Hitler’s Madman (1943): Sirk’s First American Film, Czech Resistance to Nazism

Douglas Sirk’s first American film, Hitler’s Madman, is more significant historically than artistically, even though some of the director’s distinctive visual style, which will reach fruition in the 1950s melodramas, is already evident.

Thematically, the film bears resemblance to Fritz Lang’s “Hangmen Also Die, which is a better treatment of the same subject.

Edna St. Vincent Millay’s 1942 poem, “Murder of Lidice” inspired this movie and some of the poem are read at the beginning by way of introducing the audience to the doomed village.

The narrative, inspired by true events, centers on the determined resistance of the Czechs to the barbarities of the infamous Colonel Heydrich, superbly played by John Carradine. The assassination of the sadistic Nazi commander Heydrich by the Czechs brought about horrendous reprisals by the German forces.

Sirk hired German cinematographer Eugene Scufftan to shoot the film, but since he was not allowed in the US at the time, Jack Greenhalgh got the credit.

“Hitler’s Masman” is less a noir-thriller than a committed tribute to the spirit of resistance among the occupied Czech people. The film is powerful, from the opening shots of a statue of St Sebastian pinned with arrows to the end, with its emphasis on physical suffering and martyrdom.

MGM’s head Louis B. Mayer bought the film, and made it the first feature originally from another company to be distributed by MGM.

The back-lot sets and the second-tier cast (Patricia Morison, Alan Curtis) relegate the film into a lower status among WWII films.

Ava Gardner has a brief cameo as a peasant girl tormented by the brutal Nazis.

Cast:

Patrician Morison

John Carradine

Alan Curtis

Ralph Morgan

Ludwig Stossel

Howard Freeman

Edgar Kennedy

Al Shean

Elizabeth Russell

Jimmy Conlin

Blanche Yurka

Jorja Rollins

Victor Kilian Johanna Hofer

Wolfgang Zilzer

Tully Marshall

 

Credits:

MGM.
Produced by Seymour Nebenzal.

Directed by Douglas Sirk.

Screenplay by Peretz Hirshbein, Melvin Levy and Doris Malloy, based on an original story by Emil Ludwig and Albrecht Joseph.

Release date: August 27, 1943