Thursday, November 20, 2008

I'm Not Riding With This Valkyrie

I REREAD WILLIAM SHIRER'S The Rise and Fall of the Third Reich every year. Compelling, conclusive, and frightening, it reminds me of the extremes to which humans can push themselves. Not just in evil, but in resisting it. Possibly the most riveting story in the massive book is that of Operation Valkyrie, the failed, final, and most nearly successful assassination and coup attempt against Adolf Hitler. Its leader and direct instigator: Lt. Col. Claus von Stauffenberg, a count and General Staff member, who smuggled the bomb into Hitler's conference room at the remote Wolf's Lair forward command center.

Despite being a Nazi and part of its war machine, von Stauffenberg has been memorialized in Germany for his attempt to decapitate the Third Reich. When plans for a movie of the July 20 plot were announced, it caught the interest of the German people, along with my own. I enjoyed Downfall (Der Untergang), the first German-language film to recreate the last days of the Bunker in Berlin, and as I said, I find the unfolding — and unraveling — of Valkyrie to be dramatic and tragic.

So I was hugely disappointed to learn, early on, that von Stauffenberg would be portayed in this American production by Mister Hollywood, Tom Cruise. Many Germans were appalled as well, though somewhat more for Cruise's Scientology, which is rightly viewed in Germany as the cult that it is.

Tonight, I saw a trailer for Valkyrie, and I lost any tiny shred of hope that I might be able to soldier through in the hopes of watching the July 20 drama on screen no matter who was playing the Count. He didn't even speak with a British accent, which was often the default for American and British actors who needed to play WWII Germans without embarrasing themselves by speaking in ersatz Deutsch. Nope, what we've got coming out of Cruise, dressed in his General Staff uniform and flanked by a thousand fluttering Reich banners, is pure Cruise-ish American. I'd fully expect Cruise's von Stauffenberg to be confronted, during his final hour, by an injured and vengeful Hitler, yelling, "Sie k├Ânnen die Wahrheit nicht annehmen!" Whatever disbelief I might have been able to suspend came crashing down like the Valkyrie plot itself.

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