The Mill Creek Entertainment January 8, 2019 DVD release "Secret Stories of Hitler" boldly goes where few have gone before. This 2-disc set includes a documentary that presents the titular leader as someone other than the most despised man of the 20th century.
A message that viewers MUST take away from the three films in this set is that even propaganda that supports your side is propaganda. Depicting Hitler as a nice and rational man who is kind to animals and small children should convince everyone to not believe everything that they see without checking out the facts from a source without a horse in the race. A related aspect is the even the most evil human has some redeeming qualities.
The highly controversial 1974 documentary "Swastika" is the highlight of "Hitler." This movie largely consists of footage from Nazi propaganda films and from home movies that First Frau of Nazi Germany Eva Braun shoots. A modern introduction by a former Harvard teaching assistant provides a good background on the film.
As MCE notes on the back cover of "Stories," the written prologue of "Swastika" clearly reflects the theme of this film. This prose partially states that "If Hitler is dehumanized and shown only as a devil, any future Hitler may not be recognized, simply because he is a human being."
"Swastika" opens with footage of shiny, happy urban newspaper delivery guys loading up their bicycles and pedaling their way through city streets; the images soon shift to arguably ironic footage of trains headed into the beautiful German countryside.
The rural folks include smiling milk maids and similar positive stereotypes.
One of the most surprising things about the subsequent footage by Braun that is interspersed throughout the film is that it is in color. It also is shocking to see Hitler always looking relaxed and mostly smiling; further, he almost always is in civilian garb.
This footage largely looks like any other home movie of that era and the decades that follow. Hitler is a jovial host at his country retreat. He is laughing and joking with the likes of Goering and Himmler. We also see Hitler seeming to enjoy talking with small children and playing with his dogs.
For her part, Braun looks and acts like any other woman of the era. She seemingly equally adores her dogs and Clark Gable and is very at ease among her notorious company.
It is even more shocking to see Hitler calmly delivering a rational speech to an assembled masses. There is none of the shouting, frantic gestures, and frenzied responses that characterize all Hitler speeches that probably every viewer has seen in archival footage.
A telling scene has Hitler criticizing Goering to other guests. However, he is cool and collected and is not ordering punishment.
Two segments in "Swastika" are the most blatant propaganda in the film. An interview with an American radio commentator has that man assuring German officials that folks over here do not believe the fake news about Hitler; this man goes on to pledge to set the record straight by broadcasting to America from Germany.
The scenes from "The Eternal Jew" are even more unsettling than the interview with the American. We first see heavily bearded men looking alien and menacing; we then see the same group seeming ill-at-ease after losing their beards and changing into mainstream clothes. The message is that Jews cannot be assimilated into the dominant culture. A similar scene issues a defiant challenge to prove that a single Jew has died during the rule of Hitler.
Horrific footage that will cause anyone with a soul to turn away from the screen at the end of the film both is more objective and puts the prior 90 minutes of "Swastika" in proper perspective, That brings things full circle back to the opening message that genuinely bad hombres can be difficult to identify until it is too late.
The bonus features also enhance understanding of "Swastika." One extra has the filmmakers discuss the nature of Nazi propaganda; this conversation includes noting the great extent of the censorship of that era. A highlight is footage that amazingly slips through a very narrow crack.
Another extra discusses Nazi propaganda expert Leni Riefenstahl. We first learn that this filmmaker gets more than a little uncredited help from her friends. We subsequently see that her claims of denial are far from plausible.
As other posts in the Mill Creek Entertainment section of this site does (and will) show, this month being a particularly busy one for MCE releases requires that a timely review of "Hitler" come at the expense of not watching the other documentaries in the set.
"Hitler: The Untold Story" seems particularly fascinating. This six-part series pulls the curtain back on the fairly well known progression of the rise to power by der Fuhrer. Similar to "Swastika," we see how maintaining a deceiving public image is critical to Hitler maintaining his status.
"U-Boats: Hitler's Sharks" focuses on the importance of the ocean in WWII. The intriguing perspective this time is speculation regarding the impact of an alternate history in which Hitler grants requests for additional submarines.
The importance of these documentaries and the materials that accompany them is a well-known adage that provides the best perspective of all; those who do not learn from history are condemned to repeat it.