Tuesday, January 13, 2009


HITLER: LAST TEN DAYS

April 20, 1945. A beautifully baked birthday cake comes out of the oven to the sounds of staccato gunfire. The place is a bunker in subterranean Berlin, and the huge explosions a sign that the Allies are close. The birthday boy, as you might have guessed, is the German Führer, Adolf Hitler.

The Soviet army is only a day or two away from the bunker, but the inmates seem to be oblivious to their future. At the Führer's birthday celebrations, we see Hitler's cronies (among them Alfred Jodl and Joseph Goebbels) vie to gift the best to their leader. However, closer scrutiny reveals that the truth of Germany having lost the war has dawned on the Führer's men. The generals and senior staff know what is in store, but Hitler's maniacal tendencies and paroxysms of rage prevent them from confronting their leader with the truth. The false games of deifying Hitler continue as the men mock the the cigar-smoking Churchill in the Hitler's presence, but out of earshot, they voice their concerns about theirs and their nation's future.

Sir Alec Guiness does a splendid job portraying the Nazi dictator, not merely in his staccato speech, chest thumping and theatrical demeanor, but also in conveying the essence of his power. However, with the spotlight on him alone, the film becomes a mere highlight of Hitler's terrible rage and his consequent alienation from his own inner circle.

It is impossible to watch this film without switching to comparisons with Bernd Eichinger's Untergang (Downfall), where Hitler is less of a monster and more of a maniac wavering between tenderness and madness. He towers like a colossus over his coterie; their devotion to him and belief in his world is so complete that most of them plan to die with him.By contrast, Hitler: The Last Ten Days paints the dictator with a stronger brush. More than a dramatized record of the last few days of his life, it becomes a showcase of Hitler's constant rage and insanity that turns everyone - including his wife, Eva Braun (Doris Kunstmann) - against him. So complete is his alienation (as the last scene depicts) that when his death by suicide is announced, the inmates of the bunker light up cigarettes - Hitler had banned the use of tobacco in the bunker.

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