Addicted to novelty since 2001

Spielberg’s Munich and Sword of Gideon

This afternoon I watched Munich, the new Steven Spielberg film about the aftermath of the 1972 attack on the Israeli Olympic team. The film was adapted by the wonderful Tony Kushner from George Jonas’s book, Vengeance. I may write a complete review, but I wanted to mention one interesting fact that you may not know: there’s another film adapted from Jonas’s book.

It’s called Sword of Gideon, and was a high-profile TV movie back in 1986. I watched it when it aired back then ( I believe it played over two nights) and have strikingly clear memories of it. For example, I remember a training scene in which the protagonists are being taught how to shoot. The instructor tells them to always shoot twice, saying something like “fum fum–never fum!” Later they go to assasinate someone using single-shot weapons disguised as bicycle pumps. One of them remarks “there’s only one problem–it only goes fum”.

I’ve been struck by the lack of reference to Sword of Gideon in articles and reviews of the new film. Presumably the Spielberg camp saw no advantage in referring to the earlier movie.

33 Responses to “Spielberg’s Munich and Sword of Gideon”

  1. Ada

    Yes, I remember that TV movie as well. In fact, because you are the first to mention it, I wondered if my memory was correct. I hadn’t bothered to look it up yet. I look forward to your review.

  2. Ed

    I was just doing a seach about the Sword Of Gideon and Munich to see if anyone else put 2 and 2 together. along with VENGENCE, I believe there was also a book called “The Hit Team” but I am unable to locate it. It may have been a movie but I seem to recall a book. In my searches I have found several other books on the subject, check google. MUNICH was a little long and slow but that’s what happens when you accurately portray a long and slow process.

  3. Captain Salty

    Yeah, I’m shocked that with all the hype over this film, especially the pre-release venom heaped upon the film (i.e. by folks who haven’t seen it, that no one’s pointed out that it’s already basically been done.

  4. Roger

    Just saw the movie and I enjoyed it, if that is the right word, given the solemn nature of the content. I, too, remembered seeing the original and remembering that it was a very good movie. It is interesting that noone else seems to acknowledge the fact that “Munich” is a remake. Still, Spielberg does make his point about the futility of revenge, regardless of one’s point of view.

  5. Mariah

    I too looked up the movie, “Sword of Gideon” to check my memory of a better movie treatment of the history. “Munich” to me lacked even flow of narrative and character development. Among other scenes, the scene where the boats are coming in full of commandos looked as though it was from a James Bond episode; but there were others that were pure artistry…. the last scene where the main character is asking his manager/contact to come home with him to “break bread”. The whole thing was uneven. Whereas the earlier movie was more gripping. Did anyone out there, besides the people in the audience where I watched “Munich”, think that the nudity and crude intimacy were unnecessary and detracted from the story? That was all the conversation I overheard out in the lobby.

  6. Mariah

    I too looked up the movie, “Sword of Gideon” to check my memory of a better movie treatment of the history. “Munich” to me lacked even flow of narrative and character development. Among other scenes, the scene where the boats are coming in full of commandos looked as though it was from a James Bond episode; but there were others that were pure artistry…. the last scene where the main character is asking his manager/contact to come home with him to “break bread”. The whole thing was uneven. Whereas the earlier movie was more gripping. Did anyone out there, besides the people in the audience where I watched “Munich”, think that the nudity and crude intimacy were unnecessary and detracted from the story? That was all the conversation I overheard out in the lobby.

  7. F. Flocco

    Yes, I found the Sword of Gideon, TV film to be far superior to the Spilberg’s version in Munich. Both films show the human aspect; however, the action in the former seems to be much more professional.

  8. Garret

    It took me awhile to finally find someone who actually references this film. Despite some flaws, “Sword of Gideon” had an impact on how I viewed (through the eyes of a teenager) terrorism and how a nation responds. I’m still amazed that none of the Munich’s critics or supporters (including respected columists in the New York Times and Washington Post) have even hinted that this story has already been told and make it sound as though Spielberg created someting unique.

    As with many things in life, timing is everything.

  9. Dave

    I feel the same as all of you.As soon as I first saw the Spielberg movie being advertised,I immediately thought of ‘Sword of Gideon’,and thought “Aha,it’s a remake”.
    I havn’t seen ‘Munich’ yet, but am dismayed to read about the “….nudity, and crude intimatimacy”….why, oh why, do ‘they’ feel that audiences will stay away in droves if every movie made doesn’t include at least a smattering of sex or foul language ? Anyway, I digress.
    I shan’t rush to see ‘Munich’, rather, will probably try to find ‘Sword of Gideon’ on dvd.

  10. Sterling

    I was very surprised to see a remake of a movie I’d seen years ago… and even more surprised that I’ve seen absolutely no reference to ‘Sword of Gideon’ in any reviews I’ve read. Hardly an original or creative idea from Spielberg… it looks like what Hollywood does best these days is serve up warmed over roast beef and market it as ‘prime chateaubriand’.

  11. Andrew Greiner

    Come now. Are we really expecting the American movie industry to acknowledge an original. The same thing happened with Flight of the Phoenix. No one knew there was a perfectly good original cos then a significant percentage would watch it instead. I happened to catch Sword of Gideon when it aired and remember the feeling it gave me. Was quite an emotional roller coaster. Although I haven’t seen Spielberg’s I am sure that I will have to wait until the last 5 minutes to really get what he is trying to say. Classic movie maker following classic rules.

  12. Burt Yust

    Knock off the nudity it was nothing. Spirelberg’s version was good, not great. I enjoyed “The Sword…” more. There was a scene, after the agent was killed on the bench (Spielberg had him killed by the water) that took two agents up to their apartment. The bomb expert asked all to leave and found 2 of 3 bombs. The third killed him. Spielberg chose not to “remake” this scene. It was one of the best in the original movie.
    I knew, sitting in the theatre, calling the scenes that I had seen this. Spielberg remade Sword the way they remade Psycho. The difference was he chose not to give credit to an excellent original.
    Age must be catching up with him. War of the worlds was inferior to the original. Munich had no edge to its Sword.

  13. eric

    I was really amazed to see how closely “Munich” followed the same plot development as “Sword”. I walked out of the theater and told my fiancee that I had seen this flick before as a kid with Steven Bauer.

  14. eric

    I was really amazed to see how closely “Munich” followed the same plot development as “Sword”. I walked out of the theater and told my fiancee that I had seen this flick before as a kid with Steven Bauer.

  15. Ravid

    Hi, I don’t want to get into the political BS both theses films represent such as terrorist compared to Israeli anti terrorist policy I only want to refer to the comparison between the films:
    I saw “Sword of Gideon” a year ago on DVD, I actually enjoyed it because it was an action film loosely based of true events, it was quick and good, Spielberg takes this 80% fictional book and terns it into a very stupid statement that says violence is always bad, I think he should wake up to realty and understand the world is not a Hollywood studio.

    Munich is pretentious and annoying especially because I am Israeli, I don’t enjoy being criticized by someone that doesn’t know the facts and hasn’t set foot in Israel!

    Beside that the film is long, boring and dull!

  16. Ian

    I agree with many of you. I was disappointed to be there sitting and watching for so long time this remake. No surprises, better story development in the “Sword..” and an awful color by the way. I remember the same scene Burt Yust mentioned, one of best ones in the “Sword..”. I am as surprised with the lack of references to the “Sword..”, obviously not got for Spielberg. Is my fault I should have searched more before going.
    My advice: If you have watched the “Sword..” don’t go to watch “Munich”, save money for another one or try to get the DVD to remember how great was the “Sword..” and if you haven’t watched the “Sword..” do the same :)

  17. Stewart

    I remember “The Sword” from a VHS Tape some years ago. I also saw the original “Flight of the Phoenix” from the book by Hammond Innes, both very good films. Haven’t seen “Munich’ and from the comments might not spend the time or money.
    I particularly remember the tension when the agent was going to blow up the car and saw the little daughter. Also remember the efficiency of Mossad and that the executions were meted out. I would hesitate to use the word “revenge” thinking more along the lines of just retribution. If you can’t take it, you shouldn’t hand it out.

  18. Charly

    Yeah, me too am very disappointed, almost upset that there is no hint at all that refers this movie to “Sword..”. When I first saw the trailer I thought that it was about the hostage itself and the tragic ending. But when I watched more trailers and read about the content I realized that it was “just” a remake.

    No problem with that, but hey, isn´t it worth at least mentioning it?

    Sorry Mr. S. no good move.

  19. Jacques

    I just read all these comments on this page. I too saw the original movie “The Sword Of Gideon” and loved it. I was about to go Munich tonight but I think I will see something else. Sounds like it does not measure to the “original” and then again I know the story..

  20. Paulb

    I’m surprised not so much that Speilberg/Kushner do not reference Sword of Gideon, but few critics do. You can see Sword on cable pretty often – I never saw it when it originally aired, but have seen it at least three times on cable. The cast for Sword is a good one too – Michael York, Rod Steiger, Colleen Dewhurst. I believe this was an HBO film.

    I actually like Munich and found it disturbing. What I found most interesting was that Spielberg resisted the temptation he usually succumbs to to sentimentalize the story and try to bring it to a clear closure. I think the film story has more to do with tony Kushner than Spielberg.

    But, I also found the original Sword of Gideon to be quite distrubing too – no matter which side of the politics of this story you come down on, certainly the question of violence begetting violence has become the theme of the 21st century. It’s a very powerful story and Spielberg manages to restrain himself for once – so maybe following the pattern of the original he manages to focus his storytelling skills on visual representation to bring this story to the large screen. As a story, Sword of Gideon is very strong, and Munich follows it pretty closely. But the images and mise-en-scene in Munich do enlarge the narrative for the bigger canvas and, perhaps, a bigger audience.

  21. dani gal

    yes, while watching munich i also had a strong deja vu.

  22. Mariano

    Finally !!!
    Glad to see a review from the original movie…

    Since I saw the trailers from Munich i started remembering about a movie I saw on tv long time ago… and couldn’t find it because couldn’t remember any actors/director name…

    Found particulary interesting about no one mentioning the first movie..

    I do remember that the Sword… had a very nice incidental music…

    I didn’t like at all the murdering scenes of Munich… and that french character… :(

  23. keren

    Cant believe after all the press and Hype about Munich not a word was said about it being a remake! I thought Sword of Gideon was a far superior movie to Munich and I really dont think that a remake was necessary.

  24. Lee H

    The scene in Munich where they killed the girl on the house boat reminded me of an old movie I had scene. While watching Scarface I recognized Steven Bauer. I searched his name and there it is “The Sword of Gideon”
    I didn’t realize that munich was basically a re-make
    Both were great movies

  25. Ian C

    I waited to get Munich on DVD from Netflix. I had a strong sense of deja vu when they planted the phone bomb, and the little girl doubled back. I immediately remembered Michael York, but could not remember Steven Baur. I think the scene where Michael York dies in Sword was far superior to the correspondig Munich scene.

    The violence begetting violence theme isn’t new, just basically ignored with few exceptions. Ghandi, MLK Jr., for example. I thought the final scene in Munich with the former twin towers in the background was profound. . . violence begets violence.

  26. Sandra Cox

    I just saw Sword of Gideon within the last few months and enjoyed it more than Munich. Munich is very close but it was just a remake. Sword of Gideon was much better on characterizations.

  27. Jean

    I got the opposite message from the shot of the twin towers (and I immediately recognised this as a remake of “Sword of Gideon, and thought of the Hit Team, as well). It seemed to me that it showed that when the Israelis STOPPED their VERY EFFECTIVE agressive elimination of the terrorists (due, in real life, to the accidental shooting of an innocent waiter falsely misidentified/murdered by an unreliable Palestinian informant, but I thought that the movie implied that they stopped because they were losing too many coutnerterrorist agents), would leave the terrorists’ movement alive and kicking so that it would someday grow into two attacks on the Twin Towers, the second of which would eventually be successful. I thought that Spielberg was trying to show a balanced point of veiw by making this final point to counter-balance the tragedy of the lost Israeli agents’lives. I liked what, if I am not confusing it with a scene from a similar film, the depiction in the “Sword” of the way that the sleazy Israeli handler/paymaster, stole the salary money he had paid out to him, out of his own agent’s bank account in order to blackmail him into doing more such work, just as the Israeli man’s father had warned him not to get involved with this man and his shady intelligence network. This was missing from the remake, as well, but added a touch of realism.

  28. Paul King

    I read with interest you article.
    I purchased a vhs copy of the Sword of Gideon many years ago. I have viewed this film many times over the years. I recently saw Munich. Munich unlike Gideon never brought made you have feelings for the principals as Gideon did.There was avery differnt pont of view about the killing of the woman.
    In Gideon she spat on her attackers in Munick you were made to feel sorry about her death.
    Two very different views.
    Thank you
    Paul

  29. dramond

    thank god

    so many people remember the first movie made after watching spielbergs version, i was amazed that no mention was made to the first moving account. and a very good one at that two

  30. freddy

    Miren señores munich es un remake y punto, ni bien vi la portada me acorde de la espadad de gedeon simplemente que no me acordava como se llamaba, lo unico que me acordaba era la muerte de michael york como volaba con la refrigeradora por tomar un vaso de leche por segun él habia terminado de desactivar las bombas que habia.

  31. mv

    I made the connection as soon Bana’s character Avner was introduced. It hearkened back to a movie I saw when I was younger and I knew it was “Sword of” something or other.

  32. Avriana

    I just started watching Spielberg’s Munich. I have
    owned Sword of Gideon on VHS (HBO video) since
    the late 1980’s. It’s an excellent film based on the
    exact same book, Jonas’ “Vengeance.” The sword of Gideon had a first rate cast, and also speaks of
    “provoking questions about the ultimate morality of revenge.” I’m quoting that from the VHS box notes.
    I know Munich has won awards. I listened to Spielberg’s intro to Munich. I feel really angry
    that he does not make any mention whatsoever of the Sword of Gideon. Doesn’t he have enough
    trophies that he cannot take a moment to give
    credit to the people who produced, directed and acted in this film. I like Spielberg, but I think it is shameful of him not to call his movie a remake. Both are quality films.
    I think a notch less of Spielberg for not giving credit to his predecessor excellent film.

  33. Avriana

    It is 8/25/2012. I don’t see the comment I posted.
    But I was pleased to read so many people who saw or like me own an HBO VHS copy (now on DVD) of Sword of Gideon with a magnificent cast, and said the same words about Spielberg:

    Basically “shame on you for not calling your film
    a remake.” You belittle yourself and the Sword of Gideon by not giving credit where credit is most certainly due!”

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