Eva Braun: [speaking to Hitler] What a pity for the world you couldn't have devoted your life to art.
In 1973, Paramount Pictures released writer-director Ennio De Concini's "Hitler: The Last Ten Days," based on Gerhardt Boldt's non-fiction book The Last Days of the Chancellery. The film depicts the last days of Adolf Hitler's life inside his rat's nest-like underground bunker as Soviet troops battled it out with the Germans in the battered city of Berlin.
Starring Sir Alec Guinness as Hitler, Doris Kunstmann as his long-suffering mistress Eva Braun, Eric Porter as Luftwaffe General von Greim, and Joss Ackland as Gen. Burgdorf, this Anglo-Italian film seeks to take the viewer into the claustrophobic Fuhrerbunker. This was a concrete-and-steel compound built under the Reich Chancellery to protect the Nazi leader and his court from Allied bombers and Soviet artillery shells. As the title implies, "Hitler: The Last Ten Days" seeks to paint an accurate picture of the Austrian-born dictator's last days on Earth. It succeeds, but it also bores its audience to tears.
Part of the problem is that De Concini and co-writers Maria Pia Fusco, Ivan Moffatt, and Wolfgang Reinhardt literally cram in many incidents from the titular last ten days into the movie's running time of one hour and 46 minutes without really taking any artistic chances.
Do we see Hitler moving unit markers of German army and SS units that no longer exist on war room maps? Check.
Do we see Martin Bormann (Mark Kingston) undermine Hermann Goering when the Luftwaffe's commander in chief and deputy Fuhrer sends a cable asking if he should take over for an obviously cut-off Hitler? Check.
Do we see the creepily loyal Magda Goebbels preparing to poison her own children rather than see them grow up in a world without her Fuhrer? Ick, yes. Check.
Do we see Hitler dictating his last will and political testament - in which, hours before his death, he refuses to take responsibility for starting World War II and sticks to his it's all the Jews' fault shtick? Check.
We even have to watch as a teary-eyed Eva Braun, soon to be Hitler''s last-minute bride, stands by her man and watches her brother-in-law, SS General Fegelein (Julian Glover) being escorted out for execution. Fegelein had deserted his post at the bunker and was deemed too loyal to SS Reichsfuhrer Heinrich Himmler. Himmler, who was once in charge of Germany's police and the war against the Jews, is also branded a traitor for suggesting to Hitler that he negotiate his way out of the war
So, despite having less than two hours of screen time, "Hitler: The Last Ten Days" ends up feeling like Hitler: The Last Ten Years." Director Ennio De Concini saddles his film with a ponderous pace that makes "Titanic" seem like a fleet-footed short feature.
The other major problem, as I see it, is Alec Guinness' performance as Adolf Hitler. For one thing, it's hard for most people to see an Academy Award-winning actor of his caliber in such a sloppily-made film. In one scene, a German Army officer is seen with an SS eagle on his uniform, In another sequence, two SS enlisted men sport officers' belt buckles.
I've seen Oscar-winning actors in really bad movies over the years, but to watch the guy best known as Col. Nicholson in "The Bridge on the River Kwai" and Obi-Wan Kenobi in 1977's "Star Wars" channeling Hitler in a poorly conceived and lousily executed production is a sad experience.
Indeed, Guinness isn't really very convincing as Nazi Germany's prematurely aged and obviously ill warlord. Yes, we see his delusional performances in war conferences as he orders Gen. Wenck's Twelfth Army to keep fighting from the Elbe toward Gen. Busse's trapped Ninth Army.
We also see his temper tantrums when he hears, through the conniving Bormann, that both Goering and Himmler are planning to negotiate with the Anglo-Americans for a peace settlement.
We even get a glimpse at his obsession with racial purity; at his wedding ceremony, when a befuddled civil service bureaucrat named Wagner (Andrew Sachs) is presented to him, Hitler asks, "Are you Aryan?"
All well and good and based on eyewitness accounts and all that, but I never can really see this guy as anything else but Alec Guinness wearing a Hitler mustache and a Nazi party uniform. (To be fair, I never did buy Voyage to the Bottom of the Sea's Richard Basehart as the Fuhrer in a 1960s biopic either.)
Clearly, this is not one of cinemas good historical dramas.
As a World War II buff, I'm interested in how Adolf Hitler was able to win the loyalty of millions of Germans and lead them into humanity's bloodiest conflict. I watched this film several times to see if it could give me any new insights about the man and those who stuck with him till the bitter end, but "Hitler: The Last Ten Days" doesn't offer any.