I knew that Israeli athletes at the 1972 Munich Olympics had died. What I did not know is just how inevitable this tragedy was.One Day in September covers the 24 hours from when Black September terrorists hopped over the security fence and took Israeli athletes and officials hostage. We find out from the one surviving terrorist that their mission was to demand the release of numerous jailed terrorists, and threaten to kill the Israeli athletes if this was not done.
Even though I knew the end of the story, the tension is maintained throughout. This is largely due to intercutting of contemporary footage, providing wonderful montage sequences. The music selection is superb, ranging from JS Bach to Deep Purple & Led Zeppelin.
While Michael Douglas narrates, most of the words come from others. These include relatives of the athletes, German officials, journalists. The German response from the beginning of the crisis was marked by incompetence and naivite. It took some time before the Germans understood that the terrorists were not willing to negotiate. Hours pass, while the Israelis are being held captive, the Games officials insist the competitions continue. Eventually it is decided to halt them.
There are many levels at which this sobering film works. You can see the early exploitation of media by terrorists, a catalogue of errors by officials, the playing out of ancient rivalries. But what stands out most for me is irony: irony of a country trying to bury its Nazi past by hosting the "Olympics of Peace and Joy"; the country known for excellent engineering not having basic communication equipment.Perhaps the last words belong to the Olympic Village Mayor of the time. During the negotiating process, he asked the terrorist's leader why the taking of hostages. Earlier in the film we have heard that there were, deliberately, no police at the Village, only unarmed security personnel. Apparantly the terrorist told the Mayor that such a setup offered "a showcase" for the Palestinian cause.