One of the last films with Brad David (the actor, best known for Midnight Express and Querelle, died in 1992), The Plot to Kill Hitler is superficially a good-looking period TV thriller that almost manages to hide the streets and houses which sometimes resemble a Hollywood backlot than 1944 Germany (a bit ironic, since the film was shot in the former Yugoslavia), but the rather facile script by Steven Elkins gives the actors very little to play with, forcing them to look distressed for the first two-thirds until the daring plot to kill Hitler with a bomb in put into play.
Unlike Valkyrie, the 2008 Tom Cruise film that covered the same terrain, more attention is given to Count Claus von Stauffenberg’s family – his kids and devoted, unwavering wife Nina (Madolyn Smith) – but they’re present mostly to add some colour to a historical figure we never get to know; he’s a loving father, devoted husband and proud nationalist disgusted with the Nazi regime, but there’s no effort to explore the psychology of a war hero who personally attempts to end Hitler’s life.
As expected, the film kicks into gear when von Stauffenberg is driven to Hitler’s Wolf’s Lair military retreat with the briefcase bomb, but much of what precedes that kinetic sequence is solemn figures commiserating behind closed doors while the occasional allied air attack screams above. (It’s unsurprising, then, that the round-up of von Stauffenberg and his co-conspirators starts the teleplay to give some momentum and plant a bit of anticipation while we’re forced to watch fairly banal scenes.)
On the plus side, David plays von Stauffenberg with more physical accuracy: a terrible bomb blast neutered an eye, burned is body, wrecked his right arm and left the other severely impaired, so he’s shown as a valiant war hero who also gets on with his life in spite of the physical trauma. (In Valkyrie, Cruise merely sports an eye patch.)
Lawrence Schiller’s direction doesn’t really attempt to transcend the script’s dull spots, but the period décor and lush score by Laurence Rosenthal (Peter the Great) helps maintain the illusion we’re watching a period thriller when small flaws – including Davis’ terribly wobbly German accent and Smith’s poutiness – become really interminable.
Timed for the theatrical release of Valkyrie, Warner Bros. DVD includes a standard transfer of the film, and a surprisingly decent (and true) stereo mix with occasional panned sound effects.
Brad Davis’ final films were the TV movies Child of Darkness, Child of Light (1991) and The Habitation of Dragons (1992), and the feature film Hangfire (1991). Director Lawrence Schiller has produced and directed a few historical dramas for TV including The Executioner’s Song (1982), Peter the Great (1986) and Margaret Bourke-White (1989), as well as exploitation fodder like Marilyn: The Untold Story (1980) and JonBenet: Anatomy of a Cold Case (2006).
© 2009 Mark R. Hasan