Not even the sterling talents of Sir Alec Guinness can quite salvage the mess that is Hitler: The Last Ten Days, a film that comes fitfully to life under Guinness' alternately manic and subdued performance, but which is fatally hampered by an episodic screenplay and a disastrously distracting use of intercut stock footage of Berlin meeting its ruin in the spring of 1945.
With the Russians rapidly advancing from the East (in fact, the soundtrack of this film is pretty much nonstop bombing), and the U.S. led forces not too far behind on the Western front, Hitler and his cronies must have known the end was near. They retreated to Hitler's infamous bunker far beneath the devastation that was the remains of Berlin to engage in some last-minute futile plotting, hoping for some miraculous expiation from their many wartime sins. Hitler does a reasonable job recreating the claustrophic atmosphere, both physically and emotionally, that surrounded these desperate characters in their final moments, but it lurches from bizarre moment (shall we discuss various ways to commit suicide, perhaps?) to bizarre moment (underground tea parties, anyone?), with Guinness' Hitler either a raving madman or a kind of slightly scary, somewhat dotty, Grandfather type, with no real explanation for the drastic mood swings. The screenplay is credited to a number of people, including an Italian, a German and the usually reliable Brit (later U.S. resident) Ivan Moffat, and I had to wonder if they spoke each other's languages after a while due to the disjointed writing styles. Italian director Ennio de Concini, best known for his European television work, doesn't seem to have the grasp to mount a larger canvas piece such as this, and the film does in fact play like a movie of the week, albeit one with a superior cast, most of the time.
Hitler is graced by the presence of a largely British cast, though that very fact gives the entire air a sort of "drawing room drama" air that seems completely out of place with the world-shattering events that are being portrayed. While Guinness is certainly a force to be reckoned with, some of the more subdued performances seem a bit more lifelike, strangely, including an excellent Joss Ackland as a hapless general and John Bennett as the infamous Josef Goebbels. The two women in the cast, Diane Cilento as a female pilot and especially Doris Kunstmann (the only German in the principal cast) as Hitler's lover, and moments before death, wife, Eva Braun, inject a little emotion into what is largely a testosterone-fueled display of rage and futility. Kunstmann brings some real nuance to Braun, a character who is to this day little understood, and has one of the most tragic moments in the film when she realizes how long Hitler has known his plans for world domination will ultimately fail.
The film does end on an interesting, if emotionally devastating note, once Hitler has offed himself and the survivors realize they are free of one chain, understanding they are about to be enslaved by another. It's one of the few emotionally satisfying moments in a film that had a great premise and a fanstastic star, but which was brought to the screen too haphazardly to really make a lasting impact.