Heroes & VILLAINS

The recent split of Brangelina has certainly been fueling lots of juicy gossip for media sources who, despite choruses of surprise and disappointment, just can’t wait to file and analyze the latest titillating tidbit. Movie fans, though, can find a silver lining to all the tabloid trash regarding Pitt’s supposed relationship with French actress Marion Cotillard, his co-star in the upcoming Allied.

 

Scheduled for release this Thanksgiving, the movie will once again have Brad kill Nazis, which he did so well in Inglourious Basterds and Fury. Anyone who kills that many bad guys (are there any worse bad guys than Nazis?) needs our forgiveness. Hitler’s minions are worse than the Walking Dead Brad dispatched in World War Z.

Zombies are nasty, but Nazis are just plain vile.

Which is why they’ve always made such great movie villains.

The kingpin of the group is, of course, Adolf Hitler, whose name and face alone are enough to make Satan look like an Eagle Scout. Knowing a good opportunity when they see one (villains often have the most memorable roles), some of filmdom’s greatest actors have lined up to play Der Fuhrer, among them Alec Guinness in Hitler: The Last Ten Days (1973), Anthony Hopkins in The Bunker (’81), and Bruno Ganz in Downfall (’04).

And let’s not forget Charlie Chaplin as Adenoid Hynkel, a thinly disguised Adolf rendered a buffoon in The Great Dictator (’40).

The rank and file of the Nazi machine — Gestapo, SS and common soldier — have similarly found their due misfortunes at the hands of Hollywood’s heroes in fantasy thrillers and actual war films. One of the most ingenious ideas behind Raiders of the Lost Ark, for instance, was making the Nazis enemies of Indiana Jones and of God Himself, in the form of the vengeful angels from the Ark. Though vastly under-appreciated at the time of its release (and now facing a reboot), The Rocketeer (’91) put our hero in 1930s Hollywood battling Timothy Dalton as a thinly disguised Errol Flynn with Nazi sympathies.

The former 007 star is not the only major actor to play a dirty Nazi. Orson Welles was one of the earliest screen giants to assume such a role as diabolical Charles Rankin in The Stranger, marrying and then trying to kill poor Loretta Young before being sent to his just deserts by Edward G. Robinson as a United Nations War Crimes Commission agent.

In 1976’s Marathon Man, Laurence Olivier memorably gave dentists a bad name as Dr. Christian Szell, another fugitive Nazi war criminal terrorizing Dustin Hoffman (and making us cringe) with a whirring dental drill. Two years later, Olivier changed sides in The Boys from Brazil, playing an indomitable Nazi hunter who comes head-to-head with Gregory Peck as the infamous Josef Mengele. The two films gave Olivier a chance to show off his ability with different accents, but it was Peck, going against type, who chewed up the scenery as the detestable real-life Nazi butcher.

Fictional Nazi sadists were played to the hilt by Dirk Bogarde in The Night Porter (’74), Peter O’Toole in Night of the General (’67), and perhaps most infamously by Dyanne Thorne in Ilsa: She Wolf of the SS (’75) and its sequels. Her physical opposite was the intimidating Shirley Stoler in Lina Wertmuller’s stunning classic, Seven Beauties (also ’75).

I’d be remiss if I didn’t point out films have also given us at least three examples of the noble Nazi, two of them historical figures who dared to defy Hitler — Tom Cruise as Col. Claus von Stauffenberg in Vanguard (’08) and James Mason as Field Marshal Erwin Rommel in The Desert Fox (’51). In The Young Lions (’58), it was Marlon Brando as a blonde Aryan officer who grows a conscience.

And, of course, Nazis have found a comfy home in the horror genre. The title says it all in the cheesy low-budget flick They Saved Hilter’s Brain (’68) while French horror/sleaze auteur Jean Rollin resurrected rotting Swastika-bearers in Zombie Lake (’81).

Most recently, in 2012, Hitler’s successors have attacked Earth from a hidden moonbase in Iron Sky (’12), a German-Finnish-Australian production — preposterous but fun. Unfortunately, the same can’t be said for Nazis at the Center of the Earth (same year) with Jake Busey, clone of dad Gary, and Dominique Swain (Lolita in the excellent ’97 film version).

In Dead Snow (’09), Nazi zombies haunt Norway; in British-made Outpost (’08), they’re in Eastern Europe. They’re everywhere!

That’s why, despite the Brangelina fracas, we need Brad Pitt. He’s a pro at killing Nat-zees and zombies.

About FOLIO

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