History Channel // 1999 // 46 Minutes // Not Rated
Reviewed by Judge Victor Valdivia (Retired) // April 11th, 2009
At least 15 attempts were made on Adolf Hitler's life. None succeeded, but one came close...
The sticker on the front of the DVD packaging proclaims that it will tell "the true story of the Wolf's Lair assassination plot as seen in Valkyrie," and that's technically true. You will hear about the conspiracy depicted in the film, but only in the last fifteen minutes or so of the show on this DVD. Originally aired as an episode of the History Undercover series, Hunting Hitler clocks in at a mere 45 minutes and is an overall look at all of the plots that were hatched before and during the war to kill Hitler. Consequently, while it is comprehensive, it's also rather shallow and lacking in any drama or coherency. An earlier non-History Channel DVD, Killing Hitler, told this story and while it was a somewhat skimpy and scattershot, at least it told the story fairly comprehensively. This one covers too many stories and doesn't really do justice to any of them. Some History Channel shows are far longer than they need to be (i.e. Ax Men or Shadow Force) but his one would have benefited from extra time to both fill in necessary details and work as dramatic entertainment.
Hunting Hitler examines the many plots that existed, as early as 1933, that sought to assassinate Hitler or at least remove him from power. There was an attempt that occurred in 1939, when anti-Nazi activist Georg Elser planted a bomb in Munich's Bürgerbräukeller, the speaking hall where Hitler had given one of his most incendiary speeches that led him to power and where he was scheduled to return to speak to an audience of thousands. Unfortunately, he mistimed his bomb badly, so that by the time it went off, Hitler had left 15 minutes earlier and the explosion killed several people, none of whom were Nazi officials. There was also an attempt in 1943 by several top military leaders to blow up Hitler's private plane, but it failed when the bomb they planted fizzled out in the high altitude. That same year, another military officer tried to kill Hitler during a weapons exhibition, but Hitler only stayed for a few minutes, so the plotters never even got a chance to plant their bomb. Then, of course, there was the 1944 Valkyrie plot, in which a group of high-ranking military officers, led by Colonel Claus Von Stauffenberg, planted a bomb in the briefing room at Hitler's Wolf's Lair bunker. The bomb did explode and killed several Army officers, but because it was placed under a heavy wood table, it only injured Hitler. This would be the last major plot against him; after the Valkyrie plot failed and all of the plotters were viciously executed, any resistance to Hitler in Germany evaporated until the end of the war in 1945.
The show describes each of these plots, but only in the broadest possible strokes. Because there's so little time, even the most interesting revelations and interviews get shortchanged. For instance, Georg Elser's cousin is interviewed but he doesn't get to say very much even though his perspective would have been intriguing. One SS officer who helped coordinate Hitler's security admits that for a very long time, security around Hitler was surprisingly lax. Hitler would frequently take long walks in his private garden with no protection and he would stay in an apartment building in Berlin with only one guard for the entire complex. It would have been worth hearing more about the security measures taken for Hitler as the war progressed, but this isn't really covered. There are also revelations about a secret program by British intelligence to assassinate Hitler that was never carried out for various reasons. This is an immensely fascinating chapter that isn't really explored very well. Hitler frequently claimed that the British were trying to kill him and it turns out he was right, but the actual ramifications of this plot are not explained. What if the British had actually succeeded? Would the Germans have sued for peace? Would the British have allowed the Germans to keep their conquered territories? There's no time to explain any of this. Of course, anyone who buys this DVD hoping to learn more about the Valkyrie plot is especially out of luck, since the little given about it here is pretty much the same given in the film.
The DVD's sole extra is equally disappointing. It's an episode of History's Dead Men's Secrets series entitled "Plotting to Kill Hitler." Like Hunting Hitler, it clocks in at about 45 minutes. What's more, it essentially rehashes Hunting Hitler, retelling the same stories in the same limited timespan. It's not that it's necessarily bad or unwatchable, but there is very little new content in "Plotting to Kill Hitler" that isn't in Hunting Hitler, making it superfluous. The technical aspects of both shows are at least decent-solid fullscreen transfer and respectable stereo mix-but nothing spectacular.
All of which is to say that anyone who picks up Hunting Hitler expecting to hear the full story of the Valkyrie plot will be sorely disappointed. There are some interesting stories here but the shows presented on this DVD are both too short to do them justice. Instead of compiling two short episodes that repeat each other without adding enough detail, History should have put together a full two or three hour special that would have explored these important stories in more detail. Each of these shows would have made a decent extra on a more elaborate DVD package but neither is strong enough to stand on their own. Considering how much screen time History has famously devoted to Hitler, this is a disappointing package.
Guilty of not going into enough detail.
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Scales of Justice
Studio: History Channel
* Full Frame
* Dolby Digital 2.0 Stereo (English)
Running Time: 46 Minutes
Release Year: 1999
MPAA Rating: Not Rated
* Bonus Episode
* IMDb: Dead Men's Secrets