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HITLER’S SS: PORTRAIT IN EVIL (MADE FOR TV MOVIE) (director: Jim Goddard; screenwriter: Lukas Heller; cinematographer: Ernest Vincze; editor: John Shirley; music: Richard Hartley; cast: John Shea (Karl Hoffmann), José Ferrer (Prof. Ludwig Rosenberg), Bill Nighy (Helmut Hoffmann), Carroll Baker (Gerda Hoffman), Tony Randall (Putzi), David Warner (Reinhard Heydrich), Warren Clarke (Becker, SS assistant to Dietrich), Lucy Gutteridge (Mitzi Templer), John Normington (Himmler); Runtime: 150; MPAA Rating: NR; producer: Aida Young; Alpha Video; 1985)
It never rises above a flatness, to remain only a routine telling of familiar historical events.

Reviewed by Dennis Schwartz

This historical document drama was a two-part television movie made for NBC. TV director Jim Goddard takes us through the rise and fall of the Nazi S.S., with no military action sequences, by following the path of two fictional brothers who become Nazis. The telefilm was written by the German-born Lukas Heller (writer of The Dirty Dozen). It never rises above a flatness, to remain only a routine telling of familiar historical events.

The drama opens in Stuttgart in 1931, at a time when Germany has six million unemployed and the upstart Nazi party and its paramilitary S. A. hooligans are flexing their muscles in the streets. Two brothers, Karl (John Shea) and Helmut Hoffmann (Bill Nighy), of a train worker father,come of age during the birth of the Third Reich, after both join the Nazi party. The naive Karl, a former footballer and bus mechanic, actually believes the Nazis are socialists who want to help the workers and becomes a Brownshirt (S.A.); while Helmet, the brilliant Munich college student, joins the Blackshirt SS (Hitler’s elite bodyguards) for opportunistic reasons and gets better positioned within the party brass thanks to his contact with the cynical SS leader Reinhard Heydrich (David Warner)–second in command to Himmler.

The film details how the Nazis corrupted the country and good families with their diabolical agenda, and how they carried out their evil plan to rule the world. In the end, the shrewder and opportunistic older brother Helmet is executed for betrayal to the cause when he deserts, while the more foolhardy younger brother Karl becomes a chauffeur for the storm troopers and through his eventualdisillusionment with the cause averts disaster by going AWOL. Their 13-year-old brother Hans, swallows the Nazi line and dies in a childrens’ brigade at war’s end defending Berlin from an invasion by the Allies There’s also a romantic triangle involving Karl, Helmut, and cute nightclub-singer Mitzi (Lucy Gutteridge).

José Ferrer plays a Jewish professor harassed by the Nazis before they come to power, and he’s sent to the death camp when they are in power. Carroll Baker plays the stolid troubled mother of the boys, who has a problem understanding her sons. Tony Randall plays an androgynous nightclub entertainer named Putzi (the most memorable part in the film), who is rounded up by the Gestapo and tortured to death.


Dennis Schwartz: “Ozus’ World Movie Reviews”