Hitler's SS: Portrait in Evil (1985)




Director:    Jim Goddard. 

Starring:    John Shea (Karl Hoffmann), Bill Nighy (Helmut Hoffmann), Lucy Gutteridge (Mitzi Templer, nightclub singer), David Warner (Reinhard Heydrich), Warren Clarke (Becker, SS assistant to Dietrich), Michael Elphick (Ernst Rhm, SA Chief), Stratford Johns (Uncle Walter, bartender), Robert Urquhart (Albrecht Hoffman), Jos Ferrer (Prof. Ludwig Rosenberg), Carroll Baker (Gerda Hoffman), Tony Randall (Putzi, the comedian), John Normington (Heinrich Himmler), Derek Newark (Theodor Eicke), Paul Brooke (Gen. Josef Biegler, SA), Colin Jeavons (Adolf Hitler).

Made for TV. 

two brothers come to regret their involvement with the Nazis


Spoiler Warning:  below is a summary of the entire movie. 

Stuttgart, October 1931.  The head of the S.A. (the Nazi's private army) Ernst Roehm speaks before his fellow officers.  The Hoffman baby gets baptized.  Brothers Karl and Helmut Hoffman are in a bar speaking with Jewish Professor Ludwig Rosenberg.  The bar is filled with Nazis, who start a fight with some suspected socialists.  Helmut tells the professor that Karl is thinking of joining the Nazis.  (Karl is upset with Helmut for telling the Jewish professor that he (Karl) is thinking about joining the Nazis.)  Later Karl tells his brother that he has already joined the Nazis. 

Walking home the professor is accosted by some Nazis who start to beat him up.  Karl and Helmut arrive just in the knick of time.  Karl dives into the Nazis followed by Helmut.  They are able to send the Nazis running. 

Munich 1932.  Reinhard Heydrich is with Himmler of the SS.  Karl gets a job as a bus garage mechanic.  In a night club Karl talks with the night club performer Mitzi.  She asks Karl where is Helmut.  He is in Munich and won't be back until Christmas. 

Karl's employer is not happy about Karl being a Nazi.  He is afraid that the Nazis will outlaw unions.  Karl defends Hitler by saying he will not hurt the unions.  The Nazis lose seats in the elections. 

Helmut fences with a skilled teacher.  He later learns that he is none other than Reinhard Heydrich.  Heydrich wants Helmut to join the S.S., but Helmut is not so sure about this.  Heydrich tells him that he does not need to be a political Nazi to take advantage of the good salaries and benefits of the S.S.  Helmut sees his opportunity of being allied with the Nazis for through them the S.S. will control the nation itself. 

Heydrich takes Helmut with him to the Hotel Kaiserhof.  He has Helmut watch all the big industrialists come in for a Nazi-sponsored meeting.  Heydrich also mentions that they have already decided on who will be the next chancellor of Germany and that man is Adolf Hitler. 

January 30, 1933.  Hitler is the new chancellor.  Helmut goes to bed with Mitzi.  She sees his SS tatoo on his arm.   He is going to be going to Berlin and won't see her as much as he would like. 

Karl becomes a driver for the S.A.  He sees the S.A. men throw a union leader down the stairs.  Later Karl learns that the union leader broke his spine.  The union  asks Karl for help in lodging a complaint against the S.A..  Karl asks for a section report, which puts him in danger with the S.A.  Helmut scolds Karl for asking for the section report for the union.

Helmut meets a friendly high-ranking officer in the S.S. known as Becker.  Professor Rosenberg loses his job because of the Nazis.  Mitzi is critical of both Helmut and the Nazis. 

S.S. Headquarters, Berlin 1934.  The S.A. is now seen as a threat to Hitler and the Nazi Party.  Helmut calls Mitzi to tell her to get hold of Karl and tell him not to go into work the next morning.  Something bad is in the works.  The S.A. leadership, a great many of whom were homosexuals, are staying in a fancy hotel and many of them are sleeping with other men.  Hitler runs upstairs with a few agents.  He bursts in on Ernst Roehm   Roehm is taken into custody.  Karl delivers an S.A. officer to the hotel and the officer is immediately grabbed.  Karl intervenes and gets knocked unconscious. 

Karl finds himself in jail.  From there he sees the S.A. officers being shot by S.S. firing squads.  He even sees the officer he drove to the hotel being shot to death.  Mitzi calls Helmut to tell him that she was never able to find Karl.  Roehm is given a luger to shoot himself, but he does not use the pistol.  So the S.S. just shoot him in his jail cell.  Karl is sent to the concentration camp Dachau to be taught some "manners".   Helmut finally asks Heydrich if he would get his brother out of Dachau.  Heydrich refuses, but does give Helmut permission to ask the commandant of Dachau to release him.  Helmut is there to pick up his brother when he is released. 

Karl goes back to work at the garage.  His mother and father report that he won't speak to anyone except for little brother Hans.  Helmut briefly visits Professor Rosenberg and gives him back a few of the books the Nazis took from him. 

November 9, 1938.  Hans wants to join the Hitler Youth.  Karl tells the family that he now wants to report the S.A. for beating up the garage foreman union leader.  (The man recently died.)  Karl reports to the police and forces them to take his statement.  He is to be sent back to Dachau, but a fellow in the Gestapo intervenes (hoping to exchange this favor for a favor from Helmut) and puts Karl into the German army.  (On a leave, Karl and Mitzi have sex.)

Polish border, August 1939.  Heydrich tells Helmut that the Germans are going to use SS people pretending to be Poles attacking German installations in order for Germany to have a pretext for invading Poland.  Helmut's job is to pick out seven Dachau inmates to be dressed up as Poles and shot and killed, so no SS men need be sacrificed.  Helmut does not like having to do this job, but he has no real choice. 

The border incident is staged giving Germany an excuse to invade Poland.  Mitzi says good-bye to Karl who is heading for the eastern front.  When Helmut pays a visit to his mother and father, his mother is mad at the SS for its many excesses and takes it out on Helmut.  Becker tells Helmut that Heydrich has been transferred to Prague.  Karl is now an officer in the German army. 

Kharkov, Russia, 1941.  Karl gets to see Mitzi when she entertains the troops on the Soviet front. 

Prague, May 27, 1942.  Heydrich is dead, killed by two assassins.  Helmut comes home to meet his dad at the train station. At the train station he sees Professor Rosenberg in line to be sent to a concentration camp.  Helmut avoids him.  Luckily, the German soldier at the assignment desk recognizes the professor and forces him to get out of line.  Helmut learns that Hans is now in the Hitler Youth. 

Near Stalingrad, December 31, 1942.  Karl sees German troops mow down Soviet citizens, including children, accused of being partisans.  Karl has to be put in another unit because his old regiment no longer exists.  As the new officer, Karl is asked to say a few words to the other officers.  He starts making fun of Hitler and gets himself transferred to a punishment battalion.  But as the truck takes him to the punishment battalion, it is hit by an artillery shell.  Karl has to go to the hospital for his wounds.  When he heals, he is to be sent to the front.  But Karl decides to go AWOL. 

Mitzi sings at the night club.  Helmut comes in.  He tells Mitzi that he just heard that Karl has not returned to his unit. 

Berlin, July 1944.  Karl comes back to see Mitzi.  On the radio they hear that an attempt on Hitler's life has failed.  Helmut arrives and warns Karl that the German soldiers are arresting everyone on sight.  He urges Karl and Mitzi to sleep elsewhere. 

Stuttgart, 1945.  Karl learns that his mother and father have been killed in an air raid.  He goes to Berlin to rescue Hans from having to fight on the front lines.  He meets with Helmut and tells him to use his influence to get 13-year old Hans out of harm's way.  Helmut does try, but Hans just will not cooperate.  He is too pro-Hitler.  Helmut has to leave him with his unit.  He has to tell Karl that he tried but failed to save Hans.  Hans is killed fighting on the front lines in Berlin.  Helmut changes into civilian clothes and uses false identity papers to get out of Berlin.  But one of the guards checking him, recognizes him.  Helmut makes a run for it, but the guard shoots him in the back.  Karl finds Hans's dead body. 

The last two survivors of the Hoffman family, Karl and Mitzi, walk away from Hans's body, amidst scenes of devastated Berlin. 

This is an o.k. movie.  Not great or good, but not bad either.  It tries to cover too much time, from 1931 to 1945.  The two brothers join with the Nazis, one out of a desire to be a part of something big and the other to take personal advantage of something big.  The only thing that makes the two brothers morally acceptable is that they were seduced and misled by the lies of the Nazis.  They themselves were not really Nazis.  And they both come to the realization that they were totally taken in by the Nazis.  If they were real Nazis, hopefully most of us would want to see the characters killed by the end of the film.  The acting was alright but nothing special.  There is something lacking in the script.  Helmut, for instance, suffers but always seems to let himself off the moral hook.  He doesn't suffer enough to really make me like him. 

Patrick Louis Cooney, Ph. D.


Return To Main Page

Return to Home Page (Vernon Johns Society)