Paris in 1944 is still under German occupation and as the Allies move in the direction of the French capital, Hitler appoints Brigadier General Dietrich von Choltitz (Gert Frobe) as commandant of Paris because of his fame as “a destroyer of cities”- having already pleased the Führer by his destruction of Rotterdam and annihilation of Sebastopol.
Hitler’s orders are brief – Hold Paris if you can. If you cannot, raze the city to the ground. The Führer is determined that if the Allies take Paris they will find nothing but a mass of rubble.
Von Choltitz sets up his headquarters at the Hotel Meurice and gets down to his appalling task with characteristic German thoroughness, giving orders for every public building, factory and monument to be mined. The new commander insists, however, that nothing may be destroyed without his written authority.
Parisians are not taking all this lying down. There are many resistance groups working for the liberation of Paris, but they are caught in an agonising dilemma. If they rise up in anticipation of the Allied advance, the Germans might retaliate by destroying the city. If, on the other hand, they do nothing, the German position will be much stronger.
Some sections of the resistance decide to risk a clash of arms and the Gaullists attack and seize the Prefecture of Police. Meanwhile, the Allies decide to by-pass Paris in their advance as they cannot spare the fuel and food for the helpless Parisians.
The resistance folk make their way to Normandy where Major Gallois (Pierre Vaneck) describes the situation to Generals Patton (Kirk Douglas) and Bradley (Glenn Ford).
Meanwhile, the Swedish Consul in Paris (Orson Welles) tries to negotiate a ceasefire between the Germans and the resistance. Fortunately, after consulting with Eisenhower, General Bradley gives the order for the Allies to enter Paris, and the Liberation begins.
The film is understandably somewhat confusing and rambling, but star cameos add interest. The movie was adapted from the best-seller by Larry Collins and Dominique Lapierre, with the adaptation performed by Gore Vidal and Francis Ford Coppola (amongst others).
Producer Paul Graetz died of a heart attack two months after filming completed.
In August 1964, the real General von Choltitz revisited Paris and looked upon it and said: “If I had known it was so beautiful, I would have capitulated more quickly”.
Brigadier General Dietrich von Choltitz
General Omar Bradley
E G Marshall
GI in tank