The History Place - Movie Review

The Empty Mirror

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 convincing.

That is just one big flaw with The Empty Mirror, a Twilight Zone-style psychological drama done as a post mortem autobiography of Hitler.

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 his rabbits.

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 Hitler.

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.

The Empty Mirror - Official Website
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