Sunday, August 22, 2010

HITLER (1962)

When I saw that top billing in this movie was given to Richard Basehart (Admiral Nelson on TV's "Voyage to the Bottom of the Sea") as Hitler followed by two German starlets playing the women in his life, I figured it was ludicrous over-the-top B-movie junk. Well, it is a B-movie (from Allied Artists, mostly known for sci-fi flicks), but surprisingly, it's not quite junk. Instead, it's a movie that's torn between wanting to be exploitation and wanting to be taken a little more seriously. A more appropriate title (and a more marketable one) might be The Private Life of Adolph Hitler, since the film focuses on his sex life--or lack thereof--and how it affected his personality and his drive for power, almost completely ignoring his political beliefs and his genocidal state machinery. The film begins in 1924 with Hitler writing "Mein Kampf" while in prison, and this short scene is all we get of his hateful philosophizing, except for a line later when he declares, "One is either a German or a Christian." The story then jumps ahead to show him falling in love with his niece Geli at his mountain retreat. Nothing physical transpires between them; apparently he is rendered impotent because Geli reminds him of his late mother, so he loves her but cannot make love to her. The appearance of incest bothers Hitler's followers (such as Goebbels and Strasser), but Hitler rants that their "petty-bourgeois morality" means nothing to him. Nevertheless, when Geli insults him by calling him "less than a man," Hitler has his thugs murder her and report her death as a suicide. He seeks help from a therapist, even though he considers psychiatry "Jew science." Soon he is attracted to Eva Braun, who looks like Geli, and hence, like his mother. It does seem as if, at some point, he is able to function sexually with Braun, although at the end, when they get married in the bunker and she calls herself "Frau Hitler," he screams that no one has the right to use that name except his mother. The Final Solution and the war itself are glossed over, though we do see low-budget recreations of events such as the Reichstag fire, the Night of the Long Knives (in which Ernst Rohm and his SA men are slaughtered), and the bungled assassination attempt. Some newsreel footage is used here and there but the movie can't overcome its cheap look. Still, Basehart is surprisingly good, mostly underplaying the role, and Cordula Trantow is excellent (and beautiful) as Geli. Martin Kosleck, who had been playing evil Nazis since the early 40's--is fine as Goebbles, and John Banner (later to find fame as Sgt. Schulz in Hogan's Heroes) is equally good as Strasser. [TCM]

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