Directed by Isabelle Clarke and Daniel Costelle. 110 minutes. Entertainment One, 2012. $19.98.
How did Adolf Hitler—failed art student, rootless drifter, just one of millions of unemployed ex-soldiers nursing a nagging sense of betrayal in Weimar Germany—morph into the omnipotent Führer? This puzzle has spawned books, essays, and films because it poses some of the war’s most profound questions—although, like so many of history’s most profound questions, they don’t always have definitive answers. Apocalypse: Hitler, a two-program miniseries newly released on DVD, is an engaging and enlightening attempt to grapple with them.
Assembled by the French team behind the well-wrought Apocalypse: The Second World War (2009), the series deploys a powerful combination of rare and previously unseen stills and footage, in-depth research, and often-revisionist interpretations to probe Hitler’s prewar life. His bureaucrat father’s bullying, his mother’s unquestioning love (her eerie blue-eyed portrait traveled everywhere with him), early Catholic training (his school’s crooked cross inspired the Nazi swastika), swooning adoration of Wagner during his Viennese street-bum days, winning the Iron Cross as a battlefront messenger and his “miraculous” recovery from gas-attack blindness, his entry into far-right politics as a paid army snitch, discovery of his oratorical power, shrewd transformation from street revolutionary to politician, forging alliances with German leaders, his strange love affairs—all are intelligently explored and brilliantly illustrated. Perennial questions naturally crop up. Was Hitler part Jewish—and did Himmler keep that fact under wraps? Was Hitler a physical coward who had photographs of the 1923 Munich Beer Hall Putsch retouched to show him in the front line? Inevitably, some assertions here will be debated anew. But the cogent exposition and vivid visuals make Apocalypse: Hitler as horrifically compelling as a slow-motion car crash.
Originally published in the February 2013 issue of World War II. To subscribe, click here.