From the distance of time and flagging memory, relatively recent evils take on the faded aura of banality, and we too soon become blase about horrors that have been visited on humankind within just a generation or two. The 1977 documentary Hitler: A Career, released on DVD for the first time, offers an antidote to that apathy, providing two-and-a-half hours of well-researched if not exceptionally insightful information about arguably the most evil man of the last century, if not the epoch.
Sticking to its subtitle literally, and therefore ignoring most of Hitler's formative years, the documentary offers an incredible amount of rare archival footage and stills as it builds a portrait of a man who would visit his personal sicknesses first on the German peoples, and then the entire planet. The piece amply instructs us on the socioeconomic background which allowed Hitler to grab for power at virtually the same time that his future nemesis Franklin Delano Roosevelt assumed the reigns (for some of the same reasons, ironically) in the United States.
Moving through Hitler's expansionist forays and then into the full horrors of WWII, with his "final solution" and other travesties, the documentary provides at the very least a cogent timeline, with always well-chosen visuals to illustrate its passing points. The narration, by Stephen Murray, while well-written and apropos its subject, is a bit on the flowery side and may be unintentionally comic to some listeners.
Where this documentary falls a bit short is its lack of any psychological underpinnings for Hiter's bizarre thinking and eventual behavior. The symptoms of Hitler's "disease" are covered in excruciating detail, but there's never really any provocative delving into what led him to act the way he did. Perhaps there are no ultimate answers, but at least an attempt to find some would have given the documentary some added depth and context.
Also hampering the effort (to a much lesser degree) is a bizarre anomaly in the subtitles, where "a"'s are routinely replaced with "o"'s, making some of the translations momentarily difficult to figure out. There's also an overuse of sound effects to augment the silent footage.
This documentary was acclaimed upon its release as the definitive history of Hitler's atrocities. While that claim may have itself been heaped upon the dustbin of history 30 years out, Hitler: A Career remains a riveting piece of filmmaking, and should be seen by all interested in remembering what the face of evil really looks like.