Picks and Pans Review: Hitler's Ss: Portrait in Evil
Here's a TV trend for you: Four shows about Nazis in four weeks—The Execution, The Dirty Dozen, Kojak (below) and Hitler's SS. Here's hoping that this is where the trend ends. Not all those shows are bad, but their subject matter is odd for TV entertainment. Hitler's SS is your basic good brother and bad brother tale, except in this case both brothers are worse than bad: They're Nazis. John (Windy City) Shea is Karl, the dumber brother, an "idealistic" mechanic who joins the storm troopers and then gets in trouble and winds up in a concentration camp. But he's rescued by his smart brother, Bill Nighy as Helmut of the infamous SS. Between putsches, the brothers compete for the affections of Lucy (Dracula) Gutteridge as Mitzi, a cabaret singer who entertains soldiers with her buddy Tony Randall as Putzi, a cross between Bob Hope at the front, Joel Grey in Cabaret and Paul Lynde on Hollywood Squares. Not to ruin any endings for you, but Randall logs in one of the most amazingly arch death scenes you'll ever see. Hitler's SS tries to do something different and potentially worthwhile: telling the story of the rise of the Reich from inside one German family, trying to explain how an entire nation could create such evil. But it fails. Oh, does it fail. It's impossible to believe, for example, that Helmut was ever human or humane when he casually discards his anti-Nazi intellectualism to earn more money as one of Himmler's henchmen; when he does nothing to stop his gentle Jewish professor (Jose Ferrer) from going to a concentration camp; when he goes to one of those camps himself to mark men for death. And with sex and nightclub scenes added in, the movie takes on more of the ambience of Dallas than Dachau. Hitler's SS is an object lesson in what happens when TV takes on a profound and tragic subject when it is ill-equipped to do the job. Instead of exposing and illuminating the evil of Hitler's Germany, this TV movie only dilutes it.