HITLER: THE LAST TEN DAYS. (1973) DIRECTED/SCREENPLAY BY ENNIO DE CONCINI. STARRING SIR ALEC GUINNESS, SIMON WARD, JOHN BENNETT, BARBARA JEFFORD, JULIAN GLOVER, MARK KINGSTON, JAMES COSSINS, JOSS ACKLAND, DIANE CILENTO, ANGELA PLEASENCE, ANDREW SACHS AND DORIS KUNSTMANN.
REVIEW BY SANDRA HARRIS. ©
‘The heart of Germany has ceased to beat. The Fuhrer is dead.’
Joseph Goebbels, Hitler’s Minister For Propaganda.
While Bruno Ganz in DOWNFALL (2004) is my favourite screen Hitler of all time, Sir Alec Guinness (BRIDGE ON THE RIVER KWAI, KIND HEARTS AND CORONETS) is utterly magnificent here as the funny little man with the toothbrush moustache who reduced his country- Germany- and capital city of Berlin to ruins and rubble after one of the worst wars the world has ever known.
Seen through the eyes of a young adjutant who brings Hitler rare good military news in the bunker and has the dubious pleasure of being invited to stay till the end, it’s the story of Hitler’s last days in the underground bunker of reinforced concrete in the grounds of the Reich Chancellery.
Sir Alec is marvellously made up to resemble the Fuhrer. It’s eerie how much he looks like him. He’s got the mannerisms down to a T as well and the pomposity that Hitler displayed when treating the bunker inmates to one of his interminable monologues. It’s so funny the way they all had to stand around smiling politely and pretending to be interested in every word that fell from their Fuhrer’s lips.
Towards the end, we know from history that Hitler gave up discussing the war he knew to be lost, and instead rambled on endlessly about the care and training of dogs, his favourite subject, and the evils of smoking, another of his favourite soapbox topics.
Eva Braun, his mistress, had to have a sneaky fag on the sly in order not to upset the Fuhrer, and then stuff her face with mint leaves to get rid of the smell. As if the smell of mint wouldn’t arouse as much suspicion, lol. Smokers never learn.
Doris Kunstmann does an excellent job as Eva Braun, Hitler’s mistress for fifteen or so years whom he only married on the last day of his life. She was careful to always epitomise Hitler’s ideal notion of German womanhood, ‘charmingly feminine’ in traditional German dress with nothing in her pretty little empty head but thoughts of nail polish and dressing up.
In the bunker, as in the film, Eva has little enough to do but change her hair and outfit every five minutes. She’s Hitler’s Little Helpmeet, always there to soothe his worried brow or massage the weight off his troubled shoulders. What does she get from him in return?
Precious little, as far as one can see. He doesn’t give her his name until the day before they both die, and she was looked down on and denigrated much of the time. It must have hurt like hell when Magda Goebbels got to act as Chief Woman In Hitler’s Life on important occasions while Eva Braun was tucked away upstairs like an embarrassment.
Speaking of Magda Goebbels, the chap playing her husband Joseph looks uncannily like Hitler’s rather sinister, club-footed Minister for Propaganda. He was basically Waylon Smithers (THE SIMPSONS) to Hitler’s Mr. Burns, toadying for the older man, laughing at all his little jokes and being the yes-man that was the only kind of companion Hitler could tolerate.
The film is pretty much accurate in the way it portrays the last days of the Third Reich as seen from the bunker. The daily military briefings continued more or less right to the end, with Hitler screaming blue murder from behind his desk at his Generals when they failed to deliver the miracles he wanted. Which, towards the end of the war, was frequently.
It’s almost like watching a madman at work when he tries to move his various armies around the map from point A to point B, with never a thought for the fact that these armies were already mostly decimated by the Russian and American armies who by then were encircling Berlin like a crowd of hipsters round a coffee-stall at a craft fair.
The campaign was over, the war was lost but Hitler still pored over his military maps, when he wasn’t off in his wonderfully satisfying daydreams of turning the Austrian city of Linz into the cultural capital of the world once the war was over. It was all pie-in-the-sky, like so many of Hitler’s promises, ambitions and dreams. He had pretty much lost touch with reality by this stage.
Angela Pleasence, Donald’s daughter, has a cameo here as a member of the Hitler Youth who comes to the bunker while the whole of Berlin is under fire, including the Reich Chancellery. She’s come to collect a box of signed photographs of Hitler to give to the Hitler Youth as a reward/incentive for going into battle against the Russians and Americans.
Battle, and they’re only children! But the way Hitler dismisses their almost guaranteed deaths as an inevitable by-product of war is cold and chilling. These kids have parents and families and pets and lives and potential. By what right does he order all this to be thrown away?
And what good will a signed photo of his ugly mug, or even half-a-dozen Iron Crosses, be to a pre-teen boy or girl who’s facing down the barrel of a Russian or American gun…? There’s really no answer to that question, is there?
Diane Cilento, who plays the sexy schoolteacher Miss Rose in THE WICKER MAN (1973), portrays gutsy flying ace Hanna Reitsch here. She arrives at the bunker with her injured colleague General Von Greim and we quickly establish two things.
One, she has no regard whatsoever for Eva Braun and can’t believe that her beloved Fuhrer would waste his time on such an empty-headed little floozy and two, she is a fanatical National Socialist and an ardent Hitler-lover in particular.
She adores Hitler and wants to die in the bunker with him but Hitler has just made the badly-injured von Greim head of the Luftwaffe and so, for now, they will continue to have responsibilities above-ground, far from this stifling, claustrophobic Kingdom of the Moles that the bunker has become.
Some of the things that Hitler says in the film positively beggar belief. When going through his papers, trying to decide which of his things to burn or keep, he declares that he wants photos of himself to survive, as he doesn’t want to be misrepresented in pictures and art the way Jesus Christ had apparently been. To even mention himself in the same breath as Our Lord…!
Of course, we all know how he felt about the Jews. The way he talks about them here, talking about ‘stamping them out,’ he makes them sound like insects or a type of annoyingly treatment-resistant vermin you’d need a particularly strong poison to kill. He says these things so casually, even off-handedly, that it serves to make them all the more abhorrent and shocking to the viewer.
The end is done very well here. We have first of all the off-camera betrayals of Goering and Himmler, Hitler’s closest ‘friends,’ if you could call them that, and the execution of Fegelein, Eva Braun’s sister’s husband, whom Hitler decides has betrayed him also. Hitler can’t cope with all these defections, these terrible shocks to his rapidly failing system.
There are the discussions on the best way to kill oneself in order that one does not fall into the hands of the dreaded Russians. Joseph Goebbels and his wife will poison their six children, who are here in the bunker with them, with the help of Dr. Stumpfegger, the bunker’s doctor-in-residence. They will then kill themselves.
Hitler will shoot himself in the temple like a good German soldier and Eva Braun will take poison, as she doesn’t want to leave a disfigured corpse. The least of her worries, I would have thought, especially as her own and Hitler’s remains were cremated in the garden of the Chancellery outside the entrance to the bunker after they were dead.
Andrew Sachs, better known as Manuel the Spanish waiter from British sitcom FAWLTY TOWERS, plays the very nervous man who marries Hitler to Eva Braun, and who has to ask a coldly furious Hitler if he’s of pure Aryan blood without any defects in his family line. Dressed in black as if for a funeral, a nervous and tearful Eva Braun begins her short married life by starting to write her name as ‘Eva Braun’ in the register instead of ‘Eva Hitler.’
Brilliant bit-part actor James Cossins (THE ANNIVERSARY, FAWLTY TOWERS, SOME MOTHERS DO ‘AVE ‘EM) has a cameo role in the film as a Nazi telling an amusing anecdote in the bunker corridor while holding a brandy and a cigar. How terribly jolly, lol.
The film is interspersed with some genuinely harrowing footage of the damage and destruction wrought by the war to both human beings and the German landscape. The footage is ironically placed throughout the film, for example, when Hitler is praising his cook Constance Manziarly for the fact that cream has always been plentiful in the bunker, we see real black-and-white footage of people scrabbling in the streets for any bits of food they could find because they were, quite simply, starving to death. While the bunker inmates quaffed good liquor and stuffed their faces with the contents of the bunker’s full larders…
The score is filled with the rousing operatic music Hitler loved. Bases on the book ‘HITLER’S LAST DAYS: AN EYE-WITNESS ACCOUNT’ by bunker survivor Gerhard Boldt, this is Sir Alec Guinness’s best-ever performance, in my opinion, and you should try to see this fantastic film before you die. It’s just that good. It may not be the nicest story ever told but it’s certainly one of the most compelling. Watch it…
AUTHOR BIOGRAPHY OF SANDRA HARRIS.
Sandra Harris is a Dublin-based novelist, film blogger and movie reviewer. She has studied Creative Writing and Film-Making. She has published a number of e-books on the following topics: horror film reviews, multi-genre film reviews, womens’ fiction, erotic fiction, erotic horror fiction and erotic poetry. Several new books are currently in the pipeline. You can browse or buy any of Sandra’s books by following the link below straight to her Amazon Author Page:
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