Hitler's Madman (1943):

Participation in the anti-Nazi exposé sweepstakes was practically mandatory for the émigré artist in Hollywood, though Douglas Sirk (anglicized from Sierck for his American debut) has the sardonic wit to limber up the didacticism -- a woman cheerfully sets the table for the return of her imprisoned husband, only to have his coffin delivered to her door; a collapse, and a cut to her little son grabbing the bread for himself. Just one of many casualties of the Nazi rule in the Czech burg of Lidice, introduced via bucolic montage accompanying verses from Edna St. Vincent Millay's poem; oppression lies in the hearts of people, so peasant Ralph Morgan preaches patience during a family dinner and steps outside, just in time to spot Alan Curtis, a local turned British fighter, parachuting in. Curtis whistles up sweetheart Patricia Morison in the woods, misty like a reverie, or maybe a memory, to lay out his plan of resistance. Back in Prague, Sirk dollies in on the death's mask of "protector" Heydrich (John Carradine), leaning back in his throne to hit upon the idea of killing rebels before they become rebels -- dissolve to a lecture moments before invasion by Heydrich and Gestapo goons, all set to extinguish "the dangers of the intellect." Czech gals are picked for the German front, but did audiences notice the sublime frenzy stemming less from the hysteria of propaganda than from Sirk's heightened staging? Edgar Kennedy, "strictly an apolitical character," sneaks in comic business by splashing his face with icy water, yet he's ready to take up shotgun when it comes to aid the assassination of the German officer. Himmler (Howard Freeman) takes Heydrich's deathbed advice literally and arranges for the pulverization of Lidice, hostages rounded up and shot, only for their phantoms to reemerge, low-angled superimpositions over the flames, another Sirk coup. "Dead men can't avenge themselves," Curtis says early on, though revolt lives on in memory, revived through the camera and the artist's impeccable eye. With Ludwig Stössel, Al Shean, Elizabeth Russell, and Jimmy Conlin. In black and white.

--- Fernando F. Croce

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