Monday, January 15, 2007

Dancing Nazi Double Feature 02.21.00

We all know the brooding, Teutonic Germans--the blond-haired, blue-eyed humorless Aryans of Wagnerian operas, Brechtian black box theater and Kraftwerkian proto-electronica industrial music.

And we’re all too familiar with an even darker side of the already gloomy Weimar Republic as well. All you have to do is turn on A&E (The Adolph & Eichmann Network) to witness parade-after-parade of glassy-eyed goose-steppers seig hieling their way down the streets of Hamburg.

But what of those bier-guzzling, oompahing, mannlichs in lederhosen? And the busty fraulein serving up St. Pauli Girls? Where we these happy Huns during Germany’s dark days? Thankfully, Hollywood filmmakers have tracked down the whereabouts of the Hessians who reveled in (and rebelled against) the Reich in the ‘30s and ‘40s.

Swing Kids (1991)

In utter defiance of Hitler’s Rules of Orders, wunderkinder Robert Sean Leonard, Christian Bale, Frank Whaley and Tushka Bergen do the Lindy Hop in underground dance halls to the music of black men like Louis Armstrong (gasp!), Jews like Woody Herman (shock!) and worse yet, a gypsy named Django Reinhardt (dismay!). Kenneth Branagh, who at the time was still considered wunderkind himself, makes an uncredited cameo appearance as a kindly SS officer who infiltrates Robert Sean Leonard’s life by dating his mother. Although swing-dancing Hitler Youths as the premise of a Disney film doesn’t exactly cry out “genius,” the film is so sincere in its approach that you can’t help but cheer on the rabblerousing swing kids as they thumb their noses at Der Fuhrer.

The Producers (1968)

Maybe the funniest movie of all time, Mel Brooks’ outrageous satire is the definitive singing/dancing Nazi movie (even if the Nazis are actors playing Nazis) and Hitler is one helluva song-und-dance mannlich. Failed producer Max Bialystock (Zero Mostel) and his accountant, Leo Bloom (Gene Wilder) launch a guaranteed bomb in order to swindle investors. The musical, Springtime for Hitler is written by an actual Nazi, who wants to use the play about "a delightful romp with Adolph Hitler and Eva Braun" to set the record straight. The show opens with the titular theme song, unquestionably the most tasteless opening number in the history of theatre. Fifteen years later, Brooks re-visited similar territory with a remake of Ernst Lubitsch’s classic fascism farce, To Be or Not To Be. Both versions of are not to be missed.

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