Directed By: Jack Kaufman
Starring: Richard Basehart, Ernst Hanfstaengl, Erich Kempka
Tag line: "His Purpose Was Nothing Short of Pure Evil"
Trivia: Originally aired as a 3-part miniseries on ABC television in the U.S.
Of the dozens of World War II documentaries produced over the years, very few can measure up to this extraordinary 1968 movie.
An intriguing, in-depth look at one of mankind’s darkest periods, The Rise and Fall of the Third Reich traces the life and career of Adolf Hitler, beginning with his early days in Vienna and including his time as a soldier during World War One. Shortly after the war, Hitler joined the German Workers’ Party, and within two years was leader of a group that would become known as the Nazis. Throughout the 1930’s, the Nazi party was the most powerful political force in Germany, allowing Hitler to rise to the rank of Chancellor. A firm believer in Aryan superiority and a fervent anti-Semite, Hitler eventually convinced the German parliament to grant him supreme power, in essence making him a dictator.
Most of Europe sat back and watched as Hitler rebuilt the German Army, which he then used to “reclaim” land that the country had lost in the Treaty of Versailles. When he invaded Poland in 1939, Britain and France had no choice but to intervene, kicking off a conflict known as World War II. At first, Germany scored victory after victory on the battlefield, but Hitler’s decision to split his forces on two fronts proved costly, and divisions within his own ranks (including a failed assassination attempt) as well as a string of military defeats brought an end to his dreams of world domination. On April 30, 1945, Hitler committed suicide, leaving behind a Germany decimated by war and a policy of hatred that resulted in the extermination of six million Jews.
Narrated by Richard Basehart, The Rise and Fall of the Third Reich initially aired on ABC Television as a 3-part miniseries, and, like many documentaries, features hundreds of still photos and movie clips, some of which are quite disturbing (along with its images of the Holocaust, the film contains graphic footage of the war and its aftermath, including the executions of former Nazis). But what sets The Rise and Fall of the Third Reich apart from other like-minded documentaries are the interviews; produced less than 25 years after the war, the movie talks with several individuals who witnessed these events first-hand. One man, a Holocaust survivor, tells of how he watched the Nazis beat his father to death right before his eyes, while others, some of whom were acquaintances of Adolf Hitler’s, relate their experiences with a man who has become a symbol of hatred the world over.
The information presented throughout The Rise and Fall of the Third Reich is, indeed, fascinating, but it’s the personal observations of those who were there that makes it unforgettable.