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Hitler: The Last Ten Days

Hitler: The Last Ten Days
1973 / Color / 1:78 anamorphic widescreen (should be 2:35) / 106 min. / Street Date June 3, 2008 / 14.98
Starring Alec Guinness, Simon Ward, Adolfo Celi, Diane Cilento, Gabriele Ferzetti, Eric Porter, Doris Kunstmann, Joss Ackland, John Bennett, Barbara Jefford, Julian Glover, Michael Goodliffe, John Hallam, Paul Muller
Ennio Guarnieri
Production Design Roy Walker
Film Editor Kevin Connor
Original Music Mischa Spoilansky
Written by Ennio De Concini, Maria Pia Fusco, Wolfgang Reinhardt, Ivan Moffat from the book by Gerhardt Boldt
Produced by Wolfgang Reinhardt
Directed by Ennio De Concini

Reviewed by Glenn Erickson

Once upon a time, the memory of WW2 was so fresh that documentaries and movies about its atrocities were rare. Many moviegoers saw their first glimpse of the more brutal concentration camp footage in Stanley Kramer's Judgment at Nuremberg. The final hours of the Third Reich, with Hitler's diehards holding out in the last bunker in Berlin were considered too morbid to serve as the basis for entertainment. The West Germans did it first in 1955 in Der letze akt, directed by G.W. Pabst. The latest and perhaps best dramatization of the subject is 2004's Downfall, starring Bruno Ganz as Hitler. 1973's Hitler: The Last Ten Days is an Italian production starring mostly English actors and best remembered as the film where Alec Guinness plays Hitler. All three productions stay close to the historical facts, particularly the record of Hitler's personal secretary, one of the few survivors.

To transform himself into Adolf Hitler, Guinness adopts a gruff manner and a croaking voice similar to that of Gully Jimpson in The Horse's Mouth. He's quite good as the desperate, tantrum-throwing monster cornered in his final lair.


Berlin is falling quickly under the onslaught of the vengeful Russian army. Refusing to flee, Adolf Hitler (Alec Guinness) festers in the last concrete bunker surrounded by the surviving elite of the Third Reich: Joseph Goebbels (John Bennett), Goebbels' entire family and various generals and Field Marshals (Gabriele Ferzetti, Adolfo Celi, Joss Ackland, Eric Porter, Michael Goodliffe). Hitler maneuvers phantom armies on his maps, refusing to believe that they've been annihilated, while his party toadies prove their loyalty by seconding his fantasies of victory. Some of the Nazis would like permission to flee, while others are committed to dying with their Führer on the pretext that a non-Nazi world would be unthinkable. Attended by his chief aide Captain Hoffman (Simon Ward) and his mistress Eva Braun (Doris Kunstmann), Hitler hands out medals to the boy defenders of Berlin, rails against the traitors that he believes brought down his empire, and regrets that his Aryan super-city will never be built. As the Russians near, he orders a general to be flown in by his daring pilot Hanna Reitsch (Diane Cilento). Reitsch lands her plane in the blasted street outside the bunker, only to find that Hitler doesn't want their help in an escape: he just wanted to give the general his personal blessing.

Downfall trumps Hitler: The Last Ten Days in almost every respect, from its use of the German language to its interesting idea of telling the story through the experience of Hitler's secretary. Just the same, this respectable version works up a considerable mood of morbid dread. Guarded by a few S.S. fanatics, seventy-five holdouts live in a concrete box hammered day and night by artillery fire. The drug addled and disease ridden Hitler does his best to maintain his dignity, still behaving as if a good word from Der Führer is all that is needed to turn bad news into good. The rat-like Dr. Goebbels has toned down some of his poisonous rhetoric, but many present still consider Hitler the next thing to a god.

The generals mill about nervously. They can't tell Hitler the truth because he's still capable of having them shot. Leaving without permission is also likely to result in a charge of treason and a quick firing squad. Nobody has good news for Hitler. When the atmosphere of denial finally gets too thick, Hitler screams himself blue in the face, and then just gives up.

The bunker maintains formalities. Hitler celebrates his 56th birthday. He hands out medals to small children, praises some associates and criticizes others. But he recedes slowly into a dark depression, knowing that his only way out is suicide. Eva holds a party, but can't change the feeling that a communal death wish is brewing.

Hitler: The Last Ten Days is enacted by a fine ensemble cast obviously eager to work with Alec Guinness. Director Ennio De Concini's work is mostly invisible, but he keeps the warren of concrete rooms from becoming stifling. The many recognizable actors do work against our full acceptance of the drama, however. One of the generals is Emilio Largo from Thunderball and Sean Connery's wife plays the remarkable pilot Hanna Reitsch.  1 Simon Ward was also a familiar face at the time.

Guinness gives the role his all, stressing Hitler's physical and mental decline. He's a quasi-senile, impatient monster accustomed to getting his way on all things and imposing his version of reality on other people. Roman Emperors might have been like this, but any selfish man exhibits some of the same bullying attitudes. To play Hitler, all Guinness really need do is behave like an intolerable, closed-minded father. The man is a bundle of hate and rage. He faces the end of an empire that was supposed to last for a thousand years, but will be over in thirteen.

The end is a crazy nightmare of suicides and murder-suicides, with Frau and Herr Goebbels following Hitler in death, and taking their mob of blonde children with them, like a hellishly different version of The Sound of Music. We assume that most of the generals and officers scatter. Some will die fighting and others will be imprisoned and put on trial. And yet others will find protection of one kind or another and go on with their lives.

Legend's DVD of Hitler: The Last Ten Days reproduces the film's slightly grainy look and muted colors. The English-Italian co-production looked far worse in pale TV prints. No extras are included. Fans of Alec Guinness will enjoy seeing his approach to a performance problem that could easily backfire into unintentional comedy.

Added note, 6.24.08: There's one caveat to this review, as pointed out by reader Jon Paul Henry: The film was apparently filmed in 2.35:1 Panavision, and the 1:78 transfer has been adapted by cropping off the extreme right and left. Savant did not notice the missing film area, but a subsequent viewing makes the cropping seem very possible.

On a scale of Excellent, Good, Fair, and Poor, Hitler: The Last Ten Days rates:
Movie: Good
Video: Very Good
Sound: Good
Supplements: none
Packaging: Keep case
Reviewed: June 23, 2008


1. Hanna's earlier adventures as a V-1 test pilot can be seen in the espionage thriller Operation Crossbow.

DVD Savant Text © Copyright 2008 Glenn Erickson

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