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Film / Hitler's Madman

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Hitler's Madman is a 1943 film directed by Douglas Sirk. It is a dramatization of the events surrounding the Real Life assassination of Reinhard Heydrich in Prague, Czechoslovakia in 1942, and the retaliatory massacre of the entire village of Lidice, which cost 1300 lives. It stars John Carradine as Heydrich.

Karel Vavra is a Czech resistance agent parachuted into the Czech countryside near his hometown of Lidice. His calls to the people of the town to engage in active resistance against the German occupiers fails. Jan Hanka, one of the more prominent residents of Lidice, successfully prevails on his fellow townsfolk to avoid resistance, which will likely draw violent German reprisals. His daughter Jarmilla loves Karel and agrees to help him, but no one else does.

Nazis don't play well with others, though, and SS Obergruppenführer and Protector of Bohemia and Moravia (in what is nowadays The Czech Republic), Reinhard Heydrich, winds up spurring the people of Lidice to resist. Among the crimes committed by Heydrich are randomly executing a Lidice villager for no reason, snatching up the prettiest young women of Lidice to serve as sex slaves in Eastern Front brothels, and shooting the town priest for unknowingly blocking Heydrich's car with a religious procession. Hanka, who now sees that he was wrong to think that any co-existence could be had with the Nazis, resolves to murder Heydrich.

Hitler's Madman was the first film Sirk, who was German, directed in the United States after escaping Nazi Germany to the West in 1938. It was a B-Movie shot super-cheap over just seven days. Sirk had actually met Reinhard Heydrich at a party in Germany, and was able to give Carradine advice on how to play the part.

It was produced by "Poverty Row" studio PRC, but when word got out about how much better it was than PRC's typical cheapo fare, it was snapped up by Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer, marking the first time that MGM ever bought an independent production. MGM starlet Ava Gardner, then three years away from her Star-Making Role in The Killers, has a non-speaking bit part as a Czech villager.

See also and compare Hangmen Also Die! (1943), Atentát (1964), Operation Daybreak (1975), Anthropoid (2016) and The Man with the Iron Heart (2017), all about the same historical events.


  • America Won World War II: Karel helpfully tells the townsfolk that millions of men "in England and America" are joining up to fight Hitler. That business on the Eastern Front was no big deal, apparently.
  • Arcadia: Lidice, a lovely peaceful quiet farming village, as shown in the opening montage that quotes Edna St. Vincent Millay's poetic novel The Murder of Lidice.
  • Asshole Victim: Heydrich, after being shot.
  • Based on a True Story: While roughly more accurate than the totally fictionalized Hangmen Also Die!, the film still takes many liberties. Possibly justified as it was made barely a year after Heydrich's assassination and the full details still weren't well known to the public or the Allies' intelligence services. The particular focus on Lidice is due to the destruction of the town making its way to the public eye early enough among the Allies.
    • In Real Life there were two Czech agents parachuted in, not just one, and neither had any connection with the town of Lidice.
    • In the movie Karel is there simply to stir up any kind of anti-Nazi resistance, and the chance at Heydrich is presented to him thanks to a lucky break. In real life the two agents were sent specifically to kill Heydrich, who was succeeding a little too well in pacifying the Czechs for the war needs.
    • In the film three people from Lidice (Karel, Jarmilla, and Hanka) kill Heydrich near their hometown. In real life Heydrich was killed in Prague, and the killing had nothing to do at all with Lidice; the Nazis singled Lidice out for extermination on erroneous intelligence that the agents were from there.
    • The agents went into hiding in the Orthodox Christian Cathedral St. Cyril & Methodius in Prague, then they were cornered in the crypt and killed themselves. This is not featured in the film, although that detail likely wasn't known in America at the time.
    • While Heydrich was in fact one of the very worst Nazis, he wasn't really the type of Large Ham evil that would pick out sex slaves from a lineup of pretty girls or send his car barreling through a religious procession. The real Heydrich was a quite calm, cool, and collected type of evil. While this movie's Heydrich pretty much eggs on his own murder by his outrageous villainy, the real Heydrich was killed on the initiative of the British because he was doing too good a job in keeping the Czechs quiet and productive for the German war effort. The Heydriches played by Kenneth Branagh in Conspiracy and Jason Clarke in The Man with the Iron Heart (who have considerable screentime) are much closer to the real man.
  • Blade-of-Grass Cut: Close-ups of the wheat being grown in the farms of Lidice emphasize the pastoral nature of the town the Germans destroy.
  • Blatant Lies: Just before he dies, Heydrich tells Himmler some hard truths, namely that this is all Hitler's fault and Germany is going to lose. Afterwards, Himmler calls Hitler and says that Heydrich's last words were "Victory is certain! Heil Hitler!" After he hangs up Himmler mutters "Dead men tell no tales."
  • Breaking the Fourth Wall: The film ends with the spirits of the dead of Lidice, still in character, parading by the camera and looking straight at the audience, urging Americans to think of them and continue the struggle against Hitler. (It goes without saying at this point that, being made while the war was still raging on, the film was heavy on propaganda.)
  • Les Collaborateurs: Hanka is a rather mild version, urging cooperation with the Nazis to save the town from reprisals. But after Heydrich murders the priest Hanka has a change of heart.
  • Dies Wide Open: Poor Jarmilla, shot in the back.
  • Driven to Suicide: Klara flings herself out a window rather than accept a fate as a sex slave in a German brothel.
  • Edgy Backwards Chair-Sitting: The flamboyantly evil Heydrich chooses to sit like this while he has the young girls of Lidice lined up against a wall to evaluate which can be put to use as prostitutes.
  • Face Death with Dignity: The men of Lidice break out in the Czech national anthem as they're lined up to be shot.
  • Face Framed in Shadow: Heydrich, when Himmler casts a light on him to make sure that he is dead.
  • Gatling Good: Among Karel's equipment is a souped-up Gatling gun that can fire 300 rounds a minute. It's used against Heydrich.
  • Historical Villain Upgrade: While the real Heydrich was a monster, there's no record of him taking Czech women as his personal Sex Slave or ramming his car through a religious procession.
  • I'm Cold... So Cold...: Actually, Heydrich says "It's getting dark" right before he croaks.
  • It's Raining Men: Karel is dropped via a British parachute.
  • La Résistance: Karel's job and what he wants the people of Lidice to help him with. Hanka and Jarmilla do.
  • Sex Slave: The fate of all the prettiest young women of Lidice, sent off to the Eastern Front to service German soldiers. (This is where Ava Gardner has her bit part, as one of the young ladies that Heydrich has lined up against a wall for evaluation.)