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Douglas Sirk's career is recalled for his wonderful colorful attacks on
the "American Dream" in those films he made (usually with Rock Hudson,
Jane Wyman, and Agnes Moorehead) in the 1950s. Never was the
lusciousness of American prosperity used to show the underside of our
wealth oriented culture. But Sirk had a long career in Europe and
Hollywood before he made "Magnificent Obsession" and "Imitation of
Life". His films in the middle forties included some superb costume
films with George Sanders (like "Summer Storm")and this early one which
really stars John Carridine as one of the most monstrous figures of
World War II, Reinhard Heydrich the so-called "Protector" of Bohemia,
who chaired the Wannsee Conference of 1941 that created the "Final
Solution". Whatever degree of venom Carridine brings to the role is
nothing like the effortless evil the original Heydrich dripped. Still
it is a very effective performance.
The film is based, by the way, on the poem "Lidice" by Edna St. Vincent Millay. Written shortly after that village was decimated in the reprisals following Heydrich's death, it is recited (in a woman's voice) in most of the film, but it's closing lines are recited by the male actors at it's conclusion - quite effectively as most of these actors (Edgar Kennedy, Jimmy Conlon, Ralph Morgan) have been slaughtered by the Nazis in front of us. As some of these actors (Kennedy and Conlon) usually were seen in comedies, their use as straight dramatic actors in this film is a revelation of what they might have done if they had not been used in comedy so much.
To me the best moment of this film (aside the use of the poem) is when Carridine lies dying in a hospital, visited by Howard Freeman as his comrade and fellow S.S. bigwig, Heinrich Himmler. Freeman was an affective actor in comic and dramatic parts, and here shows the hideous Himmler as a banal Babbitt bureaucrat. Perhaps not quite correct historically (Himmler was stranger than George Babbitt) but in it's way quite effective. Carridine had (in his characterization) shown something of the intellectual pretensions of Heydrich, but as he is dying he suddenly realizes he is frightened of dying. He tries to explain this to Himmler who doesn't care (so much for being a fellow Nazi comrade) and only sees the mission of the dying Heydrich to become a martyr to stiffen German will to victory. As Carridine finally dies, Freeman only sees his duty to make a large enough retaliation on the local population so that people will realize that he is harder than the dead martyr ever was.
Historically this is not accurate either. Heydrich had been in high level Nazi planning for several years, and frightened not only Himmler as a rival, but Bormann, Goebbels, and Hitler himself. Heydrich had a nasty "rumor" in his past: his father, a musician, may have been descended from Jews. This was never settled. However, due to this particular rumor, Heydrich's opponents felt they could control him. In actuality, it was easier to control an out of control Mercendes Benz. As soon as he could, Heydrich began collecting information on every one of his rivals about their family backgrounds (including Hitler's). It was his eventual determination that he would one day be the successor of "Der Fuhrer". Himmler, Hitler, and the others may have officially honored Heydrich as a national martyr, but in their own private moments they all were fully glad to see that he was dead and out of the way.
Their real reason for the massive retaliation was the fear of copycat plans. The Czechs who killed Heydrich were trained in London, and had Churchill's assent on their plot. No doubt, had they gotten away with it, plots against other Nazi big-wigs would have been set in motion. The retaliation was to remind the local populations that the Germans would not hesitate to depopulate them if anymore assassinations occurred. It was also a reminder to the Allies that if they wanted to save lives they better not plan any further killings. As such it worked. Although several plans for an attack on Hitler were finally set up, none were ever put into operation (the 1944 bomb plot was by the German General staff, not by Churchill). Whether this was wise or not is a matter we cannot ever tell the answer to.
Heydrich's actual death is nothing like the hideous death camps he set up for Jews, Gypsies, Slavs. etc. But it still is somewhat pleasant to think of the agony of his last days, his spine broken by the steel springs of his exploded car seat. The affection that his title "Protector" supposedly suggested is truly shown by a story of how a German soldier desperately tried to get passers by to assist to help move the "Protector" to a nearby hospital quickly. An unknown Czech citizen looked at the dying man in the ruins of his Mercedes, shrugged his shoulders, and said, "The hospital is around the corner. He could walk there." Then he left the flustered soldier.
This film story of the assassination of Reinhard Heydrich (titled by the
Nazis as Reichs Protector of Bohemia and Moravia, by the Czechs as "The
Hangman", and also one of the architects of "The Final Solution")and of the
subsequent annihilation of the village of Lidice by the Nazis, really does
not do justice to the subject. Although released by MGM, it was actually
produced by poverty row Producer Releasing Corporation (PRC). Some of the
cast members are old familiars and rather good, but none give a feeling
these are Czechs being murdered by Hitler's minions. As war propaganda, it
is a success, and it at least gives the spirit of the tragedy of Lidice,
not historically detailed facts. John Carradine is effective as Heydrich,
especially in his deathbed scene.
The facts about the assassination briefly are that two Czech partisans were parachuted into Czechoslovakia from an RAF plane. They managed to ambush Heydrich's open Mercedes, throw a bomb under it, and escape to a church. Heydrich died a few days later from complications arising from the penetration of his spleen by bomb fragments and debris from the car upholstery. Using torture, the Nazis discovered the whereabouts of the two partisans and the SS killed them at once. Lidice was picked more or less at random from among villages known to have anti-German leanings. On Hitler's orders, the men were shot and the women and children removed to camps, while the buildings of the site were levelled. When it became known in the allied world, this made excellent anti-Nazi propaganda, and more than one film was made of the subject. It may be that the massive retaliation backfired somewhat on the Nazis also by stiffening Czech resistance to the occupation.
Although the history portrayed in this little cheapie is not 100% accurate, the power and style of the great director Douglas Sirk shines through all the way. Carradine's death-bed scene is superbly acted, photographed and directed, and the climax, propaganda or not, is unforgettable. It is well worth your time!
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
Although it was overshadowed by Lang's "Hangmen also die" , "Hitler's
madman" seems closer to Borzage's "the mortal storm" ,with its
depiction of life in an occupied town.But the finale was probably
borrowed from Abel Gance's "J'accuse" (1919 and 1937) and its "wake of
the dead" sequences.
Great sequences: the professor of philosophy resuming his lecture in front of the Nazis (there is a similar sequence in "the mortal storm");the female student,refusing to be treated as a beast ;the admirable scene where the mayor's wife,reading that her sons are dead, and cursing the "Fuhrer" (a famous lullaby the name of which I cannot remember ,makes a very moving score, as she remembers her boys' childhood).The hangman, in his bed and begging for morphine,as he too realizes that the Third Reich means nothing when you're dying.
Probably Sirk's best forties film .In the fifties,he would come back to WW2 and the Nazi barbarity with a work I consider his masterpiece : "A time to love and a time to die" (1958),from the great German pacifist writer Erich Maria Remarque's novel.
This film is starts with a deceptive title. Reinhart Heydrich was many
things, but mad as in clinically insane was not one of them. In fact
among his peers he was known as the man with an 'iron heart'. Cold
blooded efficiency in some of the nastiest butchery ever seen on this
planet was his stock in trade.
And John Carradine played him that way. In many ways Heydrich was the archetype Aryan superman that Hitler lauded, but this guy scared Hitler and all the other top Nazis.
MGM made this film and even though it is a quickie B picture hurriedly put together to take advantage of current events of the war, Hitler's Madman has that tiffany type gloss that MGM product was noted for.
As was reported and at the time not reported fully, how could it have been since we had little access to the news from the Nazi point of view. But word got out about the bloody reprisals made against the Czech people whom Heydrich was governing even from behind the lines. Lidice was razed to the ground as it was the location of the assassination. If anything we could only guess how bad it was.
There are three other interesting portrayals to note. First is Howard Freeman as Heydrich's superior, Heinrich Himmler. William Shirer said that he looked about as frightening as a schoolmaster and that's how Freeman does him as well. His scene with the dying Heydrich is classic as he tells Heydrich he's going out a hero for the Fatherland and Heydrich just doesn't want to go.
Then there's Edgar Kennedy whom I never knew doing anything else but being the slow burn comedian. He plays a cynical hermit who shunned Czech society, but has no use for the Nazis either. But being and choosing to live alone makes him better able to adapt.
My favorite however was Ludwig Stossel who plays the German mayor of Lidice who is a proud Nazi, but who also hears about the loss of his two sons in Russia. Still when Heydrich is attacked, he's arrested for not doing enough to keep the people down and appreciative of their new masters. All of Stossel's protests about what a good party man he is and how loyal to the Fuehrer he is, avail him naught.
One big star is in this, but Ava Gardner is an extra somewhere in the crowd of Lidice citizens. I couldn't spot her, but you might have better luck.
Despite the deceptive title Hitler's Madman does hold up well for today's audiences. A film about Heydrich's whole career would be a fascinating one for today's audience.
An interesting movie that does not do much to inspire the viewer through its portrayal of the Czech resistance, though they face a grim ending, but definitely catches the interest in the portrayal of Nazi brutality through the part played by John Carradine as Reich Protector Heydrich, who routinely had people shot in order to maintain a level of fear and control. The characterizations of the townspeople are too quaint for this subject, but they (the townspeople) do catch on as Carradine's brutality increases, with the most memorable scene being when he and his men take over a philosophy class, in a scene that manages to get fairly intense. If it were just up to Alan Curtis to carry the film as Karel Vavra, the film would fall into a dark pit of boredom, since within any resistance movement there is always collaborators within families that need to be killed. Those characters are all left out, and so the drama quotient is not very intense. Nonetheless, Carradine's Heydrich is definitely worth watching.
This is one of those little typical WW II allied propaganda-flicks, made during WW II. It's rather simplistic and cheap looking all but its all enough to still make this movie a good watch, of course especially when you're a fan of the genre. Of course the biggest problem with this movie now days is its propaganda undertone that can be basically seen back in every sequence of the movie. Cowards become heroes and bad men turn into good ones. It makes the movie a bit ridicules and not always credible enough to watch now days but it's a part of the time period the movie got made in. The story itself is quite interesting on its won right but you feel it deserved a better and more fair and closer to the truth treatment. Who knows, maybe filmmakers will pick up this story once again and give it the treatment it really deserves and making it the great movie that this movie in potential could had also been. None of the actors really known to impress within this movie but John Carradine still manages to push the movie to greater heights with his role of Nazi SS commander. It's a movie worth watching due to its main story but it's production values and acting make this movie also far from a great or impressive one. 6/10
Hitler's Madman (1943)
* 1/2 (out of 4)
Douglas Sirk's first American film was also filmed by Fritz Lang as Hangmen Also Die the very same year. War propaganda at its highest as the Czech people stick together to assassinate Nazi Richard Heydrich (John Carradine). This thing here gets mixed reviews but I found it incredibly slow, boring and just not all that interesting. Carradine delivers a good performance but outside of that everyone else is pretty boring and while the direction shines in a few spots it never really comes full circle. The ending with "we should all rise up" might have packed a punch in 1943 but today it comes off very, very stupid.
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