I struck a deal with my missus Gail that I would help out as much as she wanted over the festive period, provided I am allowed one film per day in the Rosen multiplex. So yesterday I chose Raid On Entebbe.
It’s a fine depiction of a real event with a strong cast of Hollywood reliables: Peter Finch (Yitzak Rabin), Jack Warden (General Chief of Staff Mordechai Gur), Charles Bronson ( General Dan Shamron), Martin Balsam (passenger Robert Cooper). Most of all it brings me back to my first and extended visit to Israel in 1976, when I stayed on kibbutz Afikim. The only British event with which I could compare it was the return of the Falklands Fleet. This was much more significant, not just to showcase the chutzpah of Israel, but in the mid-1970s there was a pusillanimous cave-in to terrorists, with airlines apparently happy to pay them off.
The film was made quickly, with a second – and not as good version – Victory at Entebbe released round the same time. Sensibly, it stuck to the facts. The only real doubt in speaking to my Israeli friends is whether We Are All Brothers Now was actually sung on the plane. It also does not gloss over the advantages the Israelis had: they built the airport, General Bar Lev knew Amin, and the terrorists were foolish to release the Gentile passengers, thus providing invaluable local knowledge. Nonetheless, it was no mean feat to rescue all the Jewish passengers . The only sadness was the death of Bibi Netanyahu’s elder brother Yanni.
The film gets all the detail right, from the argumentative cabinet meetings with everyone talking at once, to the fetid grimness of the passengers packed in together in the terminal. Amongst some very good performances, I would single our Peter Finch as Rabin. Finch was a marvellous actor, rightly receiving an Oscar for Network, but superb in many roles, notably as a bisexual Jew in a love triangle with Glenda Jackson and Murray Head in Sunday Bloody Sunday. Sadly, Rabin’s own assassination at the hands of Jewish orthodox fanatics for his role the peace process was a low point in Israeli history.
We film buffs often talk reverentially of great film openings, but endings are equally if not more important. The ending is especially satisfying, not least as in Henry Longhurst’s commentary when Doug Sanders fluffed his putt to win the Open, nothing is said. Finch merely opens his mouth in awe whilst Tige Andrews as Shimon Peres gives him a sideways glance. Just as the passengers and the awaiting crowd are united, the film freeze frames and we are reminded of the disappearance of Mrs Bloch, apparently thrown to the crocodiles by Amin.