Wednesday, July 12, 2017

Hitler's Madman

Hitler's Madman (Douglas Sirk, 1943) Of all the butchering that has gone on in the world since Cain slew Abel, one episode has always fascinated me—the murder of Lidice, Czechoslovakia by the Nazi's during World War II, Hitler's revenge for the murder of his favorite SS man Reinhard Heydrich. The events were recently documented in the film Anthropoid, but I'd often wondered why a version hadn't been made before.

The answer is...of course, it had. 

Hitler's Madman was made at Producers Releasing Corporation, a small, low budget studio not long after the real-time events took place. Filming took place over one week. It's highly fictionalized; only one Czech assassin (Alan Curtis) makes it to Lidice to carry out the attack on Heydrich, helped by his lover (Patricia Morrison) and a local partisan, and Heydrich is ambushed on a forest road and not a city street in Prague.

As in real life, the assassination of Heydrich is weeks in the planning, lightning-fast in its execution, but its ramifications are huge, as Hitler takes his revenge by decimating a Czech town and murdering its citizens (Lidice was chosen as a practical alternative to the city suspected of keeping the assassins hidden, which had a strategically valuable munitions plant). Hitler's Madman spends a lot of time among the Lidice people, living their lives (as best they can) under the yoke of "The Protector" (as Heydrich was designated), an SS sadist, who takes a hands-on approach to occupation, making University visits to root out sedition, choosing daughters of suspected dissidents to send to the Russian front as prostitutes, and taking a supremely cavalier attitude to the populace, who are kept alive only if they're useful—like the mayor, a Nazi loyalist who will turn in any sign of talking against the Germans. One suspects he would have served the Communists equally well, if he'd lived.

Carradine's Heydrich takes a sadistic joy out of goose-stepping on the citizens. For instance, during the town's celebration of St. Mark, intended to bring the town together and inspire a good planting season, Heydrich goes straight for the jugular—the town priest, who stands up to him without provoking him or doing anything that might get him arrested. When Heydrich sees that his presence doesn't inspire any threat that he might take action against and intimidate the towns-folk, he takes the priest's vestments draping the statue of St, Mark and wipes his boot with them. When the priest charges at the front, he is machine-gunned in front of his parishioners. Heydrich has the last word: "So, I can't provoke you, eh?"

Well, he almost has the last word...

Hitler's Madman boasted one movie veteran of note—John Carradine, a well-established character actor, who plays Heydrich with an amused detachment and sardonic menace, a villain role he plays with a restrained relish. Carradine is the only "name" in the cast, but the material and the production values (for a Z-list studio) so impressed M-G-M that they bought it for distribution, their only addition being that previously mentioned "line-up" of Lidice daughters, thus alloying them to make use of their stable of starlets—including Ava Gardner (her 15th film appearance including shorts)—for extra exploitable appeal.
Ava Gardner is the third woman on the right hiding her face.
Credit for that production value must go to its German expatriate director Douglas Sirk (born Hans Detlef Sierck in Hamburg Germany, 1897) who, along with Fritz Lang and Billy Wilder, fled Germany and Europe in the late 1930's, while Hitler was just paying lip-service to the damage he'd do. Sirk, even under the skid-road conditions of the studio, still manages to make memorable images, despite having dull heroic leads, and a screenplay that's all over the map drawing from rumor, remembrance, and, as its propagandistic spine, the poem "The Murder of Lidice"** by Edna St. Vincent Millay

Sirk had more than artistic inspiration to draw upon while making Hitler's Madman—he had actually met Reinhard Heydrich, whom, he said "made my blood run cold."

For me, who's known of the events for years, it is an interesting film to view, especially as it contains a scene at Heydrich's death-bed (with little basis in reality as Heydrich was in so much pain from his injuries that he was slipping into and out of coma the last days of his life) that is chilling and fitting, as it shows the dying nazi-crat with no remorse, no sentimentality, and has the added ironic conclusion that Heydrich is just another layer in the tissue of lies the Nazi's use to prop themselves up with filled with, mythic lies that had no basis in reality. At the end, face-to-face with the reality of his own death, Heydrich has no constitution for Nazi theatrics and platitudes, and in his last words, reveals himself to be even more of a monster near-death than he was in life.

HIMMLER: Heil Hitler.
HEYDRICH: Don't bother me with that nonsense. I am in pain.
HIMMLER: Nonsense. You don't know what you're saying, Heydrich. I bring you greetings from our beloved fuehrer.
HEYDRICH: I don't want his greetings. Or yours. I want to live. Did you catch the assassins?
HIMMLER: Everything possible is being (done).
HEYDRICH: Everything possible is being done, that's all I hear.
HIMMLER: You mustn't strain yourself.
HEYDRICH: Can't you send some doctors from Berlin? Instead of these horse-doctors?
HIMMLER: You may leave
DOCTORS: Heil Hitler! (They exit, leaving Himmler alone with Heydrich)
HIMMLER: A soldier dies with courage, Herr Heydrich.
HEYDRICH: A true Nazi, eh? I would like to see how you and your feuhrer would act if your insides were shot out. Why can't I get morphine? It's getting dark. I want to live!
HIMMLER: You are dying for the fuehrer, Heydrich.
HEYDRICH: I don't want to die. I'm not going to die for the fuehrer or anyone else. I want to live. You'll face death one of these days, Himmler. And your fuehrer. All of you will face death. All of you. There's another thing I'll tell you. Here. Closer. We'll lose. The Russians will win. The Poles, the British, the Czechs. The Americans will win. We'll be the only ones to lose. And why? Why will they win? I'll tell you. You were too weak, that's it. Every day, I had to shoot thirty. It should have been three hundred, Himmler. Three thousand. Day for day, three...I should have done away with them all. All of them. All of them. Kill them if you want to be safe. Every day. All of them. Shoot them. Shoot them. All of them.

His fellow countryman, Fritz Lang, would direct his own version of events Hangmen Also Die! in 1943. We'll look at that very different film tomorrow.

The Murder of Lidice
by Edna St. Vincent Millay (abridged in The Saturday Review, 10/17/1942)

IT was all of six hundred years ago,
It was seven and if a day.
That a village was built which you may know
By the name of Lidice.

Not a stick, not a stake and stone remain
To mark where the fair Danubian plain
Was rich in cattle and rich in grain
In far Bohemia,
In a village called Lidice.
(At least, that is what they say)

But all of the villagers worked as one
(As ever since then these folks have done)
To build them a village to sit in the sun
As long as the Danube River should run
Through far Bohemia;
And they named it Lidice . . .

They built them a church and they built them a mill,
And on the fair Danubian plain.
For to shrive their souls and to grind their grain,
 And to feed them wholesomely . . .

And close together like swallows' nests
They built their houses on the low crests
Of the banks of the river that turned the mill.
And each man helped his neighbor to lay
The stones of his house, and to lift its beams;
Till strong in its timbers and tight in its seams
A village arose called Lidice . . .

How did the year turn, how did it run.
In a village like Lidice?
First came Spring, with planting and sowing;
Then came Summer, with haying and hoeing;
Then came Autumn, and the Harvest Home . .

And always in Winter, with its brief bright day,
Toward the end of the quiet afternoon,
(Children at school, but coming home soon,
With crisp young voices loud and gay;
Husband at Kladno, miles away.
But home for supper, expected soon)
Toward the end of the Winter afternoon .
 . .
The wise, kind hands and contented face
Of a woman at the window, making lace . . .
A peaceful place .. . a happy place . . .

How did the year turn—how did it run
In the year of nineteen-forty-one ?—•
In a village called Lidice?
First came Spring, with planting and sowing;
Then came Summer, with haying and hoeing;
Then came Autumn, and the Harvest Home . . .

Then came Heydrich the Hangman, the Hun . . .

"Mirko, the Rakos barns are full;
It's time to harvest the sugar beets."
"Hush with your clack while a man eats!
I'll think of the harvest and sugar beets
When the evening meal is done.
I've much on my mind, wife—I heard say
From the metal-workers in Kladno today
That Heydrich the Hangman comes our way—
God's curse on him!"
                   "Husband, the things you say!
Heydrich's but Hitler's tool."

"What do you take me for,—a fool?
God's curse on him, anyway."
"Cross yourself, Mirko!" "I did." "And pray."
"I'll pray when my supper's done."

"Husband why is your face so grey?"

"My face is grey from fear.
Heydrich the Hangman died today
Of his wounds, the men in Kladno say."

"Good riddance to wicked rubbish, I say . . .
No man was he, but a ravening beast . . .
Do they know who killed him? "
"Not yet, they say:
Though they've smoked him out for many a day . . .
But they claim we hid him here."

"Here? Here in Lidice?"
"Here in Lidice."
"If I knew where they hid, I'd not give them away."
"Yes .. . All of the village feels that way.
But heavy's the price we'll have to pay,
If they're not found, I fear.
How it will turn I could not learn . . .
But my face with fear is grey."

An officer walked in Wilson Street,
A German officer jaunty and smart;
A sabre-cut on his cheek he bore.
And tailored well were the clothes he wore,
His uniform dapper and smart.
And he hummed a waltz, as he strolled toward
A group of men by a high bill-board,
And he smiled and softly stopped in his tracks
As he studied the stooped and troubled backs
Of poor men reading the word "Reward!"

(REWARD! . . . REWARD! . . . REWARD! . . . REWARD! . . .

He looked at their backs and smiled, and thought,
"Heydrich's killer's as good as caught!"
For well he knew what money can do
To a poor man's mind (and a rich man's, too—
For the more a man owns the more he owes.
And the more he must have, and so it goes).

They marched them out to the public square.
Two hundred men in a row;
And every step of the distance there,
Each stone in the road, each man did know—
And every alley in doorway where
As a carefree boy, not long ago.
With boys of his age he would hide and run
And shout, in the days when everyone
Was safe, and free,—and school was out . . .
Not very long ago . . .
And he felt on his face the soft June ciir,
And thought, "This cannot be so!"

The friendly houses, the little inn
Where times without number he had been
Of an evening, and talked with his neighbors there
Of planting and politics—(not a chair
At any table he had not sat in)
And welcomed the newcomer coming in
With nod of greeting, of "Look, who's here!"—
Spoken friendly across the rim
Of a mug of Pilsen beer . . .

And the men he had greeted with loving shout.
And talked about football with, and about
The crops, and how to keep Hitler out . . .
Were lined up with him here . . .

And one man thought of the sunny row
In his garden, where he had left his hoe;
And one man thought of the walnut trees
He had climbed, and the day he broke his arm,
But it had not hurt, as his mind hurt now—
How happy his boyhood, how free from harm!

And one who was dying opened his eyes.
For he smelled smoke, and stared at the skies
Cloudy and lurid with smoke and flame;
From every building it billowed; it came
From every roof, and out it burst
From every window,—none was the first;
From every window about him burst
The terrible shape of flame,
And clawed at the sky, and leapt to the ground,
And ran through the village with a crackling sound
And a sudden roar where a roof fell in;
And he thought of his mother, left alone
In the house, not able to rise from her chair;
And he got to his elbows, and tried to crawl
To his home, across the blood in the square,
But at every step did slip and fall,
For the slippery blood was everywhere.

Oh, many a faithful dog that day
Stood by his master's body at bay.
And tugged at the sleeve of an arm outflung;
Or laid his paws on his master's breast,
With panting jaws and whimpering cries,
Gazing into his glazing eyes
And licking his face with loving tongue;
Nor would from his dead friend depart,
Till they kicked in his ribs and crushed his heart . .

The women and children out to the Square
They marched, that there they might plainly see
How mighty a state is Germany!—
That can drag from his bed unawake, unaware,
Unarmed, a man, to be murdered where
His wife and children must watch and see;
Then carted them off in truck and cart
Into Germany, into Germany,—
The wives to be slaves of German men;
The children to start life over again,
In German schools, to German rules,—
As butchers' apprentices.
And hail and salute the master mind
Of the world's chief butcher of human-kind . . .

They knocked on the door where a young wife bore
Her first, her last man-child;
She heard them coming down Wilson Street,
She heard from the square the machine-gun shots
That told her her man was dead;
And she bit and tied in a slippery knot
The cord of the fine man-child he'd got,
And slung him under the bed . . .
She rose on trembling arms to greet
The men who entered Wilson Street;
"There's nobody here but me!" she cried;
And her eyes were bright and hot in her head . . .
"I'm far too sick of the fever," she said,
"Into Germany, into Germany
For to be marched or led ... "
But the baby wailed from under the bed—
And they by the heels with a harsh shout
Did drag him out—but the baby bled—
So against the wall they banged his head,
While the mother clawed at their clothes and screamed.
And screamed and screamed, till they shot her dead.

Now, not a stake was left on a stone,
Nor the frame of a window-sill
Where a woman could lean in the dusk alone,
Her arms aware of the warmth of the stone,—
In Lidice, in Lidice—
Yet they say that it stands there still!

Yes, those who have been there solidly say
That every night when the moon is right.
That during the tenth of June all day,
And thin and strange when the sun sets
And the moon comes out, Ste. Margaret's—
Spire and nave and people at prayer
Are plainly seen and you can pass
Your hand through the beautiful colored glass
And draw it back . . . and no blood there!

And they say that men of an evening meet
And talk together in Wilson Street
And draw deep breaths of the air . . .
Though Wilson Street with the rest of the town
Burned down on the tenth of June, burned down,
And there is nothing there . . .
The Germans say there is nothing there.

Good people, all from our graves we call
To you, so happy and free;
Whether ye live in a village small
Or in a city with buildings tall,
Or the sandy lonesome beach of the sea.
Or the woody hills, or the flat prairie;
Hear us speak; oh, dear what we say;
We are the people of Lidice.
Hear us speak; oh, hear what we say,
Who and where soever ye be . . .
Unless ye would die as we!

Dead mouths of men once happy as you.
As happy as you and as free,
Till they entered our country and slaughtered and slew,
And made us do what we hated to do.
And then—oh, never forget the day!—
On the tenth of June in '42
They murdered the village of Lidice!

Dead men, dead men.
Up through the ashes of Lidice
Telling you not to be caught as they
All in the morning of a June day
Were caught, and shot and put out of the way . . .
(At least, that is what they say)
Telling you not to eat or drink
One morsel of food, one swallow of drink
Before you think, before you think
What is the best way
To keep your country from the foe you hate—
Keep it from sloping bit by bit
Down to what is the death of it—

The whole world holds in its arms today
The murdered Village of Lidice,
Like the murdered body of a little child
Happy and innocent, caught at play.
The murdered body, stained and defiled,
Tortured and mangled, of a helpless child,—

And moans of vengeance frightful to hear
From the throat of a world, must reach his ear.
The maniac killer who still runs wild,
Where he sits, with his long and cruel thumbs.
Eating pastries, rolling the crumbs
Into bullets (for the day is always near
For another threat, another fear.
Another killing of the gentle and mUd)
But a moaning whine of vengeance comes.
Sacred vengeance awful and dear;
From the throat of a world that has been too near
And seen too much, at last too much—
Whines of vengeance sacred and dear.
For the murdered body of a helpless child—
And terrible sobs unreconciled!

Careless America, crooning a tune!—
Catch him! Catch him and stop him soon!
Never let him come here!

Think a moment: are we immune ?

Oh, my country, so foolish and dear,
Scornful America, crooning a tune,
Think. Think: are we immune?—
Catch him, catch him and stop him soon!
Never let him come here!

Ask yourself, ask yourself: What have we done?—
Who, after all, are we?—
That we should sit at ease in the sun,
The only country, the only one,
Unmolested and free?
Catch him! Catch him! Do not wait!
Or will you wait, and share the fate
Of the village of Lidice?
Or will you wait, and let him destroy
The Village of Lidice, Illinois?
Oh, catch him! Catch him, and stop him soon!
Never let him come here!

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