21 Hours At Munich (1976) – A Review


A review of the 1976 docudrama 21 Hours At Munich that recounts the terrorism that took place at the 1972 Munich Olympics, starring William Holden

21 Hours At Munich 1976 docudrama

The 1972 Summer Olympics in Munich, Germany becomes a dramatic stage of life and death when Arab terrorist group Black September kill two innocent lives before taking nine Israeli athletes hostage. Their demands are the release of hundreds of Arab prisoners being held in Israel. If they are not released the terrorists promise to kill their hostages.

Israel vows to stick with its policy of not negotiating with terrorists. The Olympic committee is not sure how to proceed with its scheduled sporting events with the danger and tension that’s unfolding in the city. It’s left up to Chief of Police Manfred Schreiber  (William Holden)  to convince the terrorist leader Issa (Franco Nero) to give himself up before further bloodshed erupts.

Of course we know how this story sadly ends.

21 Hours At Munich is pretty much a straight forward account of those real life events. It presents its story very matter-of-factly, almost documentary-like, even using real footage of the Olympic games for added realism. This true story alone contains enough drama to sustain an entire film, so it doesn’t need any creative embellishments.

Simply put, I thought the film was pretty good. As this terrorist event begins to unfold we get the different perspectives from Israel, the Olympic Committee, the police and the terrorist leader himself. A strange relationship, almost a mutual respect forms between Issa and Annelids Graes (Shirley Knight) who assumes a negotiator-type of position with the terrorists.

Her and Issa engage in dialogue revolving around his reasons and rationale for doing this. It’s here where Nero, who is the standout in this movie, gets to present Issa’s thought process. His motivations are clear and while you know his actions are unforgivable you understand why he believes he needs to do this.

Franco Nero 21 Hours at Munich 1976 docudramaThe rest of the cast is fine. Holden is the biggest name attached to the film and while I didn’t have any complaints with his performance, he seemed miscast here. I’m guessing the filmmakers were thrilled to have a big name actor to help get the film made and to help promote it. He’s adequate, but they could have probably chosen an actor better suited for the part.

We don’t learn much about the hostages themselves. The film is told in a linear, almost ‘real-time’, narrative. So there’s really not much of an opportunity to spend much time with the nine hostage athletes. The focus of the story doesn’t fall on them. The point of the movie is to dramatize the story of these terrorists and how authorities went about trying to solve the situation and the eventual unraveling of it.

For those who want a crash course in learning about the ’72 Munich events this movie tells the events very clearly. The focal point is on that twenty-one hour terrorist situation, unlike Steven Spielberg’s Munich, which used it as a jumping off point for another story.

The 1999 documentary One Day In September from what I remember packed more of an emotional punch and I would probably recommend that over this television movie, but this film does a commendable job dramatizing what took place on that September day.

I’m not sure how easy this movie is to find. I stumbled onto it very randomly on a cable channel.


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