As part of my research into this week’s new release Operation Finale I started looking into what other movies there might be about the post World War II search for those Nazi war criminals who escaped in the chaos following the war. Like Adolf Eichmann, many Nazi officials and leaders fled through the “ratlines” established by outside sympathizers to Switzerland, Bolivia and elsewhere, including Argentina where Eichmann and others were eventually found.
What I discovered was a bit surprising. In short, there aren’t very many.
The story of Eichmann’s capture by agents of Israel’s Mossad has been translated to film a few times before, though this is the biggest theatrical release on the subject.
While the idea of hunting down escaped Nazis would seem to make for fertile real life dramatic material, most of the movies based on that part of history have actually been fiction. So while there aren’t many (the reasons for which I could only speculate on), let’s look at the trailers for what is out there.
Orson Welles’ 1946 drama was one of the first films on the subject, which isn’t surprising. The story follows Charles Rankin (Welles), the assumed name of a Nazi criminal who has settled into suburban Connecticut and is now working as a teacher. The trailer doesn’t really get into any of that, though, selling the movie not as one dealing with the fallout of the war but as a tragic romance where the woman (Loretta Young) fell in love with someone she shouldn’t have and whose life is now in danger.
Christopher Plummer plays an old man suffering dementia and memory loss who’s prompted by a fellow assisted living resident to make good on a promise to hunt down and kill the Nazi camp guard who tortured them decades ago. That premise is laid out in the trailer, which thankfully hides the big twist that comes in at the end, one that changes the entirety of what’s come before. But the basic idea that someone must be held accountable for very personal atrocities is clear.
The Odessa File
Using as its premise ODESSA, a plan by German officials to escape the collapsing war complex, the movie follows a reporter (Jon Voight) who happens upon the reality that a number of Nazis have fled from justice but are about to act on plans to come out of the shadows. So it’s not even mostly about the fact that so many escaped, it’s about stopping things before they can return to visit new horrors, which is the focus of the trailer.
The Boys From Brazil
Dr. Josef Mengele is living in Paraguay and has eluded those seeking his capture for years. A plot to activate the clones of Adolf Hitler created by Mengele is uncovered and must be stopped before those clones are unleashed upon the world. Some, but not all, of that is shown in the trailer, which plays more like a sci-fi story than it would have you believe.
While it’s not about hunting down Nazis after-the-fact, it’s worth noting that Schindler’s List is coming back into theaters this December. Ostensibly that’s to celebrate the film’s 25th anniversary, but there’s the opportunity for a new generation to see it and be reminded that these things happened, that it’s possible for a little girl to yell terrible things at people just because of their ethnicity. That because we are capable of such terrible actions we need to be ever-vigilant against them rising up in our midst. It’s not enough, then, to punish the perpetrators after the crime has been committed, we need to be willing to shut them down before they happen.