Hitler's SS: Portrait in Evil
War, Drama | 135 Mins | Released: 1985
Director: Jim Goddard
Starring: John Shea, Bill Nighy, Lucy Gutteridge, David Warner, Caroll Baker, Jose Ferrer, Tony Randall
Our Rating: 7
Helmut and Karl Hoffman are two brothers who grow up in the Great Depression of the Weimar Republic, witness the coming to power of the NSDAP (Nazi Party) and the establishment of the Third Reich. Karl, an unemployed mechanic, is enthusiastic about the Nazis and joins the Sturmabteilung (SA-“Storm Battalion”), the Nazi Party militia, after hearing its commander Ernst Röhm speak at a Nazi Party rally. Helmut is reluctant and thinks the Nazis are simply another political party.
Helmut, who is a university student in Munich, is eventually talked into joining the SS by Reinhard Heydrich in particular after witnessing a meeting in the Ruhr between Hitler, Kurt Baron von Schröder, Emil Kirdorf, and other German industrialists. Helmut is commissioned an SS officer in the Sicherheitsdienst (SD), the intelligence agency of the SS, right before Hitler comes to power, whereas Karl has already been an SA member for a year. Karl is distressed due to tensions between the SA and the SS and claims that the SS is trying to make it look like the SA is the “party’s garbage collector”.
The entire first half of the film leads up to the Night of the Long Knives. Heydrich quizzes Helmut about the need to get rid of the SA leadership. Helmut replies, “Well, who needs revolutionaries when the revolution has already been achieved.” The liquidation of the SA leadership, old enemies and the shooting of Ernst Röhm then transpire. During this time, Karl is arrested and sent to Dachau Concentration Camp. Using his connections within the SS, Helmut gets Karl freed but Heydrich cautions that Karl had better behave himself or else Helmut would find himself “running short of friends”.
The next five years preceding World War II are treated hurriedly. The film pays homage to Kristallnacht only in a brief scene, and then the film skips to Helmut personally being involved with the selection of prisoners to murder for the Gleiwitz incident. During the war itself, the film portrays Helmut becoming involved in the paperwork of the Holocaust. Karl meanwhile becomes an anti-Nazi and is drafted in the Wehrmacht. He actually becomes a Wehrmacht (Heer) officer on the Eastern Front.
Helmut eventually becomes an SS-Oberführer (senior colonel) but is extremely disillusioned with the SS and the Nazi Party by the end of the film. Karl deserts from the army around the time of the assassination attempt against Hitler (the 20 July Plot) and wanders Germany observing the war-torn rubble of German cities. In late April 1945, Helmut deserts from the SS but is killed by an SS patrol while trying to flee Berlin. The film ends with Karl and his lover Mitzie (who at one point was the love interest of his brother Helmut) standing in the ruins of Stuttgart after learning his parents and little brother Hans (who fought in the Hitler Youth during the Battle in Berlin) are all dead.
- Reinhard Heydrich (played by David Warner)
- Ernst Röhm (played by Michael Elphick)
- Heinrich Himmler (played by John Normington)
- Theodor Eicke (played by Derek Newark)
- Sepp Dietrich (played by Bernard Lloyd)
- Viktor Lutze (played by John Dicks)
The character of SA-Gruppenführer Josef Biegler (played by actor Paul Brooke) was a composite of several real life SA generals and not based on any one particular person. David Warner, who played Heydrich, originally played the SS general in the 1978 TV miniseries Holocaust.
The original version of Hitler’s SS: Portrait in Evil was released in February 1985 on network television and ran either as a single four-hour program or as two two-hour instalments. Both versions were edited for commercials.
The next significant broadcast of the film was on the History Channel which broadcast the film as part of its “Movies in Time” series with Sander Vanocur. The film was run for three hours with significant edits and cutting of several major scenes. A VHS release of the entire film was available in the early 1990s and the film was released on DVD sometime after 2001. The original DVD version of the film cut the entire first half of the film, providing a brief summary in an introduction clip and then began with the invasion of Poland in 1939.
The most recent release on DVD was part of a “War Classics” series released by a private vendor which placed the uncut version of the film on a DVD with three other features, these being Eagles Attack At Dawn, Commandos, and Go for Broke!.