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Series / Hitler: The Rise of Evil

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"The only thing necessary for evil to flourish is for good men to do nothing."
Journalist Fritz Gerlich, paraphrasing an old quote

Hitler: The Rise of Evil is a 2003 Canadian, two-part Mini Series covering the rise of Adolf Hitler and Nazi Germany. Starring Robert Carlyle in the title role, the series shows how Hitler went from a lowly corporal in the German Army to Führer of Germany. Though an ambitious project, the series suffers from several historical inaccuracies.

See also the miniseries Titanic (1996), another Canadian-produced two-parter which has painful historical inaccuracies and also aired on CBS.


This series provides examples of:

  • Anachronism Stew:
    • Several German soldiers, including Hitler, can be seen using the Karabiner 98k rifle during World War I and in the 1920s. That rifle was not introduced until 1935.
    • When Ernst Hanfstaengl sees Hitler speak for the first time, a swastika banner can be seen in the background, well before Hitler chose that as his symbol historically.
  • Adapted Out: Heinrich Himmler never appears, despite Hitler's relationship with SA leader Ernst Röhm and the Night of the Long Knives being a big part of the plot.
  • Artistic License – History: One of the hallmarks of this series. It got so bad that Ian Kershaw - the historian brought on as an advisor for the show, whose two-volume biography of Hitler even inspired the show - regretted ever taking part of it and wondered why he was brought on in the first place because he felt that everything he said was being ignored.
    • Hitler had blue eyes, something none of the actors playing him in the series have.
    • Hitler's mother and father (Klara Hitler and Alois Hitler) were cousins instead of uncle and niece.
    • Alois Hitler did die of a heart attack, but he was visiting the local pub (inn) at the time, not in front of his wife and son during a heated argument.
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    • The doctor who treated Hitler's mother for cancer is depicted as noticeably Hasidic. Austrian Jews of the turn of the century were among the most assimilated in Europe, so most dressed, acted, and looked like Austrian Christians. Hitler himself noted in Mein Kampf that he never saw a Hasidic Jew until he moved to Vienna... a passage they actually quote in this very movie. The real man who treated his mother, Eduard Bloch, was no exception.
    • In the series, Hitler goes to Germany just on the outbreak of World War I in 1914. In reality, he moved to Germany in 1913.
    • Hitler is told he's being deployed to the Eastern Front, right before the gas attack that blinds him. The Eastern Front ended in March 1918, with Russia collapsing due to the Bolshevik Revolution, seven months before Hitler being sent to hospital. Hitler only served on the Western Front, never receiving any orders to go East.
    • When Hitler was in the hospital, one of the doctors announced that Germany surrendered. In actuality, Germany had only signed an Armistice with the Allies. Furthermore, for most Germans the Armistice had been long expected. The abdication of the Kaiser would have been much more of a shock.
    • The Enabling Act and the Reichstag Fire Decree are conflated into a single act.
    • The Enabling Act is shown as passing only with Nazi Party support. In reality, nearly every single party in the Reichstag supported the bill. The Communists had been banned so weren't present, and the Centre and other moderate parties had been cowed into accepting the bill with promises and threats (namely by the SS surrounding the building vowing to retaliate if they didn't vote "yes"). Only the 94 members of the Social Democratic Party voted against the bill, to Hitler's rage.
    • After Hitler finishes reading the provisions of the Enabling Act, Göring then gives the Nazi salute and sings "Deutschlandlied," immediately followed by all the Nazis, and soon joined by non-Nazi representatives. This did not happen in reality.
    • The scenes in the Kroll Opera House make it look like the Nazis control a majority of the seats. The Nazis were never able to win a majority of seats. Even when Hitler had been appointed chancellor and had turned Germany into a police state, the best they could manage was 44% of the vote. They only got a majority as part of a coalition government (which, obviously, they later nullified when they cowed their partners into accepting a one-party state).
    • Hermann Göring, Joseph Goebbels, Heinrich Himmler, Reinhard Heydrich and Rudolf Hess are all either minor characters or non-existent in the story. In reality all of these men played a huge role in Hitler's rise to power.
    • Hitler is depicted as recruiting Ludendorff to the far-right cause to lend himself credibility. In reality, it was taken for granted by all far-right parties and groups that Ludendorff was their de facto leader and future dictator of Germany since immediately following the end of the war. Ditto with Röhm, who was the leader of the Steel Helmets, a powerful paramilitary group and the most influential extremist organization in Bavaria until the Nazi party swallowed them up. Röhm and Hitler were also much closer in Real Life than the movie depicts as well.
    • At Hitler's trial, he is fined 200 goldmarks. The goldmark refers to German currency when the country was on the gold standard, which Germany stopped using in 1914. In actually, Hitler's fine for the Beer Hall Putsch was 500 Reichsmarks.
    • Ernst Rohm is present for the Bamberg Conference in 1926. He was actually in Bolivia from 1923 until 1930.
    • When the Reichstag is set on fire, Hitler is shown arriving to inspect the damage the following morning. He actually arrived just as the fire was being put out around midnight.
    • After Röhm is executed, Hitler tells the SA members that he's incorporating them into the Reichswehr. This never happened. While the SA had their numbers significantly cut after the Night of the Long Knives, they remained a separate organization up to the end of the war.
    • Von Hindenburg's funeral wasn't in Berlin, but in East Prussia.
  • Bad People Abuse Animals: After a stray dog adopted by Hitler in the trenches humiliates him in front of his fellow servicemen by pissing on his leg, he responds by dragging it off and beating the poor thing to death. However, doing so actually saves Hitler when a shell explodes in the shelter where they just were. In Real Life Hitler was actually a massive animal lover and owned two dogs.
  • British Nazis: Most notably Hitler, who is played by Robert Carlyle (though it is worth noting that Carlyle is affecting an English accent rather than using his natural Scottish). Also Chris Larkin as Hermann Goering, Justin Salinger as Joseph Goebbels and Robert Glenister as Anton Drexler. Averted by Peter Stormare (a Swede) as Ernst Roehm, Friedrich von Thun (an Austrian) as Erich Ludendorff, and Liev Schreiber, Julianna Marguiles and James Babson (all Americans) as Ernst and Helene Hanfstaengl and Rudolf Hess, respectively.
  • Creepy Uncle: Hitler has an obsessive relationship with his niece Geli that has some sexual undertones. He's immensely jealous whenever another man shows an interest in her, and treats her more like a mindless pet than a human being. This ultimately leads her to commit suicide.
  • Destination Defenestration: Fritz Gerlich is contacted by a man who has inside information on Nazi Party collusion with shady foreign investors. This source is later pursued by a bunch of SA men at a train station, who throw him through a window to his death.
  • Downer Ending: Hitler establishes absolute power over Germany, dissidents are either murdered or forced to flee the country, and World War II unfolds.
  • Emergency Authority: Hitler uses the Reichstag fire to have rights suspended and many opponents rounded up, then the Enabling Act approved, a significant step in turning Germany into a dictatorship.
  • Enfant Terrible: Hitler is shown to be a nasty child spoiled rotten by his mother, who burns his father's beekeeper hive before giving him the evil eye, at which point he suffers a heart attack.
  • Face Death with Dignity: Ernst Röhm, who declines an opportunity to shoot himself and is shot after one last "Heil Führer!"
  • Foregone Conclusion: Being a historical miniseries, it's clear from the start that Hitler will eventually come to power in Germany and unleash World War II. The efforts of the journalist Fritz Gerlich to expose Hitler as a Dark Messiah are ultimately in vain and Gerlich is murdered at Dachau concentration camp.
  • From Nobody to Nightmare: Hitler goes from sleeping rough on the streets of Vienna, barely scratching a living by painting and selling postcards, to being the dictator of Germany, wielding absolute power and authority, free to do whatever he likes to Jews, opponents, "undesirables" and anybody else he doesn't like living under his regime.
  • Historical Beauty Update:
  • Historical Hero Upgrade: Ernst Hanfstaengl is portrayed as having fled Germany in 1934 for moral reasons because he realized where Hitler's leadership was taking Germany. He actually continued to clamor for Hitler's approval for several more years and defected to the United States only after falling out of favor with the Nazis. Also a Villain Upgrade, since he is portrayed as more important than he was as well.
  • Historical Villain Upgrade: Yes, this series manages to do this to Hitler (history's most infamous genocidal dictator), taking every aspect which might be considered positive, and tearing it to shreds. The medal he earned in World War One is presented as a political gesture with no real military merit behind it. While in reality Hitler was known to be an animal lover, here he brutally bashes a dog's head in for embarrassing him by peeing on his leg. He is implied to have an abusive sexual relationship with his niece. For all his many faults, there is no historical evidence whatsoever that Hitler was any kind of sexual predator.note  Robert Carlyle's take on Hitler is peppered with nervous twitches of all sorts, especially before he takes the reign of the Nazi Party and develops some confidence. In fact, the first acts of the story present him as not quite mentally stable, more like a sectarian preacher than a political extremist, which not only has no grounds in reality, but also makes it hard to believe anyone would actually entrust him with any sort of responsibility in the first place.
  • Hope Spot: Fritz Gerlich has one during Hitler's trial. He's found guilty of treason, but then given a relatively light sentence of five years in prison and a fine of 200 Marks. Gerlich is then horrified when the judge then says that Hitler is also eligible for parole in nine months.
  • Important Haircut: Ernst Hanfstaengl suggests that Hitler establish his own look, something to distinguish him, like how Lenin is bearded and bald. As he's finalizing his own symbol, the swastika, we see Hitler now sporting his toothbrush mustache.
  • Leave Behind a Pistol: Hitler gives Röhm the opportunity to kill himself. He declines and is instead shot by two guards.
  • Luxury Prison Suite: Hitler starts Part 2 in one, which is more akin to a decent studio flat than a prison cell.
  • Manly Gay: SA leader Ernst Rohm is a brutal paramilitary thug, and a closeted gay man. When Hitler personally arrests him during the Night of the Long Knives he finds him lying in bed with another man.
  • My God, What Have I Done?: Anton Drexler, the founder of the German Worker's Party (which eventually becomes the Nazi Party) and the man who recruited Hitler to his party's cause, is intimidated into stepping down by Hitler and the SA and naming Hitler as his successor. Drexler makes this realization as the party cheers on the "dangerous demagogue" that he put in a powerful position as the new party leader.
  • Nazi Protagonist: The series is a biography of Hitler, the founder of the Nazi movement.
  • New Era Speech: In the final scene (set in 1934 after Hindenburg’s death), Hitler holds a speech where he proclaims the foundation of a new German empire after he has eliminated all his political rivals in a sweeping purge.
  • Not Even Bothering with the Accent: Most of the actors.
  • Pet the Dog: One of the few decent things Hitler is shown doing is taking in a dog after its owner has been killed. And then he proceeds to beat it when it humiliates him in front of his company.
  • The Purge: Near the end the Nazis purge the SA after Hitler and Rohm have a falling out. They take advantage of this to kill a huge number of other opponents, shown in a death montage. Following the Reichstag Fire, the Nazis also round up thousands of opponents, having to open concentration camps when the normal prisons are filled.
  • Screw This, I'm Outta Here!: Ernst Hanfstaengl gets on the first train out of Munich when he sees that the Beer Hall Putsch has collapsed.
  • Suddenly SHOUTING!: Hitler does this a lot, while speaking both publicly and privately. The most notable example is when he speaks at the German Workers' Party for the first time, and upon noticing that everyone is not paying attention to his soft-spoken speech, shouts "IS ANYONE LISTENING?!" After that, they do start listening.
  • Translation Convention: Averted. Most of the signs and newspapers are in German.
  • Unwitting Instigator of Doom: Ernst Hanfstaengl takes up the invitation of one of his Jewish friends to hear "the mad demagogue" speak. The Jew looks on in disgust as people applaud Hitler. But Ernst ends up applauding enthusiastically and starts to make introductions to allow Hitler to become even more popular.
  • Villainous Breakdown: Hitler has a mental breakdown after the failed Beer Hall Putsch of 1923. He flees to the Hanfstaengl home, where he seems to be Hearing Voices and almost shoots himself in front of Helene, who talks him out of it.
  • Villain Protagonist: Hitler is a racist demagogue who wants to institute a new dictatorial empire and annihilate the Jews.
  • What an Idiot!: In-Universe. During the Beer Hall Putsch, Hitler has this reaction when Ludendorff says he allowed Kahr and the others to call their wives, when they actually notified the authorities to what was happening.
  • Wicked Cultured: Ernst Hanfstaengl manages to catch Hitler's attention by playing one of Richard Wagner's pieces on a piano for him.
  • You Have Outlived Your Usefulness: Hitler is shown cultivating a close alliance with Ernst Rohm, particularly during his early years in Munich. However, when Rohm refuses to accept that the SA will never replace the German Army, Hitler purges the SA and has Rohm executed for "treason".


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