Controversial Hitler Drama to Air
Sun May 18,
2003 09:24 AM ET
LOS ANGELES (Reuters) - After more than a year of anxious
debate and hand-wringing, "Hitler" the mini-series finally
makes its television debut on Sunday and despite some fears,
it is no "Mr. Nice Guy" who is being portrayed.
People in the CBS film may call him "Addy" or "Uncle Alf"
and he may utter such human-sounding lines like "She's my
niece for God's sake, we go to the opera together," but the
four-hour "Hitler: the Rise of Evil" starring Scottish actor
Robert Carlyle as "Der Fuehrer" is clearly a portrait of a
So the mini-series being shown on Sunday and then
concluding on Tuesday is bringing sighs of relief from worried
CBS executives who thought they might have a public relations
disaster on their hands along with headlines blaring "Major
network finds Hitler's good side."
Also relieved are major Jewish groups who, when the project
was first announced, feared that it could end up trying to
"humanize" one of history's most evil men.
That's the level of fear that ensues when you announce your
project is about the young Hitler and many assume that means
turning him into a character like the young Indiana Jones.
Whatever the original intention of the producers -- who
hired Stockard Channing to play Hitler's mother but gave her
only 30 seconds of air time -- they wound up creating a film
that concentrates on Hitler's rise to power rather than his
Carlyle's creepy, charisma-free performance of Hitler as a
rigid fanatic with eyes as hard as black rubber is not
calculated to win converts. He's played villains before and
this is his crowning moment as a cinematic bad guy.
"Obviously, Hitler is not the most likable guy, to say the
least. But we had to ensure an honesty in the character and I
had to play it as honestly as I thought I could," Carlyle said
in a recent telephone press conference with reporters.
He quickly added that he did not look for the good in the
man and "there was nothing in him I could identify with." So
to play him, "The Full Monty" star played music by Hitler's
favorite composer and fellow anti-Semite Richard Wagner over
and over again, even though previously he never listened to
opera at all. That got him in the mood for the "Sturm und
Drang" that followed.
"Through this incredible music, I could see where his head
was going," the actor said.
Producer Peter Sussman said that when the project was first
announced, "the world jumped on our head. The name Hitler
sends people's antennas rising, it is the name most synonymous
with evil. We really got off on the wrong foot."
But Sussman said the project was careful to hew closely to
the facts -- although there is a lot of debate about many
events in Hitler's life from where and how his virulent
anti-Semitism began to whether he drove his niece to suicide
by bullying and sexually abusing her.
Take the matter of Hitler's dog. As a World War One
corporal, Hitler had found and adopted a dog at the front.
Many biographies talks of how much he loved that dog but in
the movie he is shown beating it.
Says Sussman, he may not have beaten that dog but he beat
others. "I have had dogs all my life and I saw footage of
Hitler with a dog that almost knelt down when he called it --
that was the sign of a dog beaten into submission."
Asked if he thought the mini-series ran the risk of
humanizing Hitler, the producer said, "the point of this film
is to show that he walked and lived among us. He came out of
his mother's tummy and he came to power through a democratic