For more than 70 years, Adolf Hitler and his Nazi Party have been the gold standard in movie villainy. Responsible for the most devastating war in human history and some of the 20th century’s most reprehensible crimes, the Nazis were unambiguously evil, and with their symbols, uniforms and German accents, easy to spot in a storytelling medium that frequently relies on visual and audio shorthand.
Nazis have served as all-purpose bad guys in virtually every genre of film. Charlie Chaplin made hay of his resemblance to Hitler in THE GREAT DICTATOR, and Ernst Lubitsch never made a funnier film than TO BE OR NOT TO BE, in which actors foil the Gestapo in occupied Poland. Both of those comedies were made while the war still raged; decades later, Mel Brooks drew gales of laughter with “Springtime for Hitler” in THE PRODUCERS.
The long list of adventure films with Nazi antagonists includes prison-camp classic THE GREAT ESCAPE and two of the best Indiana Jones films. Even musicals have been driven by the looming threat of the Third Reich, from the otherwise sunny Rodgers & Hammerstein favorite THE SOUND OF MUSIC to the more sinister CABARET.
“Nazis. I hate these guys,” remarked the title character in INDIANA JONES AND THE LAST CRUSADE. Because it’s a sentiment so many of us share, Nazi villains will glower from movie screens for many years to come.
Series compiled by Grant Moninger and Gwen Deglise. Program notes by John Hagelston.