There are very few subtle movies available about Nazis. Most either focus on heroic opposition (Schindler's List; Sophie Scholl: The Final Days) or on Hitler himself. Fewer still were made in Germany.
The Devil's General was released in 1954 in Germany. Directed by Helmut Kautner, it was based on a play by Carl Zuckmayer. It is loosely (or sometimes closely) based on the life of Ernst Udet. He was appointed Chief of Aircraft Procurement by Hermann Goring in 1939. The failure of the German air force was blamed on him; he committed suicide in 1941.
In the movie the lead character is named General Harras, a veteran fighter pilot from World War I. Though he has a key position in the war effort supervising the production of bombers and fighter planes, he does not belong to the Nazi Party. The Nazi's are not happy with this; the military is the German organization they have the least control over. They are riding high; they have conquered France and much of Russia.
An SS or Gestapo officer is assigned to pressure Harras into joining the party. Harras is careful what he says, but he does say no. We learn that he has made his compromise with the Nazis because he wants to be a power in the air force. He has artistic friends and two Jewish friends he decides to protect. But the new bomber design is not working out; the planes keep crashing. The SS suggests that this may be a result of sabotage and that Harras may be held responsible.
High-ranking as he is, Harras is arrested and subjected to intimidation and manipulation. He is made to realize that he is one step away from a concentration camp or a bullet to the head.
But it isn't just Harras who makes an interesting character study. We see a spectrum of characters ranging from Nazi camp followers to ordinary people just hoping Germany will win the war and things will settle down.
In Germany, by the time this movie was made, few people would admit they had liked Hitler or the Nazis. These days ex-Nazis can be Pope (See my Italy, Catholicism, and Fascism Today). To be truly in opposition to the Nazis was, in most cases, to die quickly. Just as only a few people participate in truly rebellious environmental actions, such as ELF, but many consider themselves environmentalists because they turn off the lights when they leave a room.
This movie is well-crafted and suspensful, which also distinguishes it from many political films. It is too bad no one has ever made a film directly relating the plight of African Americans under President-For-Life Franklin Roosevelt to the Democratic Party's racist political program. Being disloyal to Roosevelt in the U.S. during the period of time covered in The Devil's General was only slightly less dangerous than being disloyal to Hitler in Nazi Germany.
Unfortunately this movie is not available from Netflix. It may be out there somewhere in free file sharing form, or you can buy a copy from Amazon.com by following this link: Devil's General
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