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Operation Valkyrie: The Stauffenberg Plot to Kill Hitler
For you Tom Cruise fans who have been frustrated by the repeated delays in the release of his new film Valkyrie, you can get a fascinating sneak-peek of sorts from Operation Valkyrie: The Stauffenberg Plot to Kill Hitler. While most people are probably at least passingly familiar with the July 1944 attempt to assassinate Germany's fuhrer, few probably know the backstory or even how prevalent the desire for a coup d'etat was among the military elite, some of whom (like Stauffenberg) never joined the Nazi party.
Valkyrie was in actuality the code name given to a covert military plan to quell civil unrest should it break out among the indentured masses who had been conscripted into near slavery, shipped to Germany from the occupied territories, and put to work building armaments, among other wartime needs. It was the genius, and also the ultimate failing, of the plan to kill Hitler that it co-opted this existing strategy (ironically approved by Hitler himself), and made it the second phase of an effort to rid Germany not just of its leader, but its ruling Nazi elite.
Operation Valkyrie might be faulted by some for spending so much time on the history of Claus von Stauffenberg himself, but it helps place the actual events of the assassination attempt in a broader context of social unrest, the rise to power of the National Socialists, and the nagging qualms of conscience that plagued a lot of the higher echelon officer class in the Wehrmacht, several of whom (it's claimed anyway) had no idea of the genocidal atrocities being committed in Hitler's name until relatively late in the war.
Valkyrie paints a fascinating picture of a relatively small group of conspirators working not entirely in secret to get close enough to Hitler to successfully kill him, something not very easy to attain (as demonstrated by literally scores of failed attempts before this one, something detailed in one of the extras on the bonus disc included in this two DVD set). That's where Claus von Stauffenberg, an aristocrat related to European royalty, enters to play such a central role, having made it into Hitler's inner circle after having been seriously wounded in the war (he lost one hand, an eye, and several fingers of his other hand) and returned to the fatherland. Though Stauffenberg had been approached about the possibility of a coup years before, he had refused, sensing that the attempt would be futile. His growing disillusionment with the Nazi regime led to his final agreement and it was Stauffenberg who secreted a briefcase with a bomb into a strategy session with Hitler that just barely missed killing the Fuhrer (in fact Hitler felt it was Divine Providence which had saved him, ironically perhaps goading him onto the patently mad decisions he made in the final months of the war).
With some very basic, though credible, CGI, several compelling interview segments (including with the plot's sole survivor), and dramatic recreations of events, Valkyrie delves into the chain of power that was set up to try to depose Hitler. It's also perhaps a slightly disingenuous motive of the documentary (made in conjunction with the German Resistance Museum) to make the point that not everyone was a blind follower of the madman, and that there were indeed efforts as early as the mid-30s to kill Hitler. While Valkyrie seems perhaps to be trying a bit too hard to posit this theory, it nonetheless does a stellar job of proving that there was at least a handful of people, some quite powerful, who risked everything to bring down a lunatic, not only at severe risk to themselves, but to their country as a whole.
The fates, for whatever reason, kept protecting Hitler until his luck finally ran out almost a year later during the fall of Berlin. Perhaps it was only fitting that he ultimately he had to die by his own hand. Operation Valkyrie is an exciting and detailed accounting of the most famous of the assassination attempts against Hitler, and will be enjoyed by any World War II aficionado.
Operation Valkyrie boasts a very sharp enhanced 1.78:1 image with excellent color, contrast and detail. Though the CGI is on the basic side, illustrating various locales and the like, the dramatic recreations and interview segments are all well done, with excellent detail. Some of the source material, including some very rare color footage of Hitler, shows its age, but it's nothing too horrible, and actually is quite surprisingly sharp at times.
A standard stereo soundtrack suffices perfectly well for this documentary, which consists either of voiceover narration or interview segments, with some underscore. (I did in fact have to laugh that the producers chose a French composer, Erik Satie of all people, to underscore an extra on the Stauffenberg castle. Would German nobility approve of such a non-Aryan choice?). There are also English subtitles available, which come in handy for some of the more heavily accented interview subjects.
A whole second disc of supplementary material helps elevate this release considerably. Aside from the Satie-scored visit to the Stauffenberg Estate mentioned above, there's also almost an hour (all silent) of home movies shot by Eva Braun (many in color), a fascinating analysis of previous plots to kill Hitler, a short piece on the German Resistance Memorial, footage from the "People's Court" trials held for the conspirators after the coup failed (some of which is in the main documentary), and an interview with Philipp Baron von Boseelager, the last surviving member of the conspiracy.
Truth is stranger than fiction, some wiseman once said, and my hunch is Operation Valkyrie is at least as compelling as the upcoming fictionalized Cruise film is going to be. Highly recommended.
"G-d made stars galore" & "Hey, what kind of a crappy fortune is this?" ZMK, modern prophet