Sunday 28 January 2007

The Devil With Hitler (1942) Gordon Douglas

Here's a bizarre little oddity. Presented by Hal Roach, noted comedy producer/director, this makes fun of the Nazi menace in a very strange way. Rather than being a serious attack through satire like The Great Dictator or a screwball comedy that focuses on other characters like To Be or Not to Be, this takes Hitler himself, and surely and deliberately makes him look like a complete idiot in as many ways as are humanly possible that avoid astute political comment in favour of slapstick. Just to be sure, it has a go at the Italians and Japanese in the process, in the characters of Mussolini and Sukiyaki, and, as we well know from Bugs Bunny cartoons, any racial epithet is acceptable as long as it's hurled during wartime.

The story, such as it is, has Hitler is being set up for the Devil's job, literally. It seems that Satan's board of directors, complete with really dumb horned hats, want to fire him and replace him with Hitler, because the real Satan has apparently been slipping a bit lately. So the Devil takes the job of Hitler's valet and sabotage everything possible. Hitler is played by comedian Bobby Watson, who is a decent lookalike, and the briefest glance at his resume shows that he played Hitler almost as much as Hitler did. Sukiyaki is played by George E Stone, who I'll shortly be seeing a lot of as the Runt in the Boston Blackie movies. Here he's nothing but a racial stereotype, with his bottle glasses and tourist camera, so it's hard to judge his talents.

Given that we're in racial stereotype territory, it's surprising to see the Americans added into the mix. The heroes, if there are any such things here, are Douglas Fowley and Marjorie Woodworth, who's something of a Ginger Rogers lookalike. The weird thing is that Fowley plays an American insurance salesman who manipulates his way onto a line of people being paraded in front of Hitler before being shot, so that he can sell life insurance plans to all three of the Axis leaders. He manages it too. And then at the end, after the most deliberate character assassination in movie history, the filmmakers include a standard blurb underneath the end credits, stating that 'The events and characters depicted in this photoplay are fictitious. Any similarity to actual persons, living or dead, is purely coincidental.' Come on.

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