Hitler's Madman is a 1943 World War II drama directed by Douglas Sirk. It is a highly fictionalized account of the 1942 assassination of Nazi official Reinhard Heydrich and the resulting Lidice massacre, which the Germans committed as revenge. The film stars Patricia Morison and Alan Curtis and features John Carradine as Reinhard Heydrich.
|Directed by||Douglas Sirk|
|Produced by||Seymour Nebenzal|
|Screenplay by||Peretz Hirschbein|
Edgar G. Ulmer (uncredited)
|Story by||Albrecht Joseph|
|Based on||Hangman's Village|
by Bart Lytton
|Music by||Karl Hajos|
|Edited by||Dan Milner|
|Distributed by||Loew's Inc.|
Villager Jan Hanka watches a British plane fly overhead, carrying Karel Vavra, a Czech paratrooper being dropped over his hometown to form resistance cells. Karel goes to the Hanka house, in search of daughter Jarmilla, his girlfriend since childhood. Mrs. Hanka asks Karel to take refuge in the forest. Jarmilla finds him there later. They profess their undying love and she sends him to a cave, where he discovers local vagabond, Nepomuk, who agrees to help.
Nepomuk gathers villagers at the cave. Karel asks them to sabotage the German war effort. Jan, the most respected villager, warns them it’s too dangerous. They sheepishly depart.
In Prague, the fearsome SS Reichsprotektor Reinhard Heydrich decides to start executing intellectuals, who he believes organize the resistance. He interrupts a university class attended by villager Klara and arrests the teacher and students. The male students are sent as cannon fodder on the Russian Front. The women are inspected for use as sex slaves in brothels for German soldiers. Klara throws herself from a window to her death, to avoid this fate.
Having lost his daughter Klara, Villager Janek dynamites the coal mine, to deny its product to the Germans. Jan catches his daughter teaching children the Czech national anthem, even though teaching is forbidden by the Germans. Jan argues she needs to be more careful. She calls him a coward.
The next day, Heydrich happens to drive through Lidice during the annual harvest blessing parade. Angered to find the road blocked, he plows through the parade and shoots the town priest, Father Cemlanek, horrifying the townsfolk.
Lidice Mayor Bauer, a German Nazi true-believer, prepares with his wife for the arrival of their two sons, on leave from the Russian Front. Heydrich’s adjutant tells Bauer the Reichsprotektor was displeased by the parade blocking his route and expects no impediments when he drives through the next morning. A telegram arrives, telling the Bauers their boys are both dead. Bauer accepts it as the price the Führer demands, but Mrs, Bauer is sickened and blames Hitler for their death. She goes to the church and sees Jan. Disgusted with the Nazis, Frau Bauer tells Jan what time Heydrich will drive through town tomorrow.
Jan, Karel, Jarmilla and Nepomuk ambush Heydrich’s limousine the next morning, as it approaches the town. Jarmilla creates a distraction, as the men fire machine guns and throw a grenade. They leave thinking they killed him, but they’ve only gravely wounded him. Jan sends Karel and Jarmilla off to hide in the forest, blessing their future marriage.
The Nazi authorities in Prague, desperate to find Heydrich’s assailants, decide to take hostages among local villagers. Jan Hanka gets locked up in the town jail as a hostage. The SS arrests Mayor Bauer for failing to stop the ambush on Heydrich. Bauer protests as they drag him off that he’s a loyal Nazi. Jarmilla and Karel are chased by Germans in the forest. Jarmilla gets shot and dies in Karel’s arms.
In Prague, Heydrich lies near death. His superior, Heinrich Himmler arrives from Berlin and watches Heydrich die, in agony, saying he won’t die for Hitler and that the war is lost, unless everyone gets as tough as he is. After he dies, Himmler gets a call from Hitler and tells him Heydrich died praising him and saying Germany would win the war. Himmler orders the village of Lidice eradicated for its role in Heydrich’s death.
The Germans march into Lidice and herd the inhabitants into the square. They force the men into the churchyard and take the women and children off in trucks, to concentration camps. As the Germans line machine guns in front of the men, the villagers all start singing the Czech national anthem before the Germans shoot them all. Jan, forgotten in his jail cell, watches as the Germans set fire to the town., then fire artillery onto it, burying Jan within the rubble.
In a postscript, the ghostly citizens of Lidice walk toward the camera, obscured by a wall of flames, reciting the final verses of Millay’s poem.
- Patricia Morison as Jarmilla Hanka
- John Carradine as Reinhard Heydrich
- Alan Curtis as Karel Vavra
- Howard Freeman as Heinrich Himmler
- Ralph Morgan as Jan Hanka
- Edgar Kennedy as Nepomuk
- Ludwig Stössel as Herman Bauer
- Al Shean as Father Cemlanek
- Elizabeth Russell as Maria Bartonek
- Jimmy Conlin as Dvorak
- Louis V. Arco (uncredited) as German Sergeant
- Richard Ryen (uncredited) as Gestapo
- Ava Gardner (uncredited) as Franciska Pritric
- Lester Dorr (uncredited) as Sergeant
Hitler's Madman was director Douglas Sirk's first American production after fleeing Nazi Germany and abandoning his German name of Detlef Sierck. It was produced independently by Seymour Nebenzal under the auspices of the Producers Releasing Corporation, a "Poverty Row" studio, and filmed in one week in November 1942, under the title of Hitler's Hangman. The title was changed to HItler's Madman to avoid confusion with Fritz Lang's similarly themed Hangmen Also Die!.
Sirk hired German cinematographer Eugen Schüfftan to shoot the film, but because Schüfftan was not allowed to work in the United States at the time, the cinematography credit was given to Jack Greenhalgh and Schüfftan was credited as "Technical Director." The film opens and closes with Edna St. Vincent Millay's 1942 poem, The Murder of Lidice.
The film was originally set to be released through Republic Pictures. However, when it was completed, Nebenzal arranged a screening for MGM chief Louis B. Mayer, who bought it, making it one of the few, and possibly the first, film to be distributed by MGM even though it was originally produced by another company. Sirk directed reshoots at MGM's own studios in May 1943, consisting of the inspection of the female university students and Klara's resulting suicide (during which an uncredited Ava Gardner appears), Heydrich's death scenes, and the shooting of the male residents of Lidice.
Other films on the same subject:
- Hitler's Madman Archived 2010-11-14 at the Wayback Machine, Turner Classic Movies page
- Tom Ryan (2020). The Films of Douglas Sirk: Exquisite Ironies and Magnificent Obsessions. University Press of Mississippi. pp. 61–65. ISBN 978-1496822376.
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