Let’s start the week with a smile and a “heil!” with this video assemblage of Tinseltown’s Ten Best Fascist Dictators. Here they are arranged in order of rank.
Hitler goes Hollywood: Top 10 Movie Führers
10) Considering the variety of top-shelf candidates auditioning to play the titular Teuton in Springtime for Hitler, one soon realized the daunting task of choosing just one. After countless viewings of Mel Brooks’s The Producers, “The Little Wooden Boy” guy is a gift that keeps on giving laughter. There’s no listing of the actor’s name, but we all owe him everything for taking time away from pushing a dirty-water hot dog cart through the streets of Bayonne long enough to be immortalized by Mel’s lens.
9) It was the clip that launched a thousand memes, with Bruno Ganz’s Dolf fuming over everything from the discovery that there is no Santa Clause (“Then how does one account for the missing milk and cookies?”) to learning that the trailer for Avatar sucks (“Cameron has taken the Hollywood opiate of putting technology before story”). In this clip from Downfall, Hitler has a few choice words for Martin Scorsese.
8) There are probably as many surrogate Schicklgrubers in this scene from Billy Wilder’s Stalag 17 as there are auditioners in The Producers. Led by Jay Lawrence, scan the crowd for a boisterous Robert Strauss and everyone’s favorite stock Nazi bumbler, Sig Ruman.
7) The force of the SS was with Sir Alec Guinness in Hitler: The Last 10 Days.
6) There are so many reasons to praise Ernst Lubitsch’s To Be or Not to Be. Tom Dugan’s deadpan Hitler taking a stroll through the streets of Poland – he’s billboarding a new play – is just one of them.
5) The Great Dictator was too easy. The thought of including Chaplin never once occurred. Besides, he wasn’t the first actor to play Hitler. That honor went to none other than Stooges ringleader Moe Howard.
4) Richard Basehart took a voyage to the bottom of the Berteschgaden in 1962’s succinctly titled Hitler.
3) Former child actor Sidney Miller (he was one of Wild Bill Wellman’s Wild Boys of the Road was brilliantly cast against type in Jerry Lewis’s grossly underappreciated Which Way to the Front?.
2) Carl Ekberg took to the terrace for both Fritz Lang (Man Hunt) and Orson Welles (Citizen Kane). With five career Hitlers to his credit, Ekberg had the look that fit the time (and the costume) making him one of Hollywood’s top choices to play Chancellor of Germany.
1) Between 1942 and 1962, Bobby Watson was cast a record nine times in the role of Best Fascist Dictator. And please, never confuse him with Bobs Watson, the nauseating tyke who gets dragged through the streets of Dodge City in order to bolster Errol Flynn’s motivation.
At the start of the war, the Hollywood propaganda machine portrayed Hitler as a comic buffoon, a target of ridicule, not abject horror. Even in these brief clips, it’s fascinating to watch how Hollywood’s depiction of Hitler changed through the years.