Inside the Third Reich (TVM 1981)

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“I belonged to a circle which consisted of other artists and his personal staff. If Hitler had had any friends at all, I certainly would have been one of his close friends.” – Albert Speer

It is rare that we look at films made for television, and perhaps rightfully so – at least from our perspective. However, as frequent visitors will know we do have a tilt for the historical side, and thus we looked at – after almost a 20 year interval between viewings – the TVM (actually miniseries) Inside the Third Reich, based on the autobiographical book of the same name written by Hitler’s architect and later armaments minister Albert Speer.

The film itself is strong if not stellar. Hamstrung by covering 12 years (give or take) of epic history in under four hours takes some serious doing. In that sense it does a remarkable job in giving you a good flavor for the period and the struggles involved, but it does make a startling presumption- that the viewer has at least a minimal knowledge of the events at hand. There isn’t the time to delve into much backstory.

For example, if you don’t know that the Goebbels children were murdered by their parents, the long stare and remorseful demeanor of matriarch Magda Goebbels won’t make sense. Likewise, the fully made up (painted nails and all) Hermann Goering won’t compute either. We also get some insights into the maniacal power struggles internally in the Nazi hierarchy and lackeys jockeyed for Hitler’s favor.

It does go fast without going deeply into more than a few key moments, but does serve as a great introduction or overview for the viewer. Like many such pictures based on well documented events, there are numerous factual errors, but none that really detract overly much.

Production is what you’d expect- good but unspectacular. Especially lacking is the impact of the various German uniforms, in fact designed and manufactured by Hugo Boss. Music is minimal but perhaps overly militaristic even given the topic.

As with most miniseries, we are besotted with a strong cast, most of whom come and go from the screen before you realize they are there. Rutger Hauer is good as Albert Speer, and Derek Jacobi is average as Hitler, but most pale now against the performance Bruno Ganz gives in 2004’s Downfall.

But that is just the tip of the cast. John Gielgud joins as Albert Speer, Sr. Blythe Danner, far from her days of “Mama Focker” is the younger Speer’s wife. Also in lesser roles are Trevor Howard, Randy Quaid, Robert Vaughn, Elke Sommer, Ian Holm (wonderful as Goebbels), and Viveca Lindfors.

What most won’t realize is that Albert Speer was still alive at least during early production, not passing until September of 1981. The brief onscreen textual epilogue does state this – along with suggestions (books, mind you) for further reading on the subject. From the perspective of 2012 a quaint if dated feature.

Given that production was in 1981 and by definition is an attempt at a dramatization of Albert Speer’s first book, the film is successful. However, since publication of the book Inside the Third Reich and the TVM as well, the visage that Speer crafted of himself for public consumption has, for the most part, crumbled.

In reality Albert Speer’s knowledge of the true monstrosity of the Hitler regime is much more pervasive and ingrained than his book allows. It has, for example become known that the version of Rudolf Wolters’ Chronik, a diary and calendar of key events and schedules of Speer’s various organizations (and maintained by his staff) which was originally submitted to the German archives in Koblenz, omits several events which would clearly insinuate Speer’s intimate knowledge of the violent persecution of the Jews and other minorities.

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