hitler dead or aliveHITLER – DEAD OR ALIVE (1942) – You’ve heard of grindhouse movies? Well, you could consider this a GRINDE-HOUSE movie, because it was directed by Nick Grinde and produced by Charles House.

While we all try to ignore how lame that joke is, I’ll point out that Hitler – Dead or Alive was first released in November of 1942. As the title and date of release would suggest, it was a rah-rah wartime rally movie/ propaganda film about a handful of people trying to collect a million-dollar reward for the Fuhrer – dead or alive.

A few years back, Balladeer’s Blog reviewed The Girl in the Kremlin, a 1957 flick about Stalin faking his death and being hunted down. Given the massive body counts of both Adolf and Joseph, it should be no surprise that this Hitler movie is just as mind-numbingly, cosmically tasteless as the Stalin piece. It’s not just So Bad It’s Good, it’s So SURREALLY Bad It’s Good. 

hitler dead or alive lobbyHitler – Dead or Alive starts out with a pair of stereotypical hungry reporters who bluff their way into a face-to-face meeting with eccentric, unorthodox, Howard Hughesesque tycoon Samuel Thornton. Thornton has just donated a million dollars worth of fighter planes to the war effort, and the snooping reporters ask if there’s any connection to the million-dollar reward he offered for Hitler a few months earlier.

Thornton wants to put the story on the record, so we viewers get a long flashback which makes up most of the movie. A few months earlier, three gangsters who were just released from Alcatraz bluffed their way into his office to take him up on his million-dollar offer. (First the reporters, then the gangsters, so you’d be justified in wondering if we were in for flashbacks within flashbacks of nothing but people bluffing their way into meetings with this supposedly reclusive millionaire.)

The trio of freshly released gangsters are Paul Fix as Joe “The Book” Conway, Warren Hymer as the husky Hans “Dutch” Havermann and the one and only Ward Bond as Steve Maschick, the gruff leader of the group. (“Fuhrers, HOOOO!” Had to be said.)

These three are pure imitation Warner Brothers gangsters of the “yeah, seeeee” and “that ain’t no hooey” type, so every hammy bit of dialogue from them will stimulate the pleasure centers of people who love bad and campy movies. Ward Bond and his boys are former bootleggers and hitmen who convince the tycoon that bumping off Hitler will be no harder than whacking a rival gangster.

What about the language barrier? Ward Bond and company assure Thornton that they used to run “a beer racket” in Milwaukee and picked up all the German they’ll need. 

charles house presentsWhile first-time viewers of this weird little film are beginning to realize they’re not in Kansas anymore, the convicts negotiate a contract with Thornton and his lawyer. If they kill Adolf Hitler but don’t make it back alive, Thornton will erect a monument to them, since they won’t be around to collect the million bucks.

A fine point hammered out in the contract is that Ward Bond and company must rub out or capture the REAL Hitler, not one of the disguised doubles that the dictator often used. For their next trick, Steve, Dutch and the Book (insert your own Morning Zoo deejay team joke here) cross the border into Canada and enlist in the Royal Canadian Air Force.

The trio somehow pass basic training and become paratroopers with Canada’s forces in Europe. We join them in progress as they are on a training jump with full chutes. They FORCE THE PILOT AT GUNPOINT TO FLY THEM OVER GERMANY, where their aircraft is fired upon by German fighter planes.

In one of the most unintentionally funny moments in a film loaded with them, Ward Bond whips out a Tommy Gun, leans out the door of the plane and shoots down one of the enemy fighters! The plane bearing our heroes gets shot down anyway and the young pilot, Johnny Stevens (Bruce Edwards) must bail out with our three heroes.

In a series of scenes that are like when little kids play Army, the foursome hijack a truck, bluff their way through German troops, and sell a Colonel Hecht (Felix Basch) on the notion that they are defecting soldiers who have a private message for Adolf Hitler, but they will only deliver it in person.

In defiance of all reason, Colonel Hecht believes them and goes along with Ward Bond’s suggestion to treat them like POWs until they can meet Hitler. Hecht does so, imprisoning them at … Dachau. 

Wow. Just wow. Okay, much of the world did not know about what was really going on in the Nazi death camps at the time, and that is reflected in the way that the makers of Hitler – Dead or Alive seem to think that Dachau was for military prisoners. Your mind will be well and truly boggled by the grotesque absurdity of B-movie shenanigans hovering near the real-life nightmare of genocide, all unaware.

The gangsters and Johnny make tough talk with the jack-booted stereotypes imprisoning them, clowning them to the point that it plays like a proto-Hogan’s Heroes episode.       

countess elseAt any rate, Colonel Hecht has a mistress, Countess Else (Dorothy Tree), who is secretly a Nazi-hating German codenamed Rosebud (yes, really). Right under Hecht’s nose, Else has been helping POWs escape Germany for years. She comes to the aid of the three gangsters and the military pilot Johnny, helping them escape in a commandeered vehicle.

The bizarre sight of the good guys driving and shooting their way through a closed gate in typical B-movie action style, right under a big sign that says DACHAU, is enough to give you Heil, Honey, I’m Home vibes. You’ll practically question your sanity at this point.

Else hides the four fugitives in her secret basement concealed under a rigged stairway, and in the days ahead feels herself torn romantically between the ringleader Steve and the pilot Johnny. (“Chonny” as she calls him.) We now get a Warner Brothers “gangsters on the lam” feel as Else is dragged into Ward Bond’s ludicrous plan to kill Hitler.

SPOILERS: One of Else’s colleagues in covert activity, Meyer, tells our heroes how to tell the real Hitler from his decoys. Meyer knew Hitler from before he had his mustache, and knows the Fuhrer got a bad scar on his upper lip during his street terrorism days and grew his weird ‘stache to cover the scar.

(We get no explanation for why Hitler adopted his dorky, greasy hairdo, though.)

Later, when Else goes to perform for Nazi military officials AND Hitler himself (played by 10-time Hitler actor Bobby Watson), Ward Bond and the others impersonate musicians hired to play at the show. One thing leads to another, and the Fuhrer shows up, following which the gangsters and Johnny spring their plan.

Ward Bond/ Steve uses Adolf as a human shield while Johnny and the others engage in a firefight with the Nazi High Command. We get a payoff for the “scar under the mustache” bit from earlier (Chekov’s mustache?) when Ward Bond – and I can’t believe I’m typing this – SITS ON HITLER’S CHEST AND SHAVES OFF HIS MUSTACHE.

Yes, long before the head-shaving scenes in The Girl in the Kremlin, THIS bizarre bit of barber work hit the big screen. The scar is there, proving this is the REAL Hitler. 

ward bond and hitlerAdding to the laughs is the way that Ward Bond addresses the captive Hitler as “toots,” “little tootsy wootsy,” and “cookie”. It’s like you’re suddenly privy to pillow talk between Adolf and Eva Braun, but naturally Steve is being sarcastic. (Still, though … “little tootsy wootsy?”)

At any rate, Steve sends Johnny and Else to fly to England in Hitler’s private plane while he and Meyer wind up getting overwhelmed by the Nazis they’ve been fighting. Absurdly, none of the High Command recognize Hitler with his mustache shaved off, so they just slap him around before shooting him to death as he tries to flee the scene.

Just when you feel like you’re watching the weirdest Archer episode ever, the tone shifts yet again. The Nazis, commanded by Colonel Hecht, round up a bunch of literal CHILDREN, then line them up against the wall and mow them down with machine guns.

Before you can pick your jaw off the floor from a scene like that being in a godawful turkey like this, Ward Bond is lined up against the wall next. Before gunning him down, the Nazis obligingly let him get in a patriotic speech about the need to defy the Third Reich.

Thus ends the loooong flashback. We’re now back with the tycoon Thornton and the Central Casting reporters. Somehow, Thornton was able to tell them what Steve’s defiant last words were, even though Johnny and Else were well on their way back to England when he spoke them.

scene from hitler dead or aliveThornton further informs the reporters that he used the million dollars that the gangsters earned to pay for fighter planes for the war effort, and that’s the link the reporters suspected between the millionaire’s original bounty on Hitler’s head and his contribution of the planes. Johnny has been flying the planes to Europe one by one.

Bizarrely, the world at large doesn’t believe that Hitler is really dead, because one of his decoys is being used as a figurehead for the High Command as they pursue the war as ruthlessly as ever. Thornton asks the reporters to make it clear to the world that it’s the entire Nazi machine that must be fought, not just one man.

One of the reporters actually, honest-to-God says “I think it’s a swell idea”, because of course he does. That remark put me back in a weird kind of twilight zone as I absorbed all the B-movie silliness mingled with the monumental bad taste of so much of what I had just watched. Let’s face it, there is truly no other cinematic work to compare with the thoroughly psychotronic film Hitler – Dead or Alive.




Filed under Bad and weird movies

4 responses to “HITLER – DEAD OR ALIVE (1942): BAD MOVIE REVIEW

  1. The Night Wind

    I saw this film a couple of years ago. I wouldn’t call it ‘bad’—‘unusual’ maybe from our vantage point today. I think that it was trying to convey the idea that ‘it was all bigger than one man;’ because we were up against an ideology that involved us all having to put aside our interests and fight together. Notice how everybody’s motives became more fixed on something bigger than themselves as the story went on.

    It reminded me of a lower-budget version of “All Through the Night” that carried something of the same message. Remember that these movies both came out very early in the war and a lot of us were still in the mindset of the 1930s where Media was about lone adventurers taking on supervillains. That theme came back in the 1980s and 1990s which is probably why these types of movies are hard to relate to for us.

  2. “A bad movie review” or “Review of a bad movie?” Just poking at you. Guess Follywood’s penchant for pure crap is not really new. On the other hand, consider the times. Yeah. I read this. Don’t ask why. Will say is was not a bad review [ we come to expect no less from the Ballad Man] of a bad movie. Catch you later.

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