The Sons of Katie Elder

The Sons of Katie Elder
"First, we reunite, then find Ma and Pa's killer...then read some reviews."

Thursday, May 20, 2010


Where to start with a movie biography about one of history's most violent people, responsible for the deaths of millions of people, many of them his own people?  Automatically a director is biting off a lot when taking on a true historical story but even more so when considering the main character is one of the most controversial individuals of all-time.  That person is Adolf Hitler, the German dictator who attempted to take over the world and ended up killing millions in the process. 

Looking at IMDB's character page of Hitler, I was absolutely blown away by how many characterizations there have been of Hitler in movies, miniseries and on TV.  Some like last year's Inglourious Basterds was more of a cartoonish look at the dictator while others like Downfall tried to tell the story of his final days.  Then there's 1962's appropriately titled Hitler which treads somewhere in between those two descriptions.  One problem though is that it tries to do far too much, telling almost 25 years of story in a 104-minute movie.  Not to say a 3-hour movie would have been better with similar subject matter, but one that clocks in at under 2 hours stands little chance of being successful.

Starring Richard Basehart as Adolf Hitler, this biography attempts to do too much.  The bio begins with Hitler in prison transcribing Mein Kampf to a secretary and moves from there with his rise to power as chancellor of Germany, appointing himself dictator of the country, and his ultimate downfall, World War II.  A miniseries with 2-hour segments documenting each of these individual chapters in his life would be better suited if a director really wanted to explore the life of Hitler.  Instead, director Stuart Heisler spends too much time on certain things -- especially an Oedipus complex for Hitler -- while glossing over other aspects, like a rushed 15-minute look at WWII and his ultimate suicide.

Certain roles sound like career assassination to me, and playing Adolf Hitler is right at the top of that list.  Basehart was never a huge star in Hollywood, often playing supporting characters and getting third or fourth billing or playing guest starring roles on TV series.  He's an interesting choice for sure and does a fine job making something out of a poorly written character.  The characterization isn't so much about his actions as a dictator but more about his psychological makeup.  Because of that, we see stark raving mad Hitler more often than not, and Basehart's talents are wasted as a cartoonish, exaggerated portrayal takes over.

The cartoonish, over the top tone though isn't just limited to one character.  The whole tone of the movie plays like a big joke, especially in the portrayals of Himmler, Goering, Goebbels, and other members of Hitler's ring of supporters.  Introduced by their flaws -- personal and otherwise -- that include pervert, sadist, murderer, clubfooted, these are nothing more than cardboard cutouts of flesh and blood people that, while despicable, are interesting to look at.  The best is saved for the man in front though as Hitler is presented as impotent, a megalomaniac, homosexual, and an Oedipus complex that basically makes him crazy.

This is shown through two relationships in his life, one with his niece Geli (Cordula Trantow) who he may or may not have a sexual relationship with, and two, his mistress Eva Braun (Maria Emo) who stands by him even in the most difficult times.  For starters, neither actress is that talented and at times it's hard to watch their scenes that come off as amateurish.  A story about one of the most controversial characters in human history is diminished to a story about a man struggling with inner demons about feelings for his mother and how he takes it out on the people around him and the world as a whole.

It's just a bizarre movie on the whole, not helped at all by a budget that makes the movie look incredibly cheap.  Extensive footage from WWII is inserted throughout the story to replace scenes of the Munich rallies or any of Hitler's speeches.  In the big picture though of a movie's success, the cheap look can be a tipping point in deciding if it's good or great.  This biography never gets to that point because it's just not very good.  Cartoonish, over-exaggerated, stereotypical and a wasted effort.

Hitler <---TCM clips (1962): * 1/2 /****

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