July 21, 2011

MRQE Rewind: Best Alternate History WWII Films

Captain America: The First Avenger opens this weekend, replete with ultra-patriotic symbolism and the portrayal of the birth of a “perfect” American soldier during the Second World War. Over at the MRQE secret headquarters, this brought us to thinking about other cinematic instances portraying what would have happened during World War II if 'A' had happened instead of 'B.' Although the protagonists in the following movies are very disparate and range from animated puppets, womanizing archeologists, and greedy theater producers to demented flyboys, they are innovative and intriguing enough to warrant a place in our blog post. 

Jackboots on Whitehall (2010) -- MRQE Metric: n/a

A bevy of respected British actors including Ewan McGregor, Rosamund Pike, Alan Cumming, Timothy Spall, Dominic West, and Richard E. Grant voice the animatronic puppets in this satirical and irreverent offering from the McHenry Brothers. When Nazi leaders Goering, Goebbels and Himmler seize London by drilling under the English Channel and into the heart of the city, Winston Churchill issues a radio broadcast for help from his bunker under Downing Street. Enter Chris a young farm worker with very large hands, who might just end up saving the day by leading a ragtag group of resistance fighters from his village to Hadrian’s Wall.

To Be or Not to Be (1942) -- MRQE Metric: n/a

German film director Ernst Lubitsch’s political satire classic To Be or Not to Be has the unfortunate distinction of featuring Carole Lombard’s final screen appearance (she died in a plane crash returning from a war bond rally while the movie was in postproduction). In Warsaw at the beginning of WWII, Maria Tura (Lombard) and husband Joseph (Jack Benny) perform anti-Nazi plays with their theater troupe until they are forced to use their theatrical skills by impersonating Hitler and other Nazi officers in order to ensure their and other resistance fighters’ survival. To Be or Not to Be was remade in 1983 in an equally funny, but more slapstick-oriented, version starring Mel Brooks and Anne Bancroft.

The Producers (1968) -- MRQE Metric: 76

"Springtime for Hitler and Germany, Deutschland is happy and gay. / We're marching to a faster pace: Look out, here comes the master race! / Springtime for Hitler and Germany, Winter for Poland and France."

Speaking of Mel Brooks.... Only Brooks could get away with such bad taste and manage to make us cry with laughter. One of the all-time great movie comedies tells the story of theatrical producer Max Bialystock (Zero Mostel) and his accountant, Leo Bloom (Gene Wilder), who conspires to put together the worst theater play ever in order to keep their investors’ money. Unfortunately for our two protagonists, even putting together the most tasteless opening number in musical theater history ever (complete with dancing stormtroopers) doesn’t stop "Springtime for Hitler" from becoming a resounding success. Ironically, The Producers eventually became a hit on Broadway.

Life Is Beautiful (1997) -- MRQE Metric: 84

In 1930s Italy, a carefree Jewish country boy named Guido (Roberto Benigni) moves to a Tuscan town, where he falls head over heels with schoolteacher Dora (Benigni's real-life wife Nicoletta Braschi). Five years later, Guido and Dora are married and have a son Giosue (Giorgio Cantarini) but after they are imprisoned in a concentration camp, Guido tries to shelter his son by convincing him they are in a fact taking part in an elaborate contest to win a tank. This poignant tragicomedy will make you both cry and laugh in quick succession by managing to find humor and warmth out of the tragedy of the Holocaust. The picture also earned Benigni two Oscars for Best Foreign Language Film and Best Actor.

1941 (1979) -- MRQE Metric: n/a

“To Hollywood... and glory!” Remember Capt. Wild Bill Kelso (John Belushi) as he prepares to fly his plane through the streets of Los Angeles? Of course that’s not the only memorable scene in Steven Spielberg’s madcap World War II comedy; after all the movie opens with a scene of woman going swimming off the Northern California coast, only to find a Japanese submarine surfacing beneath her (a spoof of the opening to Speilberg's own Jaws)! An imagined Japanese invasion has never been so much fun with Spielberg’s portrayal of a quiet Hollywood community in hysterics following the bombing of Pearl Harbor.

The Great Dictator (1940) -- MRQE Metric: 82

Charlie Chaplin portrays two roles in this cutting satire on Nazi Germany: the cruel “Tomainian” dictator Adenoid Hynkel and a poor Jewish barber who is one day mistaken for Hynkel. Chaplin, here in first talking role, brings his passionate physicality to his controversial masterpiece with an amalgam of politics and slapstick that culminates in a famously impassioned speech. Also watch out for stellar performances by Jack Oakie as Napaloni, Dictator of Bacteria (!) and Paulette Goddard as a washerwoman named Hannah.


Raiders of the Lost Ark (1981) -- MRQE Metric: 96

A favorite among the MRQE staff, this timeless 115 minutes thrill ride celebrated its 30th anniversary last month. Steven Spielberg resurrects the spectacle of early film serials with a simple but involving plot and breathtaking action sequences, but let’s also not forget the iconic and rousing theme by composer John Williams (Jaws, Superman, Star Wars). Raiders of the Lost Ark grossed a massive 200 million dollars during its first run and was followed by three inferior sequels as well as a short-lived TV-series. From dodging giant rolling boulders, snake pits, tarantulas, to fighting maniacal Nazis and an evil French archeologist, come join Indiana Jones in his quest to find the long-lost Ark of the Covenant!

Inglourious Basterds (2009) -- MRQE Metric: 79

Quentin Tarantino told the Cannes Film Festival audience that he wanted to show "Adolf Hitler defeated by cinema." [SPOILER ALERT] That’s exactly what happens in Inglourious Basterds, a brazen revenge fantasy and re-imagining of history where Hitler is successfully assassinated in the opera box of a theater. Brad Pitt shines as Tennessean Lt. Aldo Raine, a ruthless officer in charge of the "Basterds", a group of Jewish-American soldiers out for blood and Nazi scalps. Watch out for director Eli Roth (Hostel) as Sgt. Donny Donowitz and his weapon of choice, a wooden baseball bat, and a controlled performance by Christoph Waltz as vicious Nazi officer nicknamed “The Jew Hunter." Roth also directed the "film-within-a-film" Nation's Pride.

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