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Case Number 15481: Small Claims Court

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The Plot To Kill Hitler

Warner Bros. // 1990 // 93 Minutes // Not Rated
Reviewed by Appellate Judge Tom Becker (Retired) // January 19th, 2009

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All Rise...

Sometimes after a big meal, Appellate Judge Tom Becker likes to kick back and kill a little Hitler.

The Charge

Killing Hitler is not an act of passion. Killing Hitler is an act of reason.

The Case

Hitching their wagons to what they must have expected would be Valkyrie mania, those old sly boots at Warner Bros. are releasing The Plot to Kill Hitler, a 1990 TV-movie version of the same story as the recent Tom Cruise-Bryan Singer collaboration.

The based-on-true-events story gives us Wehrmacht officer Claus von Stauffenberg, who by 1943 realized that the Third Reich was essentially Kaput. According to the film, he wasn't alone—apparently, most of the army knew by then that World War II was a losing proposition for Germany.

Along with some other officers—and with the tacit support of Rommel (Helmut Griem, Cabaret)—von Stauffenberg concocts a plot to save The Fatherland. It is a complex and daring plan, and it means not only death, but disgrace, if the conspirators are caught. The crux of it: the assassination of Adolph Hitler.

Of course, we know how this turned out—or, at least, how it didn't turn out. Hitler survived this and other assassination attempts, and the Third Reich fell to Allied forces in 1945. The officers' greatest fear—that Germany would be forever disgraced—was borne out.

The Plot to Kill Hitler is just what the title says: the story of the conspiracy. It's a reasonably interesting, if dry, retelling, hampered by its TV-movie limitations.

Brad Davis has one of his final roles as von Stauffenberg, and it's a pretty by-the-numbers performance. As has become tradition in films about events in foreign places, accents are used sporadically to indicate the country of origin. I've never really understood that. As long as everyone is supposed to be speaking the same language, why insist on having the actors use accents? It's like using an exclamation point when a period would do just fine. As with most "accent films," the Teutonic inflections come and go. Also, since this is an "international cast," we get German spiced versions of a variety of accents. In this regard, Davis comes off the worst. He's playing a man who is incredibly heroic, yet when he opens his mouth, you often can't help but think, "Frau Blücher!"

The script does Davis no favors. We never get to know von Stauffenberg on anything more than a superficial level, and so his motivations are fairly one-note: He wants to save Germany the embarrassment of losing the war and believes that Hitler is insane. We get the requisite scenes with his wife and kids, but there's nothing that distinguishes this real-life hero from countless made-up movie heroes, no complexity to the character. Davis plays von Stauffenberg with a rigidity that's probably accurate, but it doesn't make for a particularly compelling performance.

Far more entertaining is Mike Gwilym's Hitler, who's just a dangerous crazy. Gwilym seems to be having a good time with a tic-and-bully portrayal, even if we don't get a sense of how this guy could have been charismatic enough to have won over an entire country and changed history.

Since understanding the plot requires a slightly higher-than-average degree of prior knowledge, the script is pretty exposition-heavy, and Lawrence Schiller's direction is standard for a TV-movie—rudimentary and uninspired, nowhere near the levels of another of his TV movies, The Executioner's Song.

The final third of the film is fairly exciting, because all the explaining and orating of the previous hour has led up to the assassination attempt. Even though we know where it's going, it becomes a better ride.

Warner Bros. just tosses this disc out. Weak transfer, serviceable audio, no extras. You get the movie, a few language options, and that's it.

The Plot to Kill Hitler is not a terrible movie, it's just not as interesting as it should be. Lacking in humor, character development, and passion, it's just a standard-issue TV movie from 1990 given an unremarkable release.

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Scales of Justice

Judgment: 75

Perp Profile

Studio: Warner Bros.
Video Formats:
• Full Frame
Audio Formats:
• Dolby Digital 2.0 Stereo (English)
• Dolby Digital 1.0 Mono (Portuguese)
• English
• Portuguese
• Spanish
Running Time: 93 Minutes
Release Year: 1990
MPAA Rating: Not Rated
• Drama
• Historical
• Television
• War

Distinguishing Marks

• None


• IMDb
• Cinema Verdict Review: Valkyrie

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