Col. Stauffenberg: God told Abraham he'd spare Sodom if he could find ten just men in the city. Do you think he will spare Germany?
The world does know that in 1944 a group of high ranking German officers, tired of the direction Germany was being taken by Adolf Hitler, conspired to assassinate the Fuher. The SS would be stripped of power and the first step in withdrawing from World War II would be taken. Obviously the plot failed as Hitler would take his own life nearly a year after the failed attempt, but outside of Germany, the general public may not be familiar with this group of men, the only ones from World War II regarded as heroes in their home country today.
The 1990 TV movie "The Plot to Kill Hitler" tells this tale at a brisk pace, but does something Bryan Singer's big budget artificial-thriller "Valkyrie" failed to do: give the men a bit more depth. Brad Davis tackles the role of Col. Claus von Stauffenberg, the man who was personally responsible for the failed bombing; Stauffenberg is a man who had nearly given his life to his country and a man who realized that a madman was in control of the country he dearly loved. Forced out of active duty due to crippling injuries, Stauffenberg is recruited by Gen. Olbricht (Michael Byrne) and Gen. Beck (Ian Richardson). The film takes more time with the buildup to the actual bombing and shows the struggle Stauffenberg faced as he weighed his love for country against the safety and security of his family. While this film focuses more on Stauffenberg's relationship with his wife Nina (Madolyn Smith) than "Valkyrie," the time restriction on this TV production ultimately still shortchanges the relationship and in the process shortchanges further telling of the men behind the plot.
"The Plot to Kill Hitler's" second strongest point is its presentation of the plot. It doesn't employ cheap, artificial tension: it presents the act by the book and evenly paced. Following the failed bombing, the film does get a bit muddled as it attempts to compress the events that follow into 20 minutes; if there was one thing "Valkyrie" did take the time to do right, it was this. Still, the overall feeling of the film is more concerning the men involved and the finale focuses on the conspirators and Stauffenberg's unending devotion to preserving a noble Germany, not a Nazi Germany.
The performances are very admirable, although Davis does struggle with a pseudo accent at times. There is noticeable emotion in his face at key moments that move the story better than any verbal expression of feeling. The supporting players for the most part play their roles well. Of note is the inclusion of supporting scenes with Adolf Hitler (Mike Gwilym), who is portrayed as a man believing he is leading Germany with divine support. His arrogance is the product of delusion; when he survives the blast, he believes God has spared him personally to continue to lead the people who chose him as their leader. This take on Hitler is interesting and much more appreciated than showing him as a raving lunatic, as it provides a good comparison and contrast to the film's protagonist, Stauffenberg.
While the film itself is far from a perfect telling of the plot, it is still very much worth seeing. It doesn't exploit the heroic actions of these men (they risked not only their lives, but the lives of loved ones, many of whom were killed as well, following the plot's failure) by turning the story into a pseudo-thriller; it makes an honest attempt to show the reason these men chose to do what they did and that it was not an easy choice for all involved. Hopefully, if viewers find the story as intriguing as it is, they will take the next logical step and research the actual plot to learn the complete story.
"The Plot to Kill Hitler" is presented in its original television exhibition ratio of 1.33:1. The transfer is free of artifacts and edge enhancement, but is far from perfect. The entire film has noticeable grain and visible physical damage is present on a semi-regular basis. However, it's not distracting in the least. The look of the film is pretty average and for a television production is better than one might expect.
The soundtrack is presented with an English Dolby Surround Stereo track. The film is heavily dialogue driven and being a TV production, one shouldn't expect to be blown away. The center and fronts get the biggest workout with the rears popping up from time to time for a few action scenes and incidental music. Also present is a Portuguese Mono track, Spanish and Portuguese subtitles, and English captions for the hearing impaired.
None. It is worth noting, despite having chapter breaks, which look like they correspond to original television commercial breaks, there is no scene selection menu.
While "The Plot to Kill Hitler" is not the definitive telling of the July 20th plot, it is still a very well made film and worth viewing for any interested party. Fans (or critics) of "Valkyrie" will find it especially interesting. While I can't speak for its pure historical accuracy, I can say I found it a very engrossing 90 minutes and was well worth my time. Recommended.