By Fred Harvey
The History Place
My first advice these days to anyone making a
film about the Third Reich is to get German actors to play Nazis. Too many
Holocaust dramas feature English actors with distinctly British mannerisms,
foibles and peccadillos, which simply are not German-like and thus not
That is just one big flaw with The Empty Mirror,
a Twilight Zone-style psychological drama done as a post mortem autobiography
Please don't get me wrong. I love the British.
But even the finest British actors, such as Sir Anthony Hopkins, come off
looking a bit stupid with an obligatory foaming at the mouth portrayal
of Der Führer. Adolf Hitler may be the most difficult dramatic character
ever to portray, second only to Hamlet.
And so, I must admit, I was really disappointed
upon first hearing the heavy British accent of Norman Rodway who plays
Hitler (referring to himself as 'Hitla'). Although I gave him the benefit
of the doubt, I soon realized this guy is simply not convincing. He looks
and sounds like a disgruntled Duke bemoaning the fact someone is poaching
Part of the problem is that we know historical
Hitler too well. Americans who like to watch historical documentaries on
cable channels such as Discovery Channel, The History Channel, and PBS,
have probably watched more Nazi propaganda films than the Nazis did. Endless
German film footage survived the war showing Hitler's speeches, appearances
at mass rallies, troops in action, and of course, the color home movies
taken by his mistress, Eva Braun.
The Empty Mirror begins with a long sequence
from Leni Riefenstahl's 1934 propaganda masterpiece, Triumph of the
Will, showing Hitler addressing the Hitler Youth at Nuremberg, eventually
revealing Rodway as Hitler actually running the projector, pathetically
reliving the glory of days gone by.
The heavy use of original Nazi footage throughout
this movie, combined with an abundance of extreme close-ups of Rodway,
only emphasizes the fact that Rodway doesn't look or behave like historical
The entire movie takes place in a dark setting
that at times resembles Hitler's Chancellery in Berlin and at other times
seems to be a spooky cave, symbolic of the deep, dark recesses of Hitler's
mind or some psychological mumbo-jumbo like that. At least it's not the
Berlin Bunker (again). But I never did figure out where this is supposed
to be - Hell?
Throw in Hermann Goering, Eva Braun, Sigmund Freud,
and Joseph Goebbels who is played by Joel Grey. In Grey's case, I have
never seen an actor so closely resemble the historical character he is
portraying. Greatly intrigued, I found myself wanting to see much more
of him, but sadly he has very little screen time and we are mostly stuck
with a rambling monologue by our unFührer.
His monologue sounds like a hodge-podge of excerpts
from Hitler biographies and history of the Third Reich books. Are we actually
to believe that Hitler would ever concur in the slightest with any of the
blunt historical analysis expressed in such books?
Historical Hitler was a man who never changed
his mind, from the Beer Hall Putsch in 1923 through his last days in his
Berlin Bunker in 1945. Hitler's last will and testament reads exactly the
same as his earliest propaganda. He never changed.
But this film has Hitler engaged in critical self-analysis,
aided by Freud, and spouting Hitlerisms, in the style of Mein Kampf,
to an SS man dutifully typing away. What's the point?
There's a big goof in the narrative early-on as
Hitler recalls his past stating he displayed weakness in his life twice
- at the death of his mother and upon Germany's defeat in World War I.
They forgot Geli Raubal, his beloved niece who committed suicide - a tremendous
episode in Hitler's pre-Führer life.
If they don't know that, then what do they know?
And am I to take seriously any of the melodramatic sentiments this bogus
Hitler expresses concerning the Holocaust? I don't think so.
Hollywood people must always consider, when dramatizing
events surrounding Hitler's attempt to exterminate the Jews of Europe,
that there will be young people in the audience taking your interpretation
at face value. In other words, you should know what the hell you're doing,
or just don't do it at all.
Film Not Rated.