Directed by Ennio De Concini
Aspect Ratio: 1.78:1 anamorphic
Running Time: 106 minutes
Audio: Dolby Digital 2.0 mono English
MSRP: $ 14.95
Release Date: June 3, 2008
Review Date: June 3, 2008
The overwhelmingly despondent concluding days in the saga of the Third Reich are portrayed in rather haphazard fashion in Ennio De Concini’s Hitler: The Last Ten Days. Based on the testimony of those who had occupied the Berlin bunker where Hitler, his lover, and his generals were ensconced before some were captured, Hitler: The Last Ten Days certainly has something of the air of truth about it. It’s the construction of a finished film from the disparate parts, however, that makes for a scattered, unsatisfying experience.
Alec Guinness plays Der Fuehrer, a role which allows him a range of emotions from subtle flirtations through giddy delights over any good news (however bogus it might be) to the insane ravings of a maniac. During these ten days in his underground bunker (with the sounds of intense bombing and the steady advance of the Russians on all sides), Hitler celebrates his 56th birthday, and surrounded by his generals, their wives, his lover Eva Braun (Doris Kunstmann, the one German in a cast of mostly British character actors), and his servants, lives out his final days with a series of lavish parties, teas, and dinners, serious strategy sessions with his commanders where nonsensical orders are given that can’t possibly be anything but suicide maneuvers, and discussions about his political and military genius while his underlings react in utter seriousness and compliance until almost the bitter end. We witness an alleged traitor subjected to a firing squad, a renowned Luftwaffe commander brought to the bunker to be told of his promotion (which resulted in 43 German planes being shot down and the commander’s leg shattered on the foolish mission), and the adults brainstorming methods of suicide once it’s clear that the end is near. Each of these scenes is quite involving in and of itself. But the scenes amount almost to blackout sketches bookended by vintage footage from before and after the fall of Berlin.
It’s the script that’s the real problem here, and with it having so many hands connected to its fabrication (Ennio De Concini, Maria Pia Fusco, Wolfgang Reinhardt, Ivan Moffat), it’s little wonder it seems fragmented and utterly disjointed. The sepia-tinted war footage which stretches the running time of the film by at least ten minutes blends very badly with the color footage featuring the actors in their portrayals. Thus, the film seems to be a cobbled-together attempt to piece together what may have taken place during Hitler’s final week and a half without having that seal of authority which a more decisive script and either freshly shot war footage or the elimination of war footage all together might have given it. (A 1981 CBS television special called The Bunker with Anthony Hopkins giving an Emmy-winning performance as Hitler told the story in the proper way offering gripping drama without resorting to badly tattered war footage to flesh out the film.)
The array of talented British character actors who play the principal roles is most impressive, but it gives the enterprise a decided artificial flavor. Guinness covers all the bases as Hitler alternately sanguine and screeching as the mood strikes. Simon Ward as the young, eager to please Hauptmann Hoffmann plays it quite straight-laced and taciturn while John Bennett and Joss Ackland show a few more colors as Josef Goebbels and General Burgdorf respectively. Both principal women in the story, Doris Kunstmann as Eva Braun and Diane Cilento as test pilot Hanna Reitsch, prove fetching alternative presences from all the death and destruction. Kunstmann in particular has a stupendous moment when she learns of Hitler’s realization of the war’s futility two full years before it ended as she tries to wrap her head around the millions of lives lost to his vanity and monstrous lack of humanity. That sequence plus the ghoulish scene where methods of suicide are routinely discussed and discarded as not foolproof certainly remain in the memory. The final shot of those remaining in the bunker after Hitler’s final act, sighing in almost palpable relief that the madman is finally gone, is also quite artfully composed.
The film is presented on this DVD with a 1.78:1 anamorphic transfer. No clean-up has been done resulting in an image which is littered with dirt and debris from time to time. Sharpness is never much better than average, and color often looks plugged up and unnatural. The vintage clips are all in poor shape and mix uncomfortably with the color footage shot in London masquerading as Berlin. The film is divided into 28 chapters.
The Dolby Digital 2.0 mono mix is decoded by Dolby Prologic into the center channel. There isn’t much fidelity to the mix, and ADR is all too obvious. The entire performance of Adolfo Celi as General Krebs has been dubbed by an English actor, and the resulting mix with the live recording of the other actors isn’t well done.
The DVD is a bare bones affair with no special features at all.
Hitler: The Last Ten Days tells a fascinating story in rather less than satisfactory fashion. There are some good performances to see, but the fragmented script and the jarring use of vintage film clips with live action footage doesn’t make it an easy DVD to recommend.