Judge Victor Valdivia considers "Interactive Menus" the best DVD special feature of all.
The true story of the Valkyrie plot.
The release of a historically based big-budget film is almost always accompanied by little DVD titles rushed out to cash in on that film as quickly as possible. In this case, Killing Hitler is meant to accompany the release of the Tom Cruise vehicle Valkyrie. It's a historical documentary that relates the fact behind the story told in the film. As with most of these rush-release jobs, the running time is short, the interviewees are sparse and obscure (mostly British and German historians, with an occasional observer here and there), and the storytelling consists mainly of archive footage and photographs, as well a few brief reenactments, edited together. Under those circumstances, Killing Hitler is solid enough. It's hard to imagine, though, anyone actually spending good money for such a slight product. It's the sort of documentary that works OK as an extra on a two-disc DVD set, but is rather thin on its own.
What was the Valkyrie plot? In July 1944, just weeks after the Allies stormed the beaches at Normandy, a clique of aristocratic officers in the German Army came to the conclusion that the only way for Germany to negotiate any fair peace agreement was to assassinate Hitler. The plot to kill him was masterminded by Claus Von Stauffenberg, a one-eyed veteran of many battles who was well-liked and trusted by the Nazi leadership, especially Hitler. Calling their plot by the code name "Valkyrie" (from the Wagner opera), Von Stauffenberg and his plotters built a bomb hidden in a briefcase and planned to detonate it at a meeting attended by all of the Nazi military leadership. Unfortunately, the plot failed when the bomb's blast was contained by a heavy table, and Hitler, though injured, survived. His vengeance against Von Stauffenberg and his conspirators was brutal, essentially ending any organized resistance to Hitler's leadership. Hitler, of course, would not die until a little less than a year later by his own hand, by which point Germany was all but decimated as a result of his guidance.
Killing Hitler does go into some of the details about the plot, including a description of how the plot was meant to work and the aftermath when it failed. It actually does do a commendable job of putting the Valkyrie plot in historical context by relating the stories of other anti-Nazi plots and organizations that preceded it, such as the White Rose Group and the Red Orchestra. These stories are the most remarkable on the DVD, as they're not well-known and do provide more perspective on the Valkyrie plot. Similarly, the DVD does do a good job of pinpointing why the Valkyrie plot failed: the plotters simply had no plan for how to deal with the aftermath of the explosion. Even if the bomb had succeeded in killing Hitler, the plotters never considered how to seize control from any of Hitler's loyalists or how to deal with any possible contingencies caused by the explosion. When the bomb failed, the plotters had no fallback plan and made easy prey for Hitler to uncover and put to death.
During those moments, this DVD is worth watching. Unfortunately, those moments only make up a part of Killing Hitler's running time. The rest of the documentary is yet another retelling of the story of Nazi Germany: How Hitler came to power, the invasions of Czechoslovakia and Poland, the Holocaust, the Anschluss, the Night of the Long Knives, and so forth. These are all reasonably presented, but haven't we seen this material already in countless other documentaries about Hitler and the Nazis? This DVD is barely an hour long, so there's little room to spare for rehashing well-known material. Moreover, this shortchanges more crucial details about the actual Valkyrie plot. We never learn much about Von Stauffenberg himself, such as who he was or how he came to turn on Hitler after years as a loyal officer. Early in the documentary, there are hints that Von Stauffenberg wasn't quite the hero he's often made out to be, in that he fully supported the forced labor and anti-Semitic policies of the Nazis, but this is never followed up on. The film doesn't even really explain why the bomb failed to injure Hitler more than moderately. The Discovery Channel, which co-produced this DVD, has aired a program in which physicists, explosive experts, and physicians reconstructed the bomb explosion and explained why it failed to kill Hitler, but none of that is actually shown here. Even more surprising is that even though German General Erwin Rommel, the legendary "Desert Fox," was a critical part of the conspiracy, his name is never even mentioned once at any point. For a DVD that purports to tell the true story of the plot, these omissions are crucial.
As if the skimpiness of the DVD itself wasn't enough, the lack of any extras
is even more perplexing. Even a simple timeline of the plot or text bios of the
plotters would have been useful, but there's nothing at all instead. It is
downright adorable, though, that in this day and age Eagle Rock would actually
have the gall to list "Interactive Menus" and "Scene
Selections" as "Special Features" on the back of the DVD cover.
The quality of the video and audio are as you would expect on one of these DVDs:
cheaply lit and shot video interviews and reenactments transferred adequately,
and archival footage of varying quality. In other words, it's of the same
serviceable but unexceptional quality as the documentary itself. Killing
Hitler isn't bad, and does have a few fascinating revelations and insights,
but is just too slight and superficial to do more than give a cursory overview
of this story. It's guilty of being too meager to justify purchasing, but
doesn't quite deserve the cruel death Hitler meted out to the Valkyrie
conspirators. Just calling it a cheap rental will suffice.
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Scales of Justice
Studio: Eagle Rock Entertainment
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