Plot Outline: A team of ex-con bounty hunters go to Germany in search of Hitler. If they can find him, a million dollar reward is to be paid to them.
- In the Shadow of Heydrich's Death?
Reportedly, in April 1865, upon hearing the dreadful news from Washington, D.C., Benjamin Disraeli made the comment that "Assassination has never changed history!". A brave statement, but dubious. Lincoln's murder took a first rate political mind and spirit out of an office that needed him, and put in a misguided, ill prepared man with some sense of his office's importance. The result was that Lincoln's hope to restore the Union with a benign peace was wrecked by the inept President Andrew Johnson and the Radical Republican Congress which sought a harsher peace on the South. John Wilkes Booth had changed history indeed.
Same happened in 44 B.C. when Julius Caesar was killed. Same happened in 1914 when Archduke Franz Ferdinand was killed and World War I broke out. Assassination does effect history.
In 1942 two Czech patriots were parachuted into their homeland to carry out a mission. They did - they killed Reinhart Heydrich, the "Hangman" "Protector" of Bohemia, and creator of the Final Solution. Heydrich was in a car that was blown up, and it is pleasant to announced that the creep actually died from being skewered by eight heavy springs in the seat that he was seated in - it took him over a week to die. Given his involvement in the Holacaust and other atrocities, one can only say he died the way he deserved. Unfortunately, the Germans destroyed two villages, and killed hundreds of people in retaliation. Because of that the Allies did not carry out any other assassination plots in Europe against Nazis.
But the notion of killing Nazi leaders was instilled in the air, and I think that is why this film was made soon after. To Americans Heydrich was vaguely known (after the destruction of Lidice and the other village interest in the "Hangman" led to two films being made: Fritz Lang's HANGMEN ALSO DIE and Douglas Sirk's HITLER'S MADMAN). HITLER, DEAD OR ALIVE is not a good film - it is really rather stupid. The idea of hiring three American criminals to kill Der Fuhrer is outlandish. But to be fair, this idea of criminals fighting the good fight against Nazis was fairly common in Hollywood films. Nazis never fought fairly, so we needed someone who also fought unfairly. Witness Humphrey Bogart and his co-horts in ALL THROUGH THE NIGHT (against Conrad Veidt) or Alan Ladd in THIS GUN FOR HIRE (admittedly against traitors working for Japan, not Germany) or LUCKY JORDAN. Still, if you want to kill the most vicious government leader in history, why use three gunman instead of working out a plan with the government. So if you have problems with this, you will have problems with the entire film.
The only thing I liked about this movie was when Bobs Watson (as Hitler) makes a comment to a cohort that he eventually plans to doublecross Mussolini. Perhaps it might have happened sooner or later, but Der Fuhrer actually had a high regard for Il Duce, and later in the war sent his leading special agent, Otto Skorzeny, into Italy to rescue the imprisoned ex-head of the government. Still it was amusing to hear that.
- This Has To Be Seen To Be Believed
If you were looking to take out a contract on Hitler, would you hire the trio of Ward Bond, Paul Fix, and Warren Hymer? I'm glad this film is preserved if only for the fact it is the best example of World War II propaganda film run totally amuck. I can't believe it was taken seriously even back in 1943.
The plot simply is that an unknown, but wealthy American businessman hires these three gangsters to kill Hitler and shorten the war. Clever guy that Hitler is, he makes frequent use of doubles to prevent assassination attempts. But the intrepid trio reaches someone in the underground who knows that Hitler has a scar on his upper lip from the aborted Beer Hall Putsch. They eventually get the real Hitler and identify him by shaving off the mustache he's grown to hide it. And the S.S. coming to rescue him, shoot him as he is trying to escape because nobody recognizes Hitler without the mustache.
Two things of note. Warren Hymer made a career of playing dumb henchmen and I can't believe anyone would give him so vital a mission. And Ward Bond has the distinction of being in seven of the hundred greatest films voted on by the American Film Institute, most of any thespian. Hard to believe his career survived this.
By all means get this if you want to see where Mel Brooks got the idea for The Producers.
- Only Hollywood back in 1942 can come up with a story like this
********SPOILERS********Off the wall war movie about a bunch of gangsters who become patriotic, well the million dollar reward helps too, and are dropped into Germany to get, as the movie title says, Hitler dead or alive. Hitler is made out to look like a coward or a fool as he begs for his life when captured or runs and hides from the slightest sound or danger when he's in charge that I can only imagine people watching this movie back then, in 1942, would have wondered just how Hitler and his Nazis got as far as they did in the first place. Totally insane plot, even for a movie made during wartime, where there was stories going around that Hitler had doubles so that the boys from the mob had to make sure that they caught the real Hitler they brought someone with them who knew Hitler from back in the beer hall days who recognized him by a scar that he had over his upper lip from a bottle thrown at him during a brawl and believe it or not that the reason he grew a mustache, oh really! When Hitler is caught they shave his famous mustache off and there's the scar where Hitler cries hysterically "spear my life and I'll give you half of my kingdom". This movie is even funnier then "The Producers" which is a comedy about Hitler and the Third Reich made for laughs years after Hitler and his regime was history an no threat to anyone. But unlike that movie "Hitler Dead or Alive" was made in all seriously as a moral buster for the "War Effort", where the ending of the movie could well have lost the war for the allies if it was taken seriously just for the false and moronic information that it presented. When Hitler is shot by is own troops because they didn't recognize him without his mustache, I kid you not, the commander of the execution squad who did Hitler in says disgustedly about him "how did Germany produce a piece of scum like you" and at the same time thinking that Hitler got away from the gangsters says triumphantly about his beloved Fuhrer, whom he just had shot, in complete awe "The man is pure genius". I had to take my heart medication to keep from getting a heart attack just from laughing. Oh yes, the end of the story is that Hitler was killed, in 1942, and the Hitler you see in the papers and newsreels is just a double. I guess that's how in the end the allies won the war according to this ridiculous movie Hitler wasn't around to lead the Germans to victory. But you know what, you'll never read this in any history book or see it on the History Channel, yeah do you wanna bet?
- Makes the Germans in Hogan's Heroes look dangerous!
I was always interested in viewing a Bobby Watson vehicle. Recently I purchased this film solely for that reason. Film historians tell us that Mr. Watson was a dead ringer for Adolf Hitler and I had to see this for myself. Watson only shows up in the film after about two thirds of the way through.
All in all, this film is so bad that it's pathetic. Putting aside propaganda reasons, it boggles the imagination why an accomplished actor like Ward Bond (Gentleman Jim, Wagon Train, Gone With the Wind) would actually star in such a farce. My only guesses are that 1) he was hard up for money or 2) he felt it was his patriotic duty to do this stinker.
The Nazis in this film are shown to be idiotic boobs and incompetent to the point of not even being able to keep POWs from escaping from Dachau. Actually, Dachau wasn't even used as a POW camp. At any rate, that aside, they are depicted as a group of nincompoops, much like the ones in the TV program, Hogan's Heroes. I always thought that Stalag 17 spawned the idea for Hogan's Heroes, but now I think that Hitler Dead or Alive may have been the movie that influenced Bing Crosby to air that TV classic!!
- Al Capone meets the Gestapo: So bad that it's fun.
This film is what _Desperate Journey_ (Errol Flynn and Ronald Reagan) might have been if it had been a B-film. (I know: _Desperate Journey_ isn't that good to start with---that's the problem!) Three ex-gangsters take up a wealthy man's offer of 1 MILLION dollars to anyone who can bring in Hitler--dead or alive. The three join the RCAF(why?) and parachute their way into Germany, bringing along their hapless pilot. I wish I could say that the film builds to a tension-filled climax, but every scene becomes even more (unintentionally) hilarious. The leaden dialogue is more than matched by the mind-bogglingly-dreadful German accents affected by the leading players. ("Vat? Ve haf only until Sursday, hmm?") In one scene, a sneering guard actually checks passes by repeating "So! So! So!" In hindsight, some of the portrayals of wartime Germany are actually touchingly innocent: the small prison holding the three gangsters is identified as "Dachau," a name that did not yet have horror associated with it. Now we know...
Like many an earnest wartime film, _Hitler: DoA_ had a sincere message (there is more to the Nazi menace than Adolf Hitler). Yet I have a hard time believing that, even in wartime, its schlocky delivery moved very many Americans to consider the deeper meaning of the war in which they wre engaged (yeah, right!) This one was definitely for the kids, an attempt to re-make the American gangster film with a wartime theme, proving that even American criminals have a basic grasp of decency and heroism, far above that shown by the evil Nazis. Throw in lots of chases and shoot-em-ups, and voila! You have a gangster film magically metamorphosed into patriotic material. If you don't expect too much, you can enjoy this one as an almost-fun bit of camp.
Writing credits (in alphabetical order)
Sam Neuman also story
Cast (in credits order) complete, awaiting verification
Ward Bond .... Steve Maschick
Dorothy Tree .... Else von Brandt
Warren Hymer .... Hans 'Dutch' Havermann
Paul Fix .... Joe 'The Book' Conway
Russell Hicks .... Samuel Thornton
Bruce Edwards .... Johnny Stevens
Felix Basch .... Col. Hecht
Bobby Watson .... Adolf Hitler (as Bob Watson)
Frederick Giermann .... Meyer
Kenneth Harlan .... Cutler
Fee Malten .... Greta (as Faye Wall)
rest of cast listed alphabetically
Eddie Coke .... Jimmy (uncredited)
Jack Gardner .... Lou (uncredited)
Myra Marsh .... Miss Grange (uncredited)
George Sorel .... Capt. Kuhr (uncredited)
Runtime: 70 min
Color: Black and White
Sound Mix: Mono