whose earlier rampages were aided by the East Germans) in exchange for the Israeli hostages.

Golda Meir’s government offered a team of men trained for handling hostage takers. The Germans refused and fielded a Keystone Kops  kind of SWAT-team. The lack of planning and co-ordination staggers belief, as the Germans recall. The Israeli officials interviewed don’t have to criticize, what the Germans says and showing the deployment of five snipers at Fürstenfeldbruck, one whose shotline was blocked by another two (the helicopters having landed 90-degreees off where they should have), are clear enough. (The one who got shot was the one in behind after he shot a fleeing terrorist. There was no radio contact among the too-few snipers or with the supposed co-ordinators of the rescue., no scopes on the G3 rifles.)

The documentary is constructed like a thriller. There is considerable tension, especially since we know the outcome, and no bathos. There are some very graphic photos of corpses. The final montage seems to me in dubious taste.

The film proceeds with specified times and footage of the live broadcasts about the situation from Bob MacKay, anchor of ABC television coverage of those Olympics (with reports from Peter Jennings and Howard Cossell).  The Olympic Committee looks even worse than German police with its “show must go on” priority.

Macdonald managed to interview the only surviving terrorist, Jamal Al-Gashey. The three who survived the airport shootout were traded for passengers on a hijacked Lufthansa plane. Some Germans suggest the hijacking was arranged in advance with the West German government there were only twelve passengers on the flight, all male. Mossad tracked down and killed the other two and various planners of the operation, as was dramatized in Spielberg’s 2005 “Munich.” Al-Gashey defends the murders for publicizing Palestinian’s plight. Macdonald did not ask him about what the Qu’ran says about slaying noncombatants.


DVD bonus features are minimal: talent-files (director, producer, narrator Michael Douglas), trailers for three other SONY releases.


Recommend this product? Yes


Viewing Format: DVD

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