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HITLER’S MADMAN(director: Douglas Sirk; screenwriters: Peretz Hirschbein/Melvin Levy/Doris Malloy/ from the original story by Emil Ludwig and Albrecht Joseph; cinematographer: Jack Greenhalgh; editor: Dan Milner; music: Karl Hajos; cast: Patricia Morison (Jarmilla Hanka), John Carradine (Reinhardt Heydrich), Alan Curtis (Karel Vavra), Howard Freeman (Heinrich Himmler), Ralph Morgan (Jan Hanka), Edgar Kennedy (Nepomuk, the hermit), Ludwig Stössel (Herman Bauer, burgomaster), Al Shean (Father Cemlanek), Jimmy Conlin (Dvorak, the shopkeeper), Elizabeth Russell (Maria Bartonek, Anton’s Wife); Runtime: 84; MPAA Rating: NR; producer: Seymour Nebenzal; MGM; 1943)
“A powerful historical film based on a real wartime atrocity.”

Reviewed by Dennis Schwartz

Douglas Sirk’s (“Written on the Wind”/”Battle Hymn”/”The Tarnished Angels”) first American film after leaving Germany with his Jewish wife in tow. It’s a powerful historical film based on a real wartime atrocity, that manages to overcome its low-budget production by Sirk’s compelling visual style and the forcefulness of its moving story (how could you not be moved as it documents a long laundry list of Nazi barbarism that includes sending Czech college coeds to the Russian front to be prostitutes for the German troops, killing the local priest, the arresting of innocent citizens who are sent to concentration camps on trumped up sabotage charges and the subjugation of the Czechs!). Covering the same territory as Fritz Lang’s Hangmen Also Die!, it pays homage to the courage of the Czechs in the underground who against all odds fought back against the overwhelming Nazi forces who occupied their traditional Bohemian small-town of Lidice and exerted tremendous brutalities. It’s done without Lang’s film noir trappings, and succeeds as a better than average B-film.

It’s taken from the original story by Emil Ludwig and Albrecht Joseph about “the hangman in Prague,” the infamous sadist Colonel Reinhardt Heydrich (John Carradine), known as the “Protector,” and scripted by Peretz Hirschbein, Melvin Levy and Doris Malloy. The low-budget picture was shot on back-lot sets by poverty-row studio Producers Releasing Corp. (PRC); its intense tale impressed MGM executives and they bought it from PRC to be released as an MGM picture.

The film centers around the successful assassination attempt on the region’s crazed governor, Reinhardt Heydrich, by the London trained airborne soldier Karel (Alan Curtis) returning to his hometown. It has his girlfriend Jarmilla (Patricia Morison) ride a bicycle to slow down Heydrich’s Mercedes, and then Karel and her father Jan (Ralph Morgan) shoot the Nazi. In real life Heydrich was a key Nazi leader and architect of the Final Solution. As a result of his death SS Chief Heinrich Himmler (Howard Freeman) orders the Czech town of Lidice destroyed as a lesson to others who plan sabotage. All the Lidice men are murdered and the women and children are sent to concentration camps.

Shortly after the notorious Lidice massacre in Lidice, the Writer’s War Board asked Edna St. Vincent Millay for a poem about the incident. Throughout the film we hear in a woman’s voice snippets from her very moving poem – “The Murder of Lidice.” The film closes with the poem recited by the male actors who were executed: Edgar Kennedy, Jimmy Conlon, and Ralph Morgan.

Carradine gives an outstanding theatrical performance in depicting evil. The film is effective for its timely response to the Nazi menace, as it stirs up a common anger at the Nazis and their inhumanity. Since there’s no way to make their barbarism seem softer than what it was without making the story suspect, the film had no choice but not to pull any punches and show the atmosphere of fear the village was under during their Nazi occupation. It leaves a lasting impression of the suffering the Czechs were under.


Dennis Schwartz: “Ozus’ World Movie Reviews”