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  • Benjamin May

Inside The Third Reich (1982) Review

Films about real-life figures are always going to be divisive. All the more so when they are based on the figure in question's autobiography which, naturally, comes from their point of view and is therefore biased, consciously or otherwise. When said figure was a crucial member of the Third Reich- as well as an intimate of Hitler's- it takes a particularly delicate touch to make that film work without inciting offence or condemnation and to appear- at least somewhat- balanced.

A touch director Marvin J. Chomsky demonstrated at the helm of 'Holocaust,' the gripping, poignant 1978 miniseries that helped establish Meryl Streep and James Woods, among others, and brought the titular term into the mainstream. However, his adaptation of Albert Speer's autobiography 'Inside the Third Reich' lacks the nuance of 'Holocaust,' as well as the power. A truncated retelling of the highlights of Speer's book; one wonders how the same director could be behind both works.

'Inside the Third Reich' follows architect Albert Speer, a charismatic German who attracts the attention of those in the burgeoning Nazi Party. Although apolitical by nature, Speer finds himself seduced by Hitler's manic magnetism, and soon is working for the party. During the second World War, Speer is appointed as the Armaments Minister for the Third Reich, though his growing disapproval for Hitler's disregard for human life creates a chasm between the dictator and his minister that not even death can bridge.

Unlike the source material, the film is mostly a glossy, emotionless affair, which makes little impact on the viewer. In contrast, the original book makes for a fascinating read. Although most certainly Speer withholds information regarding the breadth of his knowledge of the holocaust, he demonstrates a remarkable ability to separate himself from his history, observing scenes from his past with a critical eye. He does not try to excuse himself for taking part in Hitler's murderous regime, rather attempts to understand how he fell under the dictator's spell, and why he ignored the obvious signs of the coming genocide for so long.

It is a book full of nuance, offering a unique, intimate look at a part of history from the perspective of one of its central figures. However, something was lost in translation, as Chomsky's version severely underwhelms. Rather than examining the reasons Speer and others followed Hitler, the narrative- written by E. Jack Neuman- plods along linearly, following Speer on his rise to power in the manner of countless dull biopics. Although by no means boring, when considering the opportunities Speer's rich, contemplative book allows for adaptation- for an intriguing film to be made- it is rather disappointing.

Moreover, the film doesn't question Speer's claims once- which, it is worth noting, he himself does multiple times in his book, acknowledging the inherent bias that arises when writing one's own story and recalling one's own history. The characterisation involved is one-dimensional, with the on-screen version of Speer lacking the depth and complexity of the real man. Although the dialogue- largely taken word-for- word from the source material- is strong, Chomsky and Neuman's straightforward approach lets this adaptation down, hampering its potential impact.

Conversely, the visuals are impressive throughout, with Rolf Zehetbauer's detailed production design being of a particularly high quality. Alongside art directors Kuli Sander and Herbert Strabel, he creates an authentic reproduction of the time before and during the Third Reich. The set decoration and design are especially rich and evocative, as is the striking costume design, compounding the realism of the venture. While Tony Imi's cinematography is fairly conventional, he utilises close-ups and lighting well, heightening the drama. Furthermore, Fred Karlin's score is stirring, using period pieces to great effect, and proceedings are generally well-edited.

The large cast of talented actors are also utilised well, more or less. John Gielgud does sterling work as Speer's father, who questions the direction his son's life has taken. Ian Holm brims with a witty menace as Goebbels, while Trevor Howard is typically understated and effective as Tessenow, Speer's mentor. Blythe Danner also does commendable work as Margareta, Speer's wife, while Randy Quaid is terrific as one of his associates.

The real stand out is Derek Jacobi, delivering a startlingly intense performance as Hitler. At times, he could be the megalomaniacal murderer's double; so cannily does he recreate his gesticulations and movements. Oddly enough, in the lead, the usually convincing Rutger Hauer is the weakest link, coming across as a bit half-hearted and disinterested; perhaps unsure of how to approach the role in the face of Neuman's scant characterisation.

In conclusion, where Chomsky succeeded with 'Holocaust', he fails with 'Inside the Third Reich.' The former boasted compelling characters whom one cared for, wrapped inside an engaging, poignant story. The latter is more like a summary of a book written by a student who didn't particularly care for the course they were on. Lacking the nuance or insight so prevalent in Albert Speer's book of the same name, the film disappoints. Although the visuals, score and supporting performances are commendable, both Rutger Hauer's performance as Albert Speer and the film around him are forgettable. A shame, considering the subject is one that one should never forget.


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