Hitler’s Children | DVD Review
Before he would be forever marked by the Hollywood Blacklist, Edward Dmytryk churned out a succession of B movies in the late 1930s and early 1940s, averaging a handful of projects a year (he had six films in 1941 alone). Right before his first major breakthrough with 1944’s film noir classic Murder, My Sweet, he’d churn out a quintet of wide-ranging projects the year prior. In between a monster movie for Universal (Captive Wild Woman starring Acquanetta), Dmytryk completed four war related items, including Tender Comrade with Ginger Rogers dealing with a new living situation while Robert Ryan serves overseas, the noir-ish The Falcon Strikes Back which concerns a phony war bond operation, and then an exploration of the rise of militarism in Japan as experienced by a returning veteran with Behind the Rising Sun. But none of these hold a candle to another title he unleashed that year, the sensational Hitler’s Children, based on the popular novel Education for Death by Gregor Ziemer which was popular during the period. Exploitational but unfortunately not able to depict all the despicable atrocities going on across the Atlantic, in retrospect it’s hard to believe this was actually released in theaters in 1943, where it would become one of the highest grossing films ever for RKO.
US citizen Anna Muller (Bonita Granville) works at the American Colony School in Germany, run by Professor Nicholas (Kent Smith). During their Memorial Day celebration, she’s arrested by the Gestapo who demand she be nationalized as a German citizen since her parents were born Germans and she was actually born on German soil before her parents received US citizenship. Their rationale is that Anna needs to relent to the Reich by providing the party with an Aryan heir and birth a child to be approved and raised by the state. SS Lieutenant Karl Bruner (Tim Holt) tries to assuage Anna since they’re childhood friends, but his slavish sympathies to the party only seem to incense her. Anna refuses these duties, and Bruner’s bemused commander, Colonel Henkel (Otto Kruger) has her committed to a labor camp where she’ll be subjected to sterilization and systematic brainwashing. Bruner is now stuck in a moral quandary since he loves Anna. A helpless Professor Nichols stays involved in their plight, mostly to narrate what happens.
Of course, Hitler’s Children seems exceptionally distracting because of all the English, which makes Dmytryk’s film seem like the Nazis took over New Haven, Connecticut. Kent Smith’s unenthusiastic narration doesn’t help, and he seems to fade to the periphery once Tim Holt transcends from naïve henchman to romantic heartthrob. Smith was a pleasant B player in the 1940s, appearing in Cat People (1942) the year prior and then The Spiral Staircase (1945) shortly after. Tim Holt, who would eventually serve in the Army during WWII, doesn’t get to do anything very magnetic, leaving most of the film’s heavy lifting to Bonita Granville, who would migrate exclusively to television in the 1950s, most notably in “Lassie.” But as entertaining as she is, Otto Kruger steals all his scenes as a malevolent Nazi colonel.
Though its woefully sanitized depiction of labor camps would prove to be euphemistic, at best, the acknowledgement of ‘breeding’ programs by the Third Reich still merits a bit of squalid interest. It’s similar to an SS operation depicted by Czech filmmaker Milan Cieslar with his 2000 film Spring of Life, though Dmytryk’s vision is still more lurid. When Granville’s Anna gives her old friends a ‘tour’ of the new facility she’s been stationed, she asks a pregnant woman how she feels about giving birth for the Fuhrer, a child to be reared by the party. She snarls, “I hope I will have much pain when my baby is born! I want to feel I am going through a real ordeal for our Fuhrer.”
Dmytryk’s forgotten Nazi exploitation title is available via Warner Bros. Archive Collection as a made-to-order disc, so the package is about as bare bones as you can get. The full-screen transfer is available here in 1.37:1 aspect ratio, though its switches between moments of news reel footage, wooden narration, and more lugubrious moments of melodrama perhaps seem less jarring in a less enhanced format.
Dymtryk, like it or not, is an important figure from the Hollywood Studio era, and he’s most entertaining when he’s working with sensational elements. Fans of his later works such as The Carpetbaggers or Walk on the Wild Side should appreciate Hitler’s Children.