Unless you’re an authority on the origins of Monty Python or you grew up watching English television in the 1950s, there’s a pretty good possibility you’re unfamiliar with Spike Milligan. That goes doubly so for my fellow Americans — some of whom seem to forget that English folk even exist until they hear Hugh Laurie speaking in behind-the-scenes House, M.D. interviews.
For the uninitiated, Spike Milligan was an extremely gifted comedian/musician/writer/actor whose sharp tongue and quick wit helped pave the way for modern sketch comedy as we know it. His tongue was also responsible for getting him into a fair bit of trouble — particularly during his stint as a British officer in World War II, as depicted in Adolf Hitler: My Part In His Downfall.
Based on his published 1971 wartime autobiography of the same name, Adolf Hitler: My Part In His Downfall brings us an account of Spike’s life after he is drafted into the Royal Artillery and sent to training in Bexhill in the south of England. For the vast majority of the film, Milligan (portrayed here by comic Jim Dale) takes his surrounding and his duties lightly — quipping away to his superiors, even as they threaten to run him ragged on a daily basis.
Made in 1974, Adolf Hitler: My Part In His Downfall could almost be construed as the British equivalent of M*A*S*H or Catch-22, as it also has that “War. What is it good for?” tone to it throughout — even though the film is not really (if at all) a commentary on the Vietnam War as its unofficial Yankee counterparts are.
While the title might imply a grandiose tale of European espionage leading to the demise of Der Führer himself, please be aware that this is a comedy — and said title is merely just an example of Milligan’s brand of humor. Instead, what we have here is a real-life account of one man’s misadventures whilst enlisted in the army — one that, despite a number of great lines, never really gets its own groove on enough to keep the average viewer interested.
Jim Dale is superb as young Milligan, who experiences some truly good times as well as a few really horrific ones during the course of the film (he also performs the movie’s charming theme song, “It’s Gonna Be A Good War”). Supporting roles are played by several other revered English actors — most of whom won’t be recognized by American viewers — like Arthur Lowe, Geoffrey Hughes, Bill Maynard, and Tony Selby. Spike Milligan himself shows up in a few scenes as the elder Mr. Milligan, while a brief bit by Benny Hill regular Bob Todd will probably be the only familiar face for some.
Adolf Hitler: My Part In His Downfall definitely has its share of laughs, but is ultimately something that most people will either pass on or easily forget about (much like they probably did when the film first came out). As such, its release as part of MGM’s line of Limited Edition Collection manufactured-on-demand DVD-Rs, is completely justified — though it should be noted that whomever wrote the brief synopsis on it obviously had no idea who Spike Milligan was, either.
The film is presented in a 1.78:1 ratio and sports a surprisingly-decent transfer. Its mono-only English soundtrack also suffices quite adequately, and the MOD disc includes the original British theatrical trailer — which is the only instance in which you will actually see Hitler.