Public Enemies, Public Heroes: Screening the Gangster from Little Caesar to Touch of Evil (review)
- Film & History: An Interdisciplinary Journal of Film and Television Studies
- Center for the Study of Film and History
- Volume 33, Number 1, 2003
- pp. 85-86
- View Citation
- Additional Information
Book Reviews | Regular Feature Chancellor—conjures up an image of the most detestable figure in recent history, a modem Beelzebub whose legacy embodies only horror, mayhem, and extermination, a fiendish nationalist responsible for untold misery and ruin. But at the same time, his mustachioed face has shown up in dozens of motion pictures, some made in Hollywood, others produced abroad. Sometitles depicted Der Führer as frightening or fascinating, while others poked fun at the former World War I corporal reducing him to a clown or buffoon. No screenplay, however, ever portrayed him as sympathetic or attractive. Why was this? What were the reasons for such an output? How many Hitler moving pictures were produced? Who were the standard actors for this awkward role? As for remuneration, were these photoplays successful? Did they earn a financial return for their investors? And, finally, what was the audience response? Did these pictures play in Peoria? According to a professional librarian, Charles P. Mitchell, approximately 100 motion pictures—during a sixty-yearperiod— depicted the German leader appearing in one form or another and these titles are examined, analyzed, categorized, and annotated in his new book, The Hitler Filmography: Worldwide Feature Film and Television Miniseries Portrayals, 1940 through 2000. While many of the screenplays originated in Hollywood, Mr. Mitchell also included productions gleaned from Germany, France, Russia , Japan, and other foreign distributors. In all, this is an impressive research document. As Mr. Mitchell explains, the first known actor to play Der Führer was Larry J. Blake who, in 1937, appeared in Universal's The Road Back, an adaptation of Erich Maria Remarque's Great War bestseller. But, after some behind-the-scenes maneuvering by pro-Nazi interest groups, his scene was cut. Then one year later Chaplin unleashed his famous parody, The Great Dictator heralding the first salvo. In two months, The Three Stooges dovetailed with their zany You Natzy Spy and I'll Never Heil Again. After December 7th, Hollywood turned up its propaganda machine and the race was on. Hitler appeared in numerous spoofs such—The Devil with Hitler, Hitler—Dead or Alive, That Nazty Nuisance, The Miracle of Morgan's Creek—and as a villain in The Hitler Gang. Each time, the character actor, Bobby Watson, took on the leading role. Soon, the fifty-five-year postwar period became saturated with diverse motion pictures. Titles such as They Saved Hitler's Brain (1963), He Lives (1967), How to Seduce a Woman (1974), Hard Rock Zombies (1984), Highway to Hell (1990), and Little Nicky (2000) were science-fiction exploitations, while other photodramas —Blazing Saddles (1974), UndercoverHero (1974), OurHitler (1978), Fatherland (1994), Snide andPrejudice (1997), and Hitler Meets Christ (2000)—offered a cameo appearance, parody, surreal fantasy, alternate history, psychological drama, and tragicomedy. Some screenplays seemed more mainstream, implying a standard historical interpretation The Last Ten Days (1955), Rogue Male (1976), Inside the Third Reich (1982), The Winds of War (1983), War and Remembrance (1988), and The Plot to Kill Hitler (1990), while a few, The Producers (1968) and Lisztomania (1975), were oddball, chimerical musicals. Overall, Mr. Mitchell spent many hours holed up in reference rooms and film libraries to cull such rare data and, then, arranged this information in an attractive format. Each entry includes a synopsis, cast and production listings, an analysis of the actor portraying Hitler, and—as the icing on the cake—representative quotations from the motion pictures: "... Stalin killed millions ofhis ownpeople, but he killed without grace. I ruled by passion and ecstasy! (The Empty Mirror, 1996) or "... oh God, how tired I am offlatterers! (Stalag Luft, 1994). Unquestionably, this filmography represents another landmark title from the McFarland Publishing Company's impressive array of motion picture books and Mr. Mitchell deserves high marks for this valuable study which contains a treasure chest of cinema information. Perhaps it is the supreme irony that Hitler, a loathsome ideologue of the worst kind, inspired such a kaleidoscope ofworks in literature and film. But as Mr. Mitchell so aptly concludes, it is his demonic screen image that will insure his like will never rise again. Robert Fyne Kean University RJFyne@aol.com Jonathan Munby. Public Enemies, Public Heroes: Screening the Gangster...