The prize for odd title of the year goes to The Man Who Killed Hitler and then The Bigfoot, written and directed by Robert D. Krzykowski. Hitler/Bigfoot's sub-title should read, 'what must a movie do to attract attention these days?' Krzykowski goes in a completely unexpected direction, presenting an absorbing personal story directed in a formalist style, that takes itself entirely seriously. In other words, it's a real movie that resists preconceived assumptions. The title might be awkward, but it's better than 'The Man Who Saved the World, Twice,' or something arty or obscure.
The picture is rather arty and also a very risky mix: any real story these days runs the risk of boring audiences with short attention spans. Krzykowski has the enthusiastic participation of actor Sam Elliott, who was just nominated for a supporting Oscar in A Star is Born. The Man Who Killed Hitler and then The Bigfoot may end up being known as the 'other' movie made by Sam Elliott in 2018, but its uniqueness guarantees that it will build a following.
Hitler/Bigfoot will best be experienced cold. The adult life of Calvin Barr is told in alternating scenes taking place in the present (the 1980s) and during World War II. A language expert, Calvin leaves home for secret duty without getting the chance to propose to his sweetheart Maxine (Caitlin FitzGerald). He succeeds in his secret mission, yet forty years later feels nothing but regret, for a lost love as well as the disillusioning reality that his outrageous (but still top secret) exploits did little to change the course of the war. Now in his sixties, Calvin feels useless and alone, even though he has a firm friend in his younger brother Ed (Larry Miller). Then a pair of government agents (Ron Livingston, Rizwan Manji) contact Calvin. It turns out that only he can essentially save the world a second time. It's a completely different kind of secret mission, onr that Calvin views as a potential path to atonement.
This show crawls with screwy content: Nazis, superstitious Russian partisans, a potentially apocalyptic pandemic and the kind of monster that gained unearned cultural credibility in flimsy faux-documentaries. Yet it's all grounded in the dour but mellow character played by Sam Elliott, who sets aside the winking joker personality that was so winning in The Big Lebowski. Yes, the pulp elements are fully in place. The young Calvin is an aw-shucks small town boy who can't spring the question on his lady love... yet he's also a slick OSS agent that can penetrate Nazi security all the way to Der Führer's forest chalet hideout. An early action scene tells us that the senior-citizen Calvin is still a mean hand-to-hand fighter. Yet none of this strains the film's believability.
The Man Who Killed Hitler and then The Bigfoot isn't about wham-bam combat scenes -- it's all about character. Krzykowski instead emphasizes details: a toy dinosaur, the pebble that Calvin feels in his shoes but can never find. We do learn that The Bigfoot is as intelligent... at one point, expert tracker Calvin picks up some mush from the trail, and realizes that it's a poultice that The Bigfoot has applied to a wound. Krzykowski's excellent visual instincts sketch an impressive Canadian forest trek without boring us once. His compositions are artful, but not in a forced graphic-novel sense; his storyboards (included on the disc) have the feel of a quality illustrator, not a sketch artist's scribblings.
Director Krzykowski must be a firm believer in cinematic mysteries. There are some quizzical loose ends in the picture, especially a repeated focus on an old wooden box that Calvin stares at but does not open. Only one scene exploits a Quentin Tarantino-like situation. Calvin consents to letting a none-too trustworthy Russian partisan (Nikolai Tsankov) shave him with a straight razor, as part of a semi-superstitious ritual.
The picture is built around star Sam Elliott's winning persona. He's so engagingly pleasant that we wouldn't mind seeing a movie about nothing but Elliot strolling through town, just greeting people. A sequence concerning a lost & found lottery ticket defines Calvin's character in classic terms, about values no longer in vogue; it's a nice answer to the 'get off my lawn' sentiments expressed by Clint Eastwood. Calvin Barr's predicament reminds me of (but owes little to) films such as Fritz Lang's Man Hunt and Sam Peckinpah's Ride the High Country. It has almost nothing in common with Tarantino's Inglourious Basterds.
The young leads are outstanding. Aidan Turner (of the Hobbit movies) has eyebrows expressive enough to suggest the future shaggy brows of Sam Elliott. Aidan has a winning Jimmy Stewart quality when wooing his home town girl, and a proper stoic intensity when impersonating an SS envoy, in the (somewhat sketchy) Nazi mission sequences. Fifth-billed Caitlin Fitzgerald brings romance into the story, as the young teacher that Calvin loves so much. Krzykowski idealizes Maxine without making her the expected male fantasy of the One that Got Away -- she has her own agenda. The show properly uses Sam Elliott's star appeal: we care very much for Calvin's happiness, and Maxine is a beacon of positive hope.
Krzykowski orchestrates the rest of the characters along more predictable lines. The agents that recruit the elderly Calvin are not cynical bureaucrats, and Calvin's personal contacts in his New England hometown are sincere and supportive. The script doesn't try to make EVERYTHING that happens support the central theme. The child's school play we see is not leveraged to reflect directly on the potential devastation of a pandemic, not like the too on-the-nose 'Pied Piper of Hamelin' play in the tragic, touching Testament.
Can nobody acknowledge original screencraft? The discouragingly tepid reviews I've read for The Man Who Killed Hitler and then The Bigfoot miss the boat entirely. More than one reviewer takes the show to task for not living up to the expected Battle Royale they think is demanded by the 'pulpy' title. What did they want, 'The Stranger versus Predator?' Other notices think Krzyskowski is trying and failing to emulate Tarantino. Still another thinks the entire show is tasteless for failing to 'confront the Holocaust.'
Unlike the war heroism 'marketed' on today's news shows, the public aspect of heroism means nothing to Calvin; he has no desire to talk about the unpleasant things he did. I think that Hitler/Bigfoot has a lot to say about heroism past and present. Calvin Barr's entire generation had little choice but to set their lives aside for what was an all-important struggle to 'save the world.' Calvin never voices his dissatisfaction with what the world made of the Victory, but that attitude influences everything he does. His 'adventure' plays out in pulp terms, but it's also a second opportunity to Do the Right Thing.
RLJE Films' Blu-ray of The Man Who Killed Hitler and then The Bigfoot doesn't come from a big home video outlet, but its quality matches any in the business. I don't know if the show was shot on film or video, but it has a handsome look, dark and rich. Robert Krzykowski favors very wide screen images, and he uses that broad canvas well. Calvin's town has a picturesque main street, and his romantic stroll with Maxine gives us interesting midnight views of a river walk.
The extras include a gallery of Robert Krzykowski's concept art, a few minutes of good deleted scenes, and Krzykowski's rather jolting short subject Elsie Hooper, a mostly live action show that uses a puppet for its stylized main character. It's insubstantial yet sells us completely on the talented director's potential, much like the amateur work of Guillermo Del Toro.
The hour-long making-of documentary allows ample space for everyone connected to the film to sing the praises of its director. Without exception, all interviewed say they were attracted to the ultra low-budget effort by the quality of Krzykowki's screenplay. Douglas Trumbull is on camera attesting to his personal wish to get involved as well, offering to help the director achieve some larger-scale production value through organic low-tech methods (which appear to have been composited with green-screen methods anyway).
I heard about the film's impressive visual effects from the former Trumbull associates that reunited for the show, the resourceful effects supervisor Richard Yuricich and matte artist and animator Rocco Gioffre. As it turned out, Rocco ended up playing a role in the film! The director needed a 'priggish Nazi' for an important scene, and wisely intuited that the very un-priggish Rocco would do well. He's terrific, helping to set the tone in the minimalist Nazi chalet scenes.
The Man Who Killed Hitler and then The Bigfoot
Text (c) Copyright 2019 Glenn Erickson