Tuesday, January 05, 2016

Tonight's Movie: Hitler's Madman (1943) - A Warner Archive DVD Review

HITLER'S MADMAN (1943), like the recently reviewed HITLER'S CHILDREN (1943), is a WWII film recently released by the Warner Archive.

I was drawn to see HITLER'S MADMAN by leading lady Patricia Morison, who was the actress whose work I saw the most in 2015.

The film is well-done; in fact, this low-budget PRC (Producers Releasing Corporation) film impressed MGM enough that they snapped it up for distribution. However, the subject matter is such I found it a difficult film to watch, even more so than HITLER'S CHILDREN.

HITLER'S MADMAN, directed by Douglas Sirk, was loosely inspired by the same true events as Fritz Lang's HANGMEN ALSO DIE! (1943), which was released just weeks earlier. Oppressed Czech villagers, led by Karel (Alan Curtis), Jarmilla (Morison), and Jan (Ralph Morgan), plot to assassinate monstrous Reinhart Heydrich (John Carradine).

After the incident Karel and Jarmilla are able to flee, and the Nazi retaliation on the village isn't pretty, to say the least. And that's just one in a string of atrocities depicted, as men are conscripted for labor camps, Christians are martyred, and young girls are kidnapped to be sent to the front to "entertain" the soldiers. (Ava Gardner is easy to spot as one of the crying young girls.) Knowing that these kinds of things really did happen is sobering; I'm always flabbergasted that so many men were willing to commit such horrifically evil acts, and at the same time it's distressing knowing similar evil continues to exist in today's world.

Curtis, known best to me for PHANTOM LADY (1944), is fine as the resistance leader, though he seems very "American" compared to the rest of the cast. The striking Morison, with her beautiful eyes and unusually long, dark hair, is always interesting to watch, and as the top-billed cast member she has a nice-sized role.

The supporting cast includes Edgar Kennedy, Ludwig Stossel, Howard Freeman, and Al Shean, with small roles played by Frances Rafferty, Leatrice Joy Gilbert, and Tully Marshall, who plays the professor and who died the year this was released. Leatrice Joy Gilbert, incidentally, died almost exactly a year ago, in January 2015.

The movie was filmed in black and white by Jack Greenhalgh and the uncredited Eugen Schufftan.

HITLER'S MADMAN is a sobering slice of WWII history. It may not be easy to watch, but its cautionary tale of the evil that some men are willing to do -- and the bravery of those willing to oppose them -- may be as important now as it was during the heart of the war. Never forget.

The Warner Archive DVD is a good-looking print. The trailer is included on the DVD.

Thanks to the Warner Archive for providing a review copy of this DVD. Warner Archive releases are MOD (manufactured on demand) and may be ordered from the Warner Archive Collection at the WBShop.


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