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 Home > News > Entertainment > Entertainment > Article
Controversial Hitler Drama to Air Sunday
Sun May 18, 2003 09:24 AM ET
By Arthur Spiegelman

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 monster.

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 childhood.

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 system."

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