Top 5 Hitler Portrayals

Aside from Jesus, I would put my money on Hitler as most portrayed historical figure on celluloid. From serious to comical, cameos to lead role, that ominous little mustache has been rearing its head for the past 70 years. People ranging from anonymous character actors to Academy Award winning thespians have taken a crack at arguably the most hated man in history. So who did it the best? It isn’t too hard to look the part, slap on a silly mustache, part your hair, look dead inside and there you go, right? If that was the case then we can give the award right now to Michael Sheard. He portrayed the dictator no fewer than five times (also Heinrich Himmler three times) in his career, most famously in Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade. No, it takes more than that to make it on this list. There are some famous honorable mentions that just missed the cut. Martin Wuttke in Inglourious Basterds, David Bamber in Valkyrie, and Dick Shawn in The Producers (1968). The following men brought something unique to the role that puts them above the rest.
5. Anthony Hopkins in The Bunker – George Schaefer (1981)
There are three films on this list that depict the last days of Hitler in his bunker in Berlin. During the lasts breathes of the Third Reich Hitler decided not to go out and fight to the death with the old men and young boys who were dying in the streets above him. Instead, he took his closest yes men and hide underground, shut off from the armageddon that he had bestowed upon his motherland. Surprisingly, despite the free-flowing supply of cyanid capsule, defeatist sentiments and hoards of revengeful Russian soldiers, a handful of residents of the Führerbunker managed to get out and share what happened in those last few days. Because of this, there are a few different variations and perspectives on the events and thus some of the best film depictions of the man himself. Coming in at number 5 is Anthony Hopkins, and he gets the distinct honor of being the creepiest Hitler. There is something about his haunting eyes and dead pan expression that sticks with you long after watching this relatively dry made for TV film. It is based on the book of the same name by James P. O’Donnell, who was assigned by the military to document the last days of Hitler. I have only read excerpts from the book, but I can see where the movie gets its tone from. They are both very journalistic in manner and leave little to the imagination. Though there are a few points the stand out. The Bunker focuses on Hitler’s relationship with Minister of Armaments, Albert Speer (Richard Jordan). In doing so we get one of the better scenes in the movie where Speer begs Hitler not to go ahead with his “scorched earth” policy and instead let the people of Germany have some sort of future. In Hitler’s unapologetic reaction we see glimpses of a character that would later bring Hopkins an Oscar. He received an Emmy for this performance. O’Donnell provides narration at the beginning and end of the film.
4. Alec Guinness in Hitler: The Last Ten Days – Ennio De Concini (1973)
Four years before Alec Guinness donned his brown robe and white beard in Star Wars, he gave a performance that would make a Sith blush. It is no cinematic secret that George Lucas strongly borrowed from the events of WWII in order to sculpt his Sci Fi masterpiece. I suppose you could call it ironic that Obi Wan would play the Darth Vadar of Europe. This film falls victim to historical inaccuracies that puts it behind others on the same subject manner. It tries and play up the drama of all of Hitler’s closest comrades turning their back on him towards the end. In reality, despite him telling those around him to flee, most blindly stayed by his side. Guinness may have been further up my list if I had never heard of Obi Wan Kenobi. But unfortunately while watching this film you can’t help but think to yourself at times “Damn, Ben Kenobi is pissed”. That said, he does bring a fierceness to the role that was lacking in Hopkins’ turn. And boy does he look the part.
3. Noah Taylor in Max – Menno Meyjes (2002)
Before Hitler decided that it was his mission to “bring peace” to Europe, he was an aspiring artist. At the age of 18 he applied to the Vienna Academy of Fine Arts. He failed a drawing class and was not accepted. Two years later he was still at it trying to make a career as a draftsmen and a watercolor painter. Even when he was in the army in World War I he drew cartoons for an army publication. Max asks the question, what if Hitler had found success in the art world? The movie takes place in 1918 and revolves around a friendship between Hitler and a fictitious Jewish art dealer, played by John Cusack. Cusack’s character encourages Hitler to delve deeper and put more of himself into his art and avoid the pitfalls of politics. Unfortunately the performances are far better than the actually movie. With lines like “You know you are a hard man to like, Hitler” or “Come on Hitler, I’ll buy you a lemonade”, this film is just a little too self aware to be taken seriously. Noah Taylor, however, is fantastic and almost seems like he is in a different, better movie than the rest of the actors. There are not enough first hand accounts of what Hitler’s character and mannerisms were like during this time in his life, so Taylor is free to play around with the idea of a insecure monster.
2. Moe Howard in You Nazty Spy! – Jules White (1940) / Charlie Chaplin in The Great Dictator – Charlie Chaplin (1940)
In 1940, before any of the true horrors of Nazi Germany had become apparent to the America, two films came out in attempt to show the dangers and absurdity of what was happening across the pond. Moe Howard of the 3 Stooges was the first person to play Hitler on film in the short You Nazty Spy! In it the Stooges are play wallpaperers for some rich businessmen in the fictional country of Moronica. They decide that the country needs a change and appoint Moe dictator. The other two Stooges play Field Marshal Gallstone and Minister of Propaganda Pebble (a play off Hermann Göring and Joseph Goebbels). It is shocking how well Howard nails Hitler’s exaggerated speech pattern. Strangely it includes a consentration
camp joke, which brings into question how early was the American public aware of the camps. Both Larry and Moe claimed that this is there favorite of their shorts. A year later they released a sequel called I’ll Never Heil Again. It would be the only sequel to any of their films that they would ever do.
9 months after the Stooges released You Nazty Spy! Charlie Chaplin put out a full length feature lampooning Hitler called the Great Dictator. Chaplin’s first talkie, he plays two different roles, a unnamed Jewish Barber and Dictator Adenoid Hynkel. The movie portrays the Dictator as a megalomaniacal man/child who wants nothing but to rule the entire world. This film would become Chaplin’s most financially and critically successful. But when it came out there was also a fair amount of controversy because America was still at peace with Germany and many felt that this could have been taken as an act of aggression. However it would go on to be nominated for 5 Academy Awards. Chaplin said that he was moved to make the film after hearing the oppression that his Jewish European friends had been experiencing. He would later state that if he had been fully aware of the horrors of the war he may not have been able to make the film.
1. Bruno Ganz in Der Untergang (Downfall) – Oliver Hirschbiegel (2004)
As I stated in my previous post on films that most people could only stomach once, Bruno Ganz’s portrayal of Hitler is so humanistic that it has caused controversy. Downfall is based on the memories of Traudi Junge, Hitler’s personal secretary from 1942 until his death. One of the key elements of her memoir is how much guilt she feels over the fondness she felt for her former employer. She claims that she was in a sort of blind spot and was unaware of the true horrors of the Third Reich until after it was all over. During her time with Hitler she states that he was very kind and always treated her and others around her with great respect, almost in a paternal manner. Ganz successfully conveys both that Hitler and the Hitler we have all grown to know and hate in our lives. Unlike the previous two films that I have mentioned that also deal with Hitler’s final days, this one isn’t just an account of the events. At no point in those other films did I feel the claustrophobic nature of life in the bunker as the world explodes above. This film takes you there and into the minds of those inside. If you haven’t seen the movie, you have probably seen the scene when Hitler finds out that all is lost. Though you have most likely seen it with subtitles replaced with his reaction to the iPad or Oasis’ break up. I highly suggest you see the rest of it as well.
I’ll leave you with an ill-fated British sitcom. Enjoy.

7 Responses to “Top 5 Hitler Portrayals”

  1. Nice work dude. I love that your blogs have “extras” or special features. I’m gonna have that Heil Honey theme song in my fuckin’ head. Probably not good. Good thing I’m a Jew.

  2. Der Untergang is one of my favorite movies. Bruno Ganz did a great job as a withering Hitler.

  3. Downfall or Der Untergang is really one of the best war movies ever in my opinion, the fact the film is in German gives it an authentic edge. I love the soundtrack to the film too specially the track hoffnung am ende der welt, which is a reflective piece of music and sort of represents the end of the war in a way.

  4. Tom Henshaw Says:

    There is only one man who could portray Hitler convincingly on screen – an American actor Robert “Bobby” Watson (1888 – 1965).

  5. Tom Henshaw Says:

    Only one man could portray Hitler convincingly in motion pictures. His name? Robert “Bobby” Watson (1888 – 1965).

  6. Only one man could portray Hitler convincingly on film. That gentleman’s name?: Robert “Bobby” Watson (1888 – 1965).

  7. Tom Henshaw Says:

    One man – and one man only – could portray Hitler convincingly on film. His name? – Robert “Bobby” Watson (1888 – 1965). I saw the highly touted Bruno Ganz picture a good few years ago. It’s not bad. it’s not great either. What does it amount to? A typical modern picture; done in a typical modern style. Too many close ups. Too many quick cuts; everything over exaggerated, like a typical modern day soap opera. The furrowed brows. The long, (supposedly) meaningful stares. The ludicrous grimacing (Ganz resembles a crazed rabbit). Nobody talks or acts like that. Bobby Watson played Hitler in motion pictures nine times – usually for comedic effect. But, on the occasions when he was required to essay the part in earnest, this quiet, unassuming professional turned in excellent, no nonsense portrayals. He studied newsreel footage and recordings, and did an understated and thoroughly craftsman like job. Witness his brief cameo as Hitler in Irwin Allen’s The Story of Mankind; filmed in colour in 1957, When Watson was sixty-eight years old!

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