SS: A Portrait of Evil” is a 1986 made-for TV movie telling the fictional story
of Helmut (Bill Nighy) and Karl Hoffmann (John Shea), brothers who become a
part of Hitler’s rise to power in Germany. The movie opens in 1931 as we meet
the brothers, their family, friends and associates. Hoping they can sway and
minimalize the radical elements through their intellect and character, Helmut
and Karl willingly join the Nazi Party.
Hoffmann brothers are eager participants in the Nazi party early on as their
mother Gerda (Carroll Baker) provides worried commentary. Factory worker Karl
joins the SA while his university student brother Helmut is coaxed into joining
the SS by fencing instructor Reinhard Heydrich (David Warner), much to the
objection of his mentor and Jewish professor Ludwig Rosenberg (Jose Ferrer).
Tony Randall is interesting appearing as a comic performer for the Nazis known
as Putzi. Mitzi Templer (Lucy Gutteridge) is a beautiful nightclub singer and
friend of the brothers.
story of the brothers unfolds in episodic fashion through to the end of WWII covering
14 years and the inevitable fall of the Third Reich. Nighy and Shea give thoughtful
and sincere performances as brothers who support each other and Germany and attempt
to reel in the extreme elements of the Third Reich. The movie is well made, the
drama compelling and it kept my interest throughout with a cast filled by many veterans
of British television. Although their initial reason for joining is an honest
attempt for change, the old “just following orders” argument comes to mind, and
it’s hard to feel any real empathy for the brothers even when the movie comes
to the tragic conclusion.
by British television veteran Jim Goddard, best known in America for the TV
movies “A Tale of Two Cities” in 1980 and the outstanding “Reilly: Ace of
Spies” in 1983. He had a brief foray into feature films with “Bones” in 1985 and
“Shanghai Surprise” in 1986, but returned to television after their failure at
the box office. He does a good job with “Hitler’s SS” telling a story that
unfolds over 14 years in just under two and a half hours.
movie is available on several public domain labels. The copy I viewed was “The
Digital Gold” DVD, possibly released in 2002, but no details are listed on the
DVD packaging itself. The disc lists Leisure Entertainment as the manufacturer.
The movie sounds good and the picture is presented full frame as it was when
originally broadcast by NBC in 1985. The picture is framed by a thin black
stripe on the left and right side of the image area with gray filling out the
remaining area. The transfer appears to be taken from an inferior VHS master as
the colors are washed out with a few artifacts appearing throughout the
presentation. The DVD back cover list a runtime of 150 minutes, but the actual
runtime is just under 139 minutes.
are no extras on this DVD. I recommend the movie, but not the transfer which is
about as bad as it gets. The movie is watchable considering there is no other
available option and can be purchased for a few bucks on-line or in the dollar
bin at your local pawn shop.