When Hitler proclaimed, ‘If you want to shine in your work, you must first burn in it,’ I doubt he had in mind how much he and his vile nazis army would be roasted by the entertainment industry in the coming decade’s movies.
We can range from Casablanca to The Great Escape to Indiana Jones, Captain America, or Inglourious Basterds: the fact is that Nazis, regardless of their horrific history, became unwitting protagonists of a famous movie genre: action-adventure where we love to watch how the heroes of the day tear them apart in the most entertaining ways imaginable.
Theoretically, there would be little to laugh about since World War II was the darkest time in human history, involving 30 nations between 1939 and 1945 with millions upon millions of civilian and soldier casualties.
However, fortunately, with the magic of cinema, we can exorcise the worst fears and horror in the darkest side of human beings, turning the monsters of the sleep of reason into puppets bound to jump and dance for our amusement.
Today we focus on five of these movies where entertainment triumphs over Nazi cruelty and stupidity, without thereby becoming stupid ourselves but reflecting with a smile on how we came into what happened during the regrettable period of humankind.
So strap on your helmet well and get ready to crawl headfirst into the mud of the trenches as we begin our journey through the battlefields of World War II, where swastika flags cast their eerie shadow over everything and everyone.
Table of contents
Today’s first movie begins in the vast, deserted moors of Lapland, ravaged by the last throes of the Nazis army, now doomed to defeat.
Galloping along on his tireless horse is old Aatami, who accidentally discovers a gold vein along the river where he is quenching his thirst.
Carrying as many gold stones as he can in his pouches, he begins the long journey home, but along the way, he finds a Nazi patrol ready to give him a hard time.
At first, the soldiers simply insult him and shoot his dog (John Wick has taught no one anything, it seems), but after discovering he is carrying a load of gold, they relentlessly pursue him.
Unfortunately for them, as they later find out from some girls they are holding captive in the truck, our hero is no ordinary old man but the mythological Aatami Korpi, nicknamed Koschei (the Immortal) by both sides of the Winter War.
His ability to kill and survive is almost supernatural, so his superiors, once they realized it was impossible to control him, simply unleashed bloody massacres this madman carried out absolutely alone.
On the last notes of the sad song of the Second War, Aatami will give ample proof of his nickname by giving the hated Nazis back their own violent medicine with interest.
Already the director of the bizarre Rare Exports, Jalmari Helander enjoys this pulp war along the lines of Inglourious Basterds ( for example, the various captions between chapters are identical) without, however, becoming an artless clone of Quentin Tarantino.
Simply perfect lead Jorma Tommila, with just the right tired, pissed-off face and hardly ever saying a word without the whole movie, because in the best cinema, what happens on screen speaks for the characters.
The Red Ghost (2020)
We remain in the vast prairies of Eastern Europe for a movie where the heroes are hardly fearless braves against the Nazis but a small group of deserters, including former soldiers, officers, hunters, and pregnant women.
They fight hunger and cold to survive the Nazi advance, strenuously advancing through snow-covered clearings until they find refuge in a seemingly abandoned farmhouse.
The shelter is a trap: a poisoned feast ready to lure the hungry, like our protagonists, to kill them silently and effortlessly.
Indeed, on the horizon is a platoon of Nazis approaching, but unfortunately for these Germans, on their trail is the Red Ghost, an infallible sniper who has already decimated countless Germans.
When the Nazis reach the farm, most of the group is out, so they take the pregnant woman hostage.
As the men must decide whether to face or flee from the outnumbered and much better-armed enemy, the red sniper emerges as a vengeful specter, turning the battle around.
But when he too is badly wounded, it is up to the deserters to become heroes for a day by trying to save the day.
Although setting the story in World War II, director Andrey Bogatyrev opts for an adventurous pace with a touch of the Western.
Focusing on anonymous characters struggling for survival, he tastefully mixes humor and tragedy, such as when a Nazi commander is caught in bullets during a sauna or the woman who gives birth in the fury of battle.
In this context, the Red Ghost stands out as a superhero, even though his fate is tragically human. But to continue the legend, what is enough is the will to fight, inherited by these deserters who will carry on the exploits of the Phantom by fighting to free the people.
We continue our traverse with a movie where a group of American paratroopers survive after a terrible Nazis bombardment of their fleet.
Left entirely alone in hostile territory, they decide to carry out their original mission at any cost.
They thus infiltrate a small German-occupied village, intending to disrupt their communications by destroying a radio tower inside an old church, unfortunately under tight army control.
With the help of a brave local woman, the survivors venture to explore the enemy outpost and they will make a terrifying discovery inside the church: a secret laboratory where the Nazis conduct horrific experiments on humans.
Their goal is to make German soldiers more combative and resilient in the field, even going so far as to try to bring even the dead back to life.
While an insane Nazi officer hunts them down, the group plans to raze the church and its hellish mutant laboratory, knowing that the mission will likely be a one-way ticket for everyone.
At the dawn of the great American landing in Normandy, the fate of the war and the world will be in the hands of these young boys.
The plot involves a cast of stereotypical but always well-appreciated characters, such as the brave recruit, the tough officer of few words, and the pretty French mother struggling to save her son from the classic Nazi psychopath on duty.
However, each of them stands out uniquely in the tasty blend of war action and bloody splatter, successfully achieving the goal of telling a parody of the delusional vision of genetic superiority flaunted by that horrible midget Hitler and his cronies.
The Keep (1983)
Let’s stay in the horror genre with a movie at a moment when the Nazis army is at full strength and preparing to invade Russia.
It all begins with a slight German platoon upsetting the peace of a small town in Romania to secure the passage for the troops that will follow the invasion.
The soldiers choose as their command camp an ancient uninhabited fortress surrounding a thousand-year-old castle, but from the depths of this forgotten place comes to life an ancient creature that no one in the village dares to name and seems to have unstoppable power.
Outraged at how its people are being mistreated by the Nazis, this demon begins savagely slaughtering soldiers who, without understanding what is happening, call for reinforcements and arrive under the command of a ruthless officer enthusiastic about Nazi ideology.
Despite numerous testimonies, he does not believe this demon, sure that these deaths are the fault of local rebel partisans. So he calls a violent reprisal against civilians, unleashing the ultimate fury of the millenarian spirit inside the fortress.
The first and only horror film directed so far by Michael Mann, it was unfortunately not a great success, although it is a tasty blend of fantasy and Nazis we have rarely seen elsewhere.
Although Mann is known for action cops, this attempt in the horror genre is appreciable, taking advantage of the evocative Carpathian locations reminiscent of the old Count Dracula classics, instead featuring an undefinable being, the last survivor of a divine feud.
The contrast between the monster and the Nazis is effective, with well-developed characters, and despite the lack of gory scenes or bloodshed, the violence of Nazism is appropriately oppressive and well portrayed by the crazed eyes of young Gabriel Byrne, as charming as he is psychopathic.
The Dirty Dozen (1967)
We end with one of the most legendary movies in cinematic history about the adventurous genre of war against the Nazis, known by name even to those who have never seen it.
Indeed, this outstanding 1967 classic tells the story of an undisciplined major summoned by Allied forces in France on a crucial secret mission.
After discovering that many high-ranking Nazi officers will be meeting in a remote fortified castle, an opportunity arises to eliminate several German hydra heads all at once.
Given the danger of the mission, the command recruits twelve dangerous lifers with nothing to lose, ordering the major to train them into a deadly strike team.
Initially, the criminals unite against the major, seeing him as a common enemy to fight in every way.
But after being bullied by a colonel during drills, they recognize a leader and a rebel like themselves in the major, developing a sense of brotherhood.
At that point, they are ready to face their true mission, bravely aware that many among them may not return.
This masterpiece by Robert Aldrich is an excellent mix of comedy and action with a diverse fauna of anti-heroes unwittingly forced into redemption.
Released in 1967, it was a great success and became a landmark in the genre with numerous sequels and even a TV series, none at the original level.
Even among the senior officers, there is no shortage of stars such as Ernest Borgnine and George Kennedy for a great classic that exemplifies the old saying that unity is strength to the fullest.