Acorn Media // 2008 // 611 Minutes // Not Rated
Reviewed by Judge Victor Valdivia (Retired) // February 10th, 2010
How history's most evil tyrant survived twenty-five years of terror.
Hitler's Bodyguard has all the elements to be an excellent historical series, but never really comes together. It's chockfull of research and historical footage, the narration is informative, and there are a few stories and revelations that even history buffs might find surprising. Even so, however, this is not an easy series to recommend even if you collect every DVD ever devoted to World War II.
The key problem here is lack of focus. Hitler's Bodyguard is, in theory, a study of the elaborate security measures taken by Adolf Hitler and the Nazis to protect him from possible assassination. Unfortunately, while that might have been an interesting idea for a four-hour miniseries, thirteen episodes of 45 minutes apiece is simply too much time for this topic. Instead, Hitler's Bodyguard too often ends up as yet another history of Nazi Germany, except not as good as others. When the show addresses actual conspiracies to kill Hitler and the story of how they were foiled, mostly by chance, it's fascinating. When it deteriorates into rehashed History Channel, it's a crashing bore.
In some ways, Hitler's Bodyguard isn't really an accurate name for the show. As it points out, Hitler never really had one particular bodyguard. Instead, his security consisted of an increasing number of associates and guards who encircled him in an elaborate protective cordon. There are profiles of some of these men, such as Hitler's personal pilot Hans Bauer, his chauffeur and double Julius Schreck, his friend and frequent aide Bruno Gescher, and Sepp Dietrich, head of Hitler's security detail. These men all formed surprisingly close friendships with Hitler, but because Hitler had a tendency to encourage cutthroat competition between his subordinates, none of them were ever able to spend a great deal of time with him. Similarly, there are also extensive CG recreations of the security plans that were drawn up for each of Hitler's public appearances, even down to the exact placement of each guard. However, again owing to Hitler's need to keep his underlings attacking each other, there were many times when either these plans were never fully implemented or security agencies would end up spying on each other instead of likely assassins. In telling these stories so thoroughly, Hitler's Bodyguard definitely delivers exactly what it promises in this regard.
Hitler's Bodyguard is even more impressive in explaining the various plots that were hatched against Hitler from the time he began his political career in 1923 until the end of the war. Here each plot is laid out in minute detail and the effects they had on both Hitler and his enemies are examined carefully. What emerges, shockingly, is that for the most part, Hitler survived every single attempt (which numbered over forty) until his suicide in 1945 through sheer luck. In almost every instance, Hitler was fortunate that one minor detail or another would go wrong, such as explosives failing to detonate or bad weather cancelling a public appearance. Even more surprisingly, Hitler himself liked to keep his schedule deliberately chaotic, randomly cancelling or cutting short previously scheduled engagements as a way of thwarting possible assassins. As it turns out, his strategy was, more often than not, the correct one, since this was what foiled most of the attempts. For instance, when Communist Johan Georg Elser planted a bomb in an auditorium where Hitler was scheduled to speak in 1938, he set the timer for the scheduled middle of Hitler's speech. Hitler, however, decided impulsively to cut his speech short and leave over an hour early, meaning that the bomb detonated well after he was gone. The series contains many well-presented examples like this one, and again, in those moments, Hitler's Bodyguard is worth seeing.
The problem, however, is that these entire moments make up only about a third of the show's total running time. The remaining segments are little more than an extended history of Nazi Germany, except not as thorough as other programs that cover the same territory. As an example, one episode is devoted to the Night of the Long Knives, the 1934 blood purge in which Hitler ordered the mass execution of both his political rivals and his internal detractors. This story has been told in various other historical programs, most of which do a more comprehensive job of explaining how and why it happened. Moreover, this doesn't really have that much to do with the story of Hitler's personal protection. It's an interesting example of how the Nazis governed through terror and duplicity, but there's no real reason to include it here. Similarly, the first episode gives a thumbnail history of the Third Reich from beginning to end that isn't useful at all, since it's too rushed to be informative and too skimpy to provide any new information. Presumably, anyone interested in watching a thirteen-part, ten-hour documentary miniseries on Hitler's security measures already knows this story. Interminable padding like this episode makes Hitler's Bodyguard much less valuable than it could have been.
Technically, the presentation isn't so great either. The full-screen transfer is sloppy. It's soft and hazy and even murky at times. Yes, the series does contain a lot of archive footage but even the modern CG reenactments don't look good at all. Though the series bears a 2008 release date, it looks at least ten years older than that. The Dolby 2.0 mix is adequate. The only extras are photo galleries and a brief text description of plots to kill Hitler in feature films, which is a peculiar though undeniably original addition. Also included in the packaging is a twenty-page booklet with annotations on the people and stories seen in the series, which is actually a thoughtful addition.
Nonetheless, despite its high points, it's still hard to recommend Hitler's Bodyguard. Had the series been shortened by at least half, specifically the half that rehashes the same stories told better elsewhere, it would have been more focused and essential. Instead, it's just too long and unwieldy for anyone to appreciate, even the most ardent WWII buffs.
Guilty of being too unfocused and protracted.
Review content copyright © 2010 Victor Valdivia; Site layout and review format copyright © 1998 - 2013 HipClick Designs LLC
Scales of Justice
Studio: Acorn Media
* Full Frame
* Dolby Digital 2.0 Stereo (English)
Running Time: 611 Minutes
Release Year: 2008
MPAA Rating: Not Rated
* Official Site