Monday, November 16, 2009

The Alcatraz Three vs. the Third Reich

Hitler, Dead or Alive (1942)
Starring: Ward Bond, Dorothy Tree, Paul Fix, Warren Hymer, Felix Basch, Bruce Edwards, Bob Watson, Frederick Giermann and Russell Hicks
Director: Nick Grinde
Rating: Five of Ten Stars

Three recently-released-from-Alcatraz gangsters (Bond, Fix and Hymer) head to Nazi Germany to collect a $1 million dollar bounty placed on the head of Hitler (Watson) by an eccentric industrialist (Hicks).

"Hitler, Dead or Alive" was a war-time action/comedy that was clearly intended for kids and teens. I think that even in 1942, adults would either chuckle or sneer (depending on whether they had a sense of humor or not) at the ludicrous scheme of our three heroes.

Without spoiling the film, here's the gist of the plan: The Alcatraz Three join the Canadian Airforce as paratroopers and steal a transport plane during a training mission and head to Germany with no more of a plan than to claim they are Nazi agents with an important message that can only be delivered to Hitler in person... at which time they intend to shoot him. They only get as far as they do because the SS officers and troopers they deal with are even more thick-headed than they are, and because the leader of an underground railroad helping prisoners escape the Nazis becomes curious about what the three knuckleheads are up to.

Of course, the film is primarily comedic in tone, so some of the outrageousness of the storyline can be forgiven and even appreciated. Even the hokey dialogue can be enjoyed if this movie is approached with fun in mind. The overall package here is so silly and strange that the film would be a perfect addition to a Bad Movie Night, especially one focusing on war movies.

"Hitler, Dead of Alive" reaches the height of goofiness when the heroes contact the German underground by hearing a man walking along whistling "Yankee Doodle Dandy." The leader of the gangster, Steve, says, "That's the one song no Nazi would whistle!" And when Hitler arrives on the scene, the way he's portrayed is only slightly less goofy... it's almost as if Hynkle crossed over from Chaplin's "The Great Dictator" for a guest appearance. I think this film also features one of the weirdest, yet fitting, demises for Hitler ever put on screen.

The strangest aspect of the film is the sudden shift in tone it takes during its closing minutes. The comedic tone--with the dimwitted gangsters and even stupider Nazis and antics involving dressing up like a string quartet in order to get close to Hitler--is suddenly thrown overboard when the Nazis start lining children up against walls and gunning them down. It's an abrupt change... and it might be a reflection of the American psyche as the full scope of the horrific acts of Hitler and his Nazis could no longer be covered up or ignored by sympathizers and appeasers.

(The lack of knowledge of the part of Americans is clearly on display in this film as the three heroes are briefly imprisoned at Dachau, a place we now know was one of camps where the Nazis carried out their agenda of genocide but which here is portrayed as an internment camp for political prisoners. It's a clear illustration of the fact that even those making anti-Nazi propaganda films couldn't imagine the true monstrosity of what was unfolding in Germany and the countries it conquered.)

"Hitler, Dead of Alive" is actually the sort of film that I wish someone in Hollywood would have made back in 2002 or so... "Bin Laden, Dead of Alive" would have been a movie worth seeing, a movie where even criminals come to recognize who the real bad guys are, even if they are initially motivated by greed.

No comments:

Post a Comment