Batman, not Batman

"What is he, Batman?"
Reported on 16th of January, 2009

Early on in Valkyrie, the filmmakers detail one of the many plots to kill Hitler, this one involving a bomb disguised as a case of Cointreau.  There’s much sweaty fingers and machinations, and, naturally, the inevitable failure.  It doesn’t take long for me to suggest out loud, as my namesake Scotty Evil might, “Um, it’s called a gun.  They had a lot of them in World War II.” 


16 January 2009 @ Mann Village 8

$6.50 or, if one must be quotidian, and one must... 
★ ★ ★ ☆ ☆


As the movie unfolds it becomes clear that the murder of Hitler not only requires an elaborate plot, but an extensive number of plotters.  As I was growing increasingly frustrated (as yes, I’m aware it’s what actually happened, but it was also a movie), my friend Nathan, who would be much better at this job than I am, said, “What is he, Batman?”

It’s hard not to think of those superhero movies, where The Penguin and Lex Luthor and Bizarro Gallager sit in a room and talk, and talk, and talk and are mysteriously unable to kill their foe.  The point is this: Hitler as Batman would be a great movie.  Besides being incredibly offensive (already a good start), it’s actually a relevant idea.  What was it about Hitler that you couldn’t just shoot the guy?  It gets into the whole notion of how he rose to, and kept his power, and furthermore gets into something the film skirts around: where were these guys when he was doing well?  It is that he was a fascist that they had a problem with, or that he just turned out not to be very good at it?

But Valkyrie is its own movie, and judging it on its own merits, it is a success.  We know how the story ends (Batman gets away), but Singer, et. al. do manage to keep the tension up for quite a bit of the film, as they detail the various personalities and motives, mistakes and successes behind each step of the failed plan.  This is no mean feat, to be keep someone like me interested when I know the outcome, and kudos.  In a Post-tomatometer era, we forget that a movie isn’t so much a 60%, as it is a series of scenes that we like and don’t like, and there’s a lot of 100% in this movie.

Make as many movies about Hitler as you want. Just don’t put any Nazis in them.

[/pullquoteR]And you can see what attracted the filmmakers to the story.  It’s a fascinating tale of incompetence, pride, and missed opportunities.  But, as it often the case, the filmmakers have forgotten the weight of history, something which you run into whenever you make a movie about, well, history.  A movie about the plot to kill Hitler is going to have Hitler in it.  And that’s going to cause all kinds of problems.  I thought immediately of the last season of Deadwood, where David Milch introduced George Hearst into the environs of the show, and though he didn’t know it, he was stuck.  Milch had created these intense, vital, and absolutely ruthless characters, who now had to kowtow to Hearst, not because they would have, but because that’s what actually happened.  He betrayed the characters and the show, because history made him.

There are many great stories in the plot to kill Hitler.  There’s the story of  outrageous incompetence, as each of the players makes mistakes that are both believable and sad.  It’s a story that would funny, hysterical actually, but if it’s Hitler you’re trying to kill, the weight of the Holocaust precludes a comedy, at least these days.  I don’t know why it was okay to make comedies with Hitler in it as recently as twenty years ago (The Producers, To Be or Not To Be, Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade [Hitler signs his notebook – come on – you could never do that today, ironically because the same filmmaker directed Schindler’s List four years later]) a time when many more people were alive who actually were there, but I do know that making a movie about why you can’t make a funny movie about Hitler would be a good movie.  If the censors let you keep Hitler in it.

And you have the story, the tragedy, of the plotters’ failure.  Which would be tragic, if this wasn’t a movie.  But it is a movie, and so when people behave stupidly, when they behave like the Scarecrow and Doc Oc (‘nuff said), it’s hard to feel sorry for them.  It’s not tragedy when making mistakes leads to a bad outcome; it’s just inevitable.  In this case, history is imprisoned by the rules of film.  If you act stupid, and your plan doesn’t work, we’re not going to feel sorry for you, no matter how cute your wife is.

Auditorium 8, to your right, not the most impressive.

Auditorium 8, to your right, not the most impressive.

Nazis in films have both an advantage, and a disadvantage.  They make great cannon fodder, being one of three groups you can kill without feeling guilty (as a screenwriter, one can never forget the ZRN trinity: Zombies, Robots, and Nazis.  And, if you’re English, people with red hair.  No, I don’t understand the last one either).  But Nazis, unlike their machine and undead counterparts, carry a lot of cultural guilt.  Furthermore, at a certain point, they’re going to wear out their emotional resonance as a symbol of true evil.  In a time when I’ve seen 4 movies in a row with Nazis in it, and I’ve still got three to go, we have reached that point.  World War II, and Nazi Germany, are full of human stories, but when we put them in the past, it lets us off the hook a little bit.  We are free to say: I’m not Hitler; I’m Tom Cruise.  I would do the right thing…six years after the fact.

So tell me a funny story about a madcap group of neer-do-wells who just can’t seem to get it together to kill someone.  Or the tragedy of good intentions undone by fate (not buffoonery).  Or the comic and tragic one of a group of people who go along with evil as long as evil is doing well.  Make as many movies about Hitler as you want.  Just don’t put any Nazis in them.


The Batman joke got a lot of mileage for me.
The films in my head @$2.00 per film
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A missed opportunity is an opportunity, but it is also a miss.
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Thoughts on Valkyrie

  1. bob says:

    Cointreau can be delicious!

  2. Scott Scott King says:

    I think the fact that the Nazi high command was willing to drink Cointreau would be the best indicator that this was the beginning of the end of national socialism; by 1944: Root Beer Schnapps.

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