The Warner Archive has released the 1962 feature film Hitler as a burn-to-order DVD. The film was perhaps the first cinematic attempt to present Adolf Hitler's story in a dramatic biographical format. However, the project was sabotaged by the fact that it was produced by Allied Artists, then a "B" movie factory. The resulting budget appears to be somewhat less than that afforded by home movies of the day. The B&W film also suffers from a ridiculously curtailed screenplay that attempts to do justice to all aspects of one of the most dramatic lives in history. The production's running time of 107 minutes undermines any serious attempt to do justice to Hitler's remarkable, history-changing life. The film does boast a reasonably effective performance by Richard Basehart in the titular role- no small achievement, as most cinematic impersonations of Der Fuhrer tend to inspire giggles. (It is not without irony that Hitler's trademark mustache was shared by the most iconic comedic figure of his era, Charles Chaplin.) The story opens with Hitler dictating Mein Kampf from his jail cell in 1923, having failed to seize power in Germany via a violent coup. In a blink of an eye, we see him perched to take power as Chancellor when the aging Von Hinderburg dies. The screenplay dispenses with the historical context of all this in order to concentrate on the real reason for the movie's existence, which is Hollywood's long-time fascination with mingling sex and Naziism. Thus, a good deal of the movie is spent watching Adolf fawn over his niece Geli (Cordula Trantow). If you believe the story, their relationship remained chaste, which indeed it may have. Historians have long pondered over Hitler's sex life, or lack thereof, without finding any evidence that he did not die a virgin. He loved the company of attractive women and did indeed have a rather scandalous relationship with Geli, even sharing an apartment with her during his early rise to power. The film introduces the first of some outlandish historical "facts" when Geli is murdered in a staged suicide, under orders from Hitler. In fact, there has never been any concrete evidence that Hitler was responsible for her death.
The next fraulein in the Fuhrer's sphere of influence is Eva Braun (Maria Emo), a young girl with a bombshell body who willingly devotes her life to being Hitler's arm candy. Here again, the script deviates from what we know about Braun, presenting her as a strong-willed woman of impressive intelligence. In fact, Braun was an apolitical airhead, as evidenced by Hitler's real life musing that men of great power should only be involved with stupid women so their careers are not interfered with. The movie blazes through historical events with blinding speed (documentary footage is unconvincingly interwoven in an attempt to give the claustrophobic production some scope.) The movie accurately presents Hitler's deadly betrayal of his old friend, SA chief Ernst Rohm and even overtly acknowledges the fact that Rohm and his men were engaging in widespread homosexual activity during a weekend retreat, something that repelled Hitler,who ordered mass executions. The film is obsessed with the sexual aspects of Hitler's life but, as stated previously, this area remains a mystery to historians and biographers. Even after Hitler and Eva Braun were living under the same roof at the Fuhrer's Bavarian retreat, they kept separate bedrooms. The house staff was so titillated by the prospect of investigating Hitler's love life that they routinely inspected the bedding for evidence of any sexual interaction. None was ever found. Nevertheless, the screenplay takes bold liberties in presenting speculation as fact. It assumes Hitler was impotent and that this was attributed to latent homosexuality. This is another myth that historians have dismissed. Hitler once shared an apartment, and possibly the same bed, with another impoverished young man in his early days, but this was probably due to economic necessity and was not at all unusual at the time. Indeed, Hitler's disdain for homosexuals put them on his hate list along with Jews and political dissidents. In Nazi Germany, being gay meant the concentration camp. Whether the screen writer actually believed this theory is not known but there is certainly the possibility that this plot point was included simply to be provocative. Another historical incident is depicted, albeit inaccurately, with the July 1944 assassination attempt on Hitler by his generals. The ring leader of the plot, Col. von Stauffenberg is shown being hanged along with his confederates. In reality, he was shot by a firing squad.
One has to have some admiration for Richard Basehart, whose performance rises above the mediocrities that surround him. He makes for a mesmerizing Hitler and never overplays the more hysterical aspects of the Fuhrer's personality that so often inspire actors to go "over the top." The pedestrian direction by Stuart Heisler doesn't provide much inspiration for him. Nevertheless, Hitler is a odd little film that bares viewing if only for the wrong reasons.
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