Friday, July 15, 2016

FORGOTTEN GEM? “The Bunker” (1981)

            There are several movies about the last days of Hitler.  “The Bunker” was a made for TV movie that premiered in 1981.  It was based on the nonfiction book by James O’Donnell.  O’Donnell was a Newsweek correspondent who was in occupied Berlin at the end of the war.  He bribed his way into the Bunker and snooped around, even taking some top secret documents.  He made it a goal to tell the definitive story of Hitler’s death.  His substantial research included numerous interviews with people associated with the Fuhrer in the last days.  The most obvious comparison of this movie is to “Downfall” so some of this review will delve into similarities and differences.

  The movie opens with O’Donnell (James Naughton) entering the Bunker and vowing to tell the tale.  The film then flashes back to Hitler’s arrival at the site.  This bunker is a lot more bright and pristine than the one in “Downfall”.  Instead of centering the movie on the secretary Traudl, it uses multiple viewpoints.  The most notable is that of Albert Speer (Richard Jordan).  Speer is something of a hero (which would conform to his memoirs) and not only argues with Hitler on his plans to destroy the German infrastructure, but he plots to assassinate his boss.  The main villain is Martin Boorman (Michel Lonsdale).  Anthony Hopkin’s Hitler is a lot less sympathetic than Bruno Ganz’s.  He is not portrayed as evil either.  He’s tired and dazed.  The crucial scenes like the wedding, the killing of the Goebbel’s kids, and the Adolf and Eva suicides are similar in both movies.

“The Bunker” is not bad for a made for TV movie.  It is accurate enough to have given the television audience the basics on Hitler’s death.  Some of the dialogue was improvised, but that is acceptable.  There are some controversial (if you are a historian) interpretations of incidents.  For instance, when Speer tells Hitler that he has not carried out his scorched earth plan, Hitler reacts as though he is not surprised.  The acting is fine, with Hopkins dominating of course.  He is not on the same level of Ganz, but he did win an Emmy and his interpretation of Hitler may actually be more realistic.  One major complaint is the sets are too phony looking.  You don’t quite get the desperation that the visuals should imply.  On the other hand, the Bunker is much emptier and quieter in the last few days.  That is probably closer to reality than “Downfall”.

                In conclusion, “The Bunker” is a sincere effort to cover an important and fascinating event in history.  It served a purpose until 2004 when “Downfall” replaced it as the definitive account of the event.  It’s still worth watching as a companion to “Downfall”.  Concentrate on how the same historical event can be variously interpreted.



  1. I wasn't impressed by this one. Casting Hopkins as Hitler was a fatal flaw; giving him carte blanche to chew scenery is always a mistake.

  2. I personally thought this was a great effort considering that it I s made for tv and was,no doubt,on a shoestring budget. I always wondered how much better it would have been as a longer mini series type of event with a stronger budget.

    That being said, Bruno Ganz gave the definitive portrayal of Hitler, and "Downfall" is, without question, the best of the entries in this event.

  3. There was something about Hopkins' Hitler that's dare I say it - touching. The way that he shakes Speer's hand when he first sees him in the bunker - glad to see an old friend despite the bleak surroundings. I thought Cliff Gorman as Goebbels was awful. Goebbels was an interesting guy, Gorman plays him as a one-dimensional anti-Semite. Why cast a Jewish actor as a famous Nazi, anyway? Seems like stunt casting.


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