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Bruno Ganz studied Parkinson's disease patients in a Swiss hospital to prepare for his role as Adolf Hitler.
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Most of the outdoor city scenes for the movie were filmed in Saint Petersburg, Russia. This was for two reasons: one, the architecture of the city has many Germanic aspects, and two, there are plenty of streets with little or no modern advertisements and other commercial aspects.
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Also helping Bruno Ganz in preparing for the role was the unique, only known recording of Adolf Hitler when he held a private conversation with Field Marshal Gustaf Mannerheim of Finland; at that time, he was a World War II ally of Germany against the Soviet Union. Hitler unexpectedly showed up to congratulate Mannerheim on his 75th birthday on June 4, 1942. Finnish intelligence agents secretly made the recording in a train wagon, as Hitler did not allow recordings nor photographs to be taken in private. Some eleven minutes of the recording feature relaxed, normal-tone talk in which Hitler generally describe his views about the war. One of two copies of the tape was discovered in 1992 and has since been studied by scientists and historians.
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Many of Adolf Hitler's lines are historically accurate, based on accounts from Albert Speer and Traudl Junge. Most of them, however, are from earlier dates.
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The button that Adolf Hitler removes from his jacket and gives to Magda Goebbels is the Gold Nazi Party badge, awarded to high-ranking party members who had constant membership from 1925. Hitler gave himself Badge No. 1 when he authorized it in 1933, even though he was not the first party member. The Soviets found the badge in the bunker and it was stored in a vault at the Lubyanka, the KGB headquarters. In 1996 the FSB, the Russian Federation successor to the Soviet KGB, revealed that it had the badge and in 2005 put it on display. In November that year, it was stolen in a brazen smash-and-grab raid. The burglar escaped even though he triggered the display alarms. So far, it has not yet been recovered.
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In the opening scene of the film, where Traudl is being interviewed for the position of Hitler's secretary in late 1942, she introduces herself to him as Traudl Humps. However, in all scenes in the bunker in April 1945, she is referred to as Frau Junge. In June 1943, Traudl, with Hitler's approval, married Waffen-SS officer Hans Hermann Junge, who was subsequently killed in action in France in August 1944. Because the film jumps directly from 1942 to 1945, these events are not depicted. However, her name change is correct.
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Of the thirty-seven named real-life people featured as characters in the film, Rochus Misch was the only one who was still alive when the film was released. He died on September 5, 2013 at the age of 96.
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After the film's release, Bruno Ganz stated that, at first, he did not want the role of Adolf Hitler. After viewing the film The Last Ten Days (1955) and Albin Skoda's portrayal of Hitler, however, Ganz realized the role could be played with some depth, and accepted the part.
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During the premiere in Germany, a large part of the audience broke down in tears at the end. Every person remained seated until the last of the credits were shown and the lights remained dimmed.
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The featured interview samples of real Traudl Junge are taken from the documentary "Blind Spot", recorded in April and July 2001. Due to serious health problems, Junge was unable to attend the film's premiere on February 9, 2002. The premiere had been a great success and the camera man went to the hospital to inform Junge, whereupon she is said to have answered, "My life work is accomplished. Now I can let go." Just hours later, she died at age 82, after a long fight against cancer.
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Bruno Ganz practiced Adolf Hitler's distinct Austrian accent with the help of a young actor from Hitler's area in Upper Austria.
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The portrait that Adolf Hitler is staring at in one scene is that of Frederick II of Prussia, also known as Frederick the Great. He reigned from 1740 to 1786.
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Rochus Misch outlived the much younger actor who portrayed him, Heinrich Schmieder. Schmieder died in 2010 at age 40 and the real Misch died in 2013 at age 96.
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During the letters montage, Magda Goebbels is seen writing a letter to her son, Harald Quandt (there is a picture of him in front of her), by her first husband, industrialist Günther Quandt. He was her only child to survive the war. In 1944, as a Lieutenant in the Luftwaffe, Quandt was injured and captured by the Allies in Italy. He was released in 1947 and later died in an air crash in 1967.
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Karl Richter, a member of the German NPD, managed to get into the movie via the normal way. He played the uncredited part of Generalfeldmarschall Keitel's adjutant. He later expressed his pleasure and satisfaction when the casting department asked him to try on the uniform, lift his right arm and shout "Heil Hitler." The filmmakers did not know who he was and that he actually was quite experienced in performing the salute.
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Christian Berkel, who portrayed Schenck, stated his own background was not too far from his character. His father was also a doctor during the war, arrested by the Russians afterward and then released. His mother's side, however, was Jewish. Almost all of his relatives on her side, save his grandmother and two cousins, were lost in the camps.
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Clips from this movie are used in numerous parodies that appear on YouTube in which a scene (usually the one of Adolf Hitler yelling at his subordinates) is re-subtitled to imbue it with unintended comedic meaning. The first such video was "Hitler gets banned from Xbox Live;" other subjects include: Nashville's gas crisis of 2008, changes to Epcot at Walt Disney World, the delay of the release of Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince (2009), fans' disappointment with the first Avatar (2009) trailer, the "Balloon Boy" hoax of October 2009, and Brett Favre signing with the Vikings. Many of the parodies have Hitler yelling at his subordinates about punctuation or spelling errors, in reference to the fact that sticklers for editing are sometimes derided as "Grammar Nazis." In 2010, Constantin Films, which owns the rights to Downfall (2004), started taking down the parodies, arguing that their copyright was being infringed. Shortly thereafter, new parody videos appeared decrying Constantin Films' actions as "Naziesque." Contrary to the reaction of Constantin Films, director Oliver Hirschbiegel claimed to have seen over a hundred of such parodies and enjoyed them very much. YouTube has since stopped blocking these parodies. As of August 2019, the most well-know creator of the parodies, "Hitler Rants Parodies", continues to have a presence on YouTube, with new material ranging from light comedy to biting political satire subtitling.
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In the scene where Peter Kranz and other teens return home, they stop near a dead young woman in an armored half-track. This incident refers to a well-known photo. The woman is supposed to be the member of the Norwegian Red Cross, attached to SS Division "Nordland." The Czech-produced half-track OT-810 (post-war production) was used in the movie.
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The April 23, 1945 telegram that Adolf Hitler received from Goering indicating that he was planning to announce himself head of state under the assumption that Hitler was incapacitated, had been taken prisoner or was dead, was sold at auction in July 2015 for US $55,000. The document had a history of its own, passing first into the hands of United States Army Captain Benjamin Bradin in 1945, after Bradin took it off of a desk as he was collecting war souvenirs from the Hitler Bunker. It later passed into the hands of Bradin's son, who then gave it as a present to a professor at the Citadel Military College of South Carolina. That professor in turn gave it to another student who ultimately sold it in 2015.
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The scene where Hanna Reitsch and General Ritter von Greim arrive at the Bunker is factual. Their adventures in getting to Berlin would make a film in themselves, but what is not made clear is exactly how Ritter von Greim was injured. On the last leg of their eventful flight into Berlin from Gatow, von Greim himself took the controls of a Fieseler Storch spotter plane. Reitsch was forced to cram in behind him, half crouched over his shoulder, in order to fit inside the small aircraft. As it turned out, this was lucky: in the air the plane was hit by enemy ground fire and Von Greim was wounded in the right foot, resulting in him losing consciousness from blood loss. Reitsch - who was an extremely talented test pilot with a remarkable career - was able to reach over him to grab both the throttle and the joystick; she flew the aircraft single-handedly from this position for the last ten minutes of the flight, eventually bringing the aircraft down in a bumpy but safe landing at the Brandenburg Gate. Flying an aircraft without using the rudders - which are controlled by foot pedals - can be extremely difficult.
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The film takes place in November 1942 and from April 20 to May 8, 1945.
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This is a list of the Goebbels children and their ages at the time they were murdered by their mother: Helga, 12;Hilde, 11; Helmut, 10; Holde, 8; Hedde, 6; Heidi, 4. Magda Goebbels had another son from her first marriage, Harald Quandt, who was born in 1921. He served in the Luftwaffe during the War, was captured by the Allies in 1944; therefore he was not in the Bunker in the final days and was the only member of the family to survive the War. He died in 1967.
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Justus Von Dohnanyi, who portrayed General Wilhelm Burgdorf, is the grandson of Hans Von Dohnanyi, one of the members of the anti-Hitler conspiracy, who was hanged in Sachsenhausen concentration camp in September 1944. Through his grandfather's marriage, he was also the grand-nephew of Pastor Dietrich Bonhoeffer, another anti-Hitler conspirator who was hanged in the Flossenburg concentration camp. In 2003, Yad Vashem, Israel's official memorial to the victims of the Holocaust, granted Hans Von Dohnanyi the title of Righteous Among the Nations.
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The scene of Albert Speer's last interview with Adolf Hitler reflects the account in Speer's published autobiography (Speer confesses to disobeying Hitler's "Nero Decree" in order to save German resources and lives, and Hitler weeps at the betrayal). Historian Gitta Sereny has however argued that Speer's account is itself inaccurate, since in the first draft of his memoir he does not mention his confession and Hitler's response. Speer escaped a death sentence at the Nuremberg Trials after claiming not to have known of the Holocaust, and research after his death has proved this claim untrue.
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In many of the film's scenes during 1945, Hitler's movements are shaky as if he is nervous, especially during the "war room" scene. This was actually because Hitler is believed to have had Parkinson's and displayed many of the disease's trademark symptoms during his latter years.
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The film is based on the books "Der Untergang" by historian Joachim Fest and "Bis zur letzten Stunde" by Traudl Junge, Adolf Hitler's last private secretary from 1942 to 1945.
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Hauptsturmführer Hans-Gösta Pehrsson was Swedish. He tried to get out of Berlin through the Swedish embassy but failed. He survived the war after being captured by the Red Army and died in Stockholm in 1974. The dead soldier lying in front of the half track in the famous picture is another Swede, Arvid Johansson from the city of Skövde.
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The Goebbels children are reading a German translation of the "Sam Pig" stories by popular English children's author Alison Uttley when Magda Goebbels arrives with Dr. Stumpfegger.
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Bruno Ganz will later play Professor Sigmund Freud, who left Wien for London in 1938 to escape from Nazis , in The Tobacconist.
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This film is included among the "1,001 Movies You Must See Before You Die," edited by Steven Schneider.
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Bruno Ganz, who played Adolf Hitler in this film, previously appeared in The Boys from Brazil (1978), which deals with a fantasy plot about young clones of Hitler, as Professor Bruckner, who explains the cloning and nurture process to Laurence Olivier's character.
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Elizaveta Boyarskaya's debut.
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During the war, a majority of the cyanide capsules produced were made in the concentration camps, which made sabotage a real problem. This is one of the reasons why many Germans who committed suicide by cyanide also shot themselves to make sure they would die. This is also the reason why Adolf Hitler's beloved dog, Blondi, was poisoned; he wanted to make sure his batch of cyanide was not fake.
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Corinna Harfouch stated that she nearly broke down when filming the scene in which Magda Goebbels gives her children their "medicine" to put them to sleep before poisoning them. Bruno Ganz felt similarly when he held the girl playing one of the Goebbels' children in his lap as they sang, because he knew that these children were soon to be murdered by their parents.
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The cast and crew have all stated that the most difficult scene to shoot of the entire film was the one where Magda Goebbels murders her own children.
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