Running time: 91 mins
Director: David Bradley
Starring: Walter Stocker, Audrey Caire, Dani Lynn, Bill Freed
Genre: Sci-Fi, Naziploitation
Originally shot in 1963 under the titled The Madmen of Mandoras it took five years, some additional footage and a sexier name for this little post-war Sci-Fi/Naziploitation movie to make it to the small screen.
It seems grossly unfair to bunch They Saved Hitler’s Brain into the general Exploitation sub-category of Naziploitation alongside the likes of Women’s Camp 119, The Gestapo’s Last Orgy and even The Black Gestapo as Bradley’s movie doesn’t really have any meanness to it. Shot for television –even in the sixties this movie would come across as tame and soft in the same kind of way Bloodlust! is a cosy little movie about human sacrifice.
There are a lot of criticisms levied at They Saved Hitler’s Brain –most of them either unjust or cruel as it’s little more than a Nickelodeon matinee movie about mad scientists…think Frankenhitler (coined it!) only without the body and you’re almost there. The film has a look and feel that screams charm. It’s odd to watch a movie about the return of the Third Reich, a plot to destroy the civilisation of the planet, and the return of Adolf Hitler as charming but it is. It’s not so much that the film is played for comedic effect, far from it all actors as straight-faced but it has the aura of a scary story as told to you by an excitable child and that excitement is contagious.
There are some impressive set-pieces on display here. The initial assassination (by explosion) of one of the C.I.D’s top scientists is definitely one of the movie’s bigger budgeted effects but it’s the little touches that are so skilfully rich. When Camino (Rivas) is describing the last days of the Second World War and the Nazi plan for Hitler there’s a beautiful fade and overlap of the two time periods that is remarkable in its simplicity…even the framing of it is wonderful. It’s a simple shot but on screen it’s quintessential visual storytelling. Similarly, when Phil and Cathy are being hunted by a young Nazi through the darkened alleys of Mandoras the hunt is set up as several perfectly framed doorways, and shadows, and spotlights. It punches well above the visual aesthetic of movies of this ilk, this hunt sequence draws well earned comparisons to the closing sequences of Orson Welles’ Touch of Evil.
The script has a few pacing issues, these are generally expected when dabbling in the TV movie pond but the two-thirds no Nazis to one-third Nazi formula of the structure for a film with the word Hitler in the title is a little odd and frustrating. Similarly some of the plot holes are large enough for the Reich to march through and some of the cause-effect moments are a little…odd. There are positives though. For all the wait, wait, wait (on Nazis) the film zips along at a comfortable, entertaining pace and there is one beautiful moment –sadly not elaborated on, in which the script questions everything. With Hitler’s head in a jar, kept alive by radiowaves, he’s busy directing the Reich who in turn make plans for world domination. Comment is passed on the orders he’s giving to which "if he’s even giving orders" is replied. It’s a little moment but one that draws a line through what we think we know is taking place in the movie and it’s backed up later as Hitler’s head sits quiet, pondering, in the back-seat of his car. Is it possible that the hatred he’s spilling is little more than reflex, than memory? And what of the Reich? Will they blindly follow orders because they’ve defined themselves as followers? Whether it was intended or not Bradley’s film (and Steve Bennett's script) has suddenly caused the audience to question intolerance. A genuine belief or a learned reflex? Show me another film that will have you think so deep!
There are solid performances all round from the cast. Walter Stocker (as Phil) does a good job driving the narrative forward, his relationship with Audrey Caire (as his wife Kathy) gives both performers a lot to bounce off and neither of them are as good as they are when they’re performing with one another. Carlos Rivas double-jobs it as both Teo and Camino Padua and in doing so actually creates two very distinct and different characters but the performance of the piece is Bill Freed (as Adolf Hitler). Granted he doesn’t do a lot on screen but the results of that line about orders was echoing throughout my brain for the remainder of the film and though it might be me reading more into a situation than exists but I genuinely thought that Freed was dabbling in that grey area for everything it was worth. At times he appears lucid and frighteningly familiar, at other times he's little more than a lobotomised sketch of a monster and at others a reaction…a memory of hatred past.
Anyone expecting the poor taste of Cesare Canevari here will be bitterly disappointed. What They Saved Hitler’s Brain offers up is a critique of those countries harbouring Nazi world criminals, the Governments making advancements in science from their disgraced scientists and an interesting argument on hatred wrapped up in the easily digestible pill that is whacky scientists and a plot to destroy the world. In this David Bradley delivers an entertaining, thought-provoking if slightly included gem.