Hitler - The Last Ten Days (Blu-ray)
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Review of "Hitler - The Last Ten Days (Blu-ray)"
This Blu-ray is currently £10 on amazon or at HMV.This is a bit of an oddity, and a surprising film to see getting a Blu-ray release. The film’s title pretty much tells you what to expect, and I guess spoils the story. If you’ve seen the German film Downfall (probably most famous for the ranting Hitler video meme), then this is kind of the same. But it’s cheaper, and instead of a Swiss actor who actually looks a bit like Hitler, it stars Alec Guinness.
It’s hard to express how weird this is – Guinness was going through a barren patch at the time, with few of his films since the mid 60s having made much of an impact. Within a few years, he’d make Star Wars and Tinker Tailor, which are my favourite things he’s in. But to see him playing Hitler is… well, quite a surprise. (Guinness is not actually the least likely Hitler I’ve seen – that honour goes to Derek Jacobi in a TV miniseries of Albert Speer’s memoirs.)Year: 1973
Director: Ennio De Concini
Stars: Alec Guinness
More information at: http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0070184
IMDB user rating: 6.7
The main question is, who on earth was this aimed at? It’s too low budget to be an effective war film. I guess it was just a vehicle for Guinness, an actor who seemed to love showing off his versatility. Actors like Guinness were held in excessive reverence back in the day; it certainly seems unlikely that you’d get a film made nowadays because an ageing British actor wanted a shot at playing Hitler. Audiences were presumably supposed to want to see how chameleonic movie star Alec Guinness would play Hitler, because Alec Guinness was a Great Actor, and we were meant to be interested in what Great Actors did.
The story holds no surprises. Hitler sits in his bunker in Berlin as the Soviet armies close in, ranting and fantasising to his loyal retainers and increasingly harried generals. It all ends exactly as you’d expect.
The problem is that watching Alec play Adolf isn’t as much fun as you’d hope. He’s too good an actor to be funny in the role (save for a few unfortunate moments), but doesn’t really commit to the part. He has the shouty scenes, but never convinces you that he’s actually angry. Bruno Ganz in Downfall screams himself hoarse. Guinness doesn’t put in anything like the same amount of effort – he growls as he shouts, but he’s not engaging any genuine emotion. He’s good at the small, petty side of Hitler – all cream cakes and model cities – which is remarkably similar to parts he played in films like Our Man in Havana. But he can’t impose himself, can’t make us feel that his subordinates would be scared of him, can’t sell the idea that he’s really suicidal. It’s also difficult take saintly Ben Kenobi/George Smiley seriously as Hitler, the exemplar of all that is evil in recent history. A bit where he shows what a bad egg he is by calling Eva Braun a ‘silly presumptuous insolent bitch’ just made me laugh.That’s a problem with the film in general. Where Downfall didn’t show Hitler as explicitly evil, allowing us to draw our own conclusions, The Last Ten Days can’t resist having Hitler constantly saying horrid things, usually about Jews or women. The dialogue on the whole is often shockingly bad, frequently being little more than a massive info-dump. Hitler’s rambling conversations tell us in laboured detail about his career (“When in 1936 I marched into the Rheinland…” and on and on). It’s not just Hitler – everyone’s at it. Eva Braun explains the plot against Hitler’s life to an apparently astonished servant. Goebbels begins his broadcasts to the German people by saying “This is your Minister of Propaganda, Josef Goebbels.” (In case they mistake him for one of the many other Josef Goebbelses who broadcast to them during the last days of the war?)
As if this wasn’t enough, the film begins with a five minute voiceover explaining Hitler’s career (which makes one colossal howler when it claims that Hitler replaced Hindenburg as Chancellor of Germany – he did no such thing). The film also comes with a seal of approval from historian Hugh Trevor-Roper (the man who later declared the Hitler diaries to be genuine, but we won’t hold that against him). It hammers home the historical context over and over. Downfall doesn’t bother with any of that – it just throws lots of men in uniforms at us and expects us to figure out their role by how the chap with the little moustache behaves towards them. No prizes for guessing which is the better film.The opening explanatory sequence uses plenty of real-life documentary footage, with some familiar and horrible concentration camp scenes included. This is the reason for the 12 certificate, as everything else is harmless. I’m not entirely sure of the ethics of using documentary footage like that in a fiction film, but it provides the movie’s few powerful moments. There are several bits of real footage dotted throughout, often in ironic counterpoint to Hitler’s delusional ramblings.
There are several familiar faces in the non-Guinness cast, most of whom are pretty decent. (No one, incidentally, attempts a German accent. It’s British received pronunciation all the way.) Simon Ward – a very early 70s leading man – gets second billing as a young officer who arrives at the bunker to deliver a report and sticks around. Otherwise, the most recognisable face is probably Adolfo Celi (the villain in Thunderball) as Krebs. The film was an Italian co-production, so a few Italian actors dot the mostly British cast. The only real problem is that it's painfully obvious that Celi (and other Italians like Gabriele Ferzetti as Keitel) are dubbed.Doris Kunstmann is decent enough as Eva Braun, although her nice-but-dim shtick seems designed to avoid answering the more difficult questions about her character. It's hard to imagine what she could possibly see in Hitler, as he's constantly rude to her and looks like Alec Guinness in a bad moustache. Goebbels is played – pretty well – by John Bennett, best known (to me, anyway) for playing a Chinese villain in a 70s Dr Who. Barbara Jefford plays his wife very effectively, tottering on the brink of hysteria, and Mark Kingston is Bormann, conveying the pettiness and servility of the man but not so much of the brutality.
Otherwise, Diane Cilento is very good as Hanna Reitsch, the fanatical pilot. Eric Porter also stands out from the crowd as a Luftwaffe general. Philip Stone, from The Shining and Flash Gordon, is General Jodl. Joss Ackland hangs around in the background of most scenes. Julian Glover, one of my favourite actors, is charming as the dissolute SS man Fegelein. We get a scene right at the start where Timothy West as an SS doctor boasts to Hitler of all the evil things he's done for the Reich, just in case we were in any doubt as to who the bad guys are here. And there are other familiar faces lurking - Admiral Piett from the Empire Strikes Back and one of the Hawkmen from Flash Gordon are there. Angela Pleasence has an odd cameo as a girl soldier.The problem with the film is that it’s too reverential, both to its subject matter and its lead actor. It would have been far better as a grotesque comedy. There’s the odd line – when Hitler compares himself to Jesus, for instance – which seems to have been written with black comedy in mind. There are a couple of scenes which are grimly humorous. One, in which the doomed führer demands to know from each member of his entourage exactly how they plan to kill themselves, is let down by being played in too restrained a manner.
The other, the horribly awkward marriage between Adolf and Eva, is more successful, and features a nice comic turn by Andrew Sachs as the nervous registrar. Guinness plays this scene in slightly too broad a fashion, though, as if he’s worried we won’t know it’s meant to be funny. It sums the film up perfectly – bits that could be funny are underplayed, bits that are funny are overplayed, and the supposedly dramatic bits don’t work because we’ve all seen Downfall, which is a million times better. It takes itself too seriously – you yearn for a bit of proper irreverence, for the kind of manic energy Ken Russell might have brought to the subject, or some detached Kubrickian nightmare comedy.It’s a cheap film, but luckily the sets don’t need to look too impressive, given that the bunkers under Berlin were claustrophobic and functional. Music-wise, it’s mostly classical. Hitler seems to have seen his own demise in Wagnerian terms, and historians tend to pander to that. This film does too – the opening theme is that really famous heroic theme from Lohengrin. We also get plenty of bits of the finale of Götterdämmerung. Otherwise characters listen to the same bland, light classical stuff that the real-life Hitler enjoyed.
The image quality feels like it could be better. There’s very heavy film grain, which at times feels like it actually obscures detail on the image – this almost feels like a DVD at times. In long shots of groups, it’s often hard to make out facial features. There’s also quite a lot of low-level damage to the print this was taken from – small flecks and scratches. Colours are good and strong (although it’s a very grey film), but this isn’t a very impressive presentation.There are no extras at all, which is a shame but not a huge surprise – this is a very obscure film, probably deservedly so. It’s a surprise to see it on Blu-ray, and I’m pleased to have seen it, but it’s not actually very good. Go for Downfall instead, and if you want to watch some proper, quality Guinness, go for Smiley’s People or the Ladykillers.
Product Information : Hitler - The Last Ten Days (Blu-ray)
Manufacturer's product description
DVD Region: Blu-ray
Video Category: Feature Film
Actor(s): Alec Guinness, Simon Ward, Adolfo Celi, Diane Cilento, Doris Kunstmann
Classification: 12 years and over
Production Year: 1973
Director(s): Ennio de Concini
Listed on Ciao since: 06/07/2017