Anthony Hopkins in “The Bunker” (1981) – War – Thriller – Drama

Anthony Hopkins in “The Bunker” (1981)

In 1945, American correspondent James O’Donnell (James Naughton) is gaining entry to the Führerbunker by bribing a Soviet sentry with a packet of cigarettes.

The film then tells the story of the occupants of the bunker between January and May 1945 as an extended flashback. A number of historical events and the reactions of the bunker’s residents are presented, including the encirclement of Berlin, Hitler’s (Sir Anthony Hopkins) last meeting with Albert Speer (Richard Jordan) and the attempts by Speer to sabotage Hitler’s scorched earth policy, Speer’s abortive plan to kill Hitler in the bunker, Hitler’s dismissal of Heinz Guderian, Hitler’s firing of Heinrich Himmler and Hermann Goering, the failure of German forces to lift the siege, the murder of the Joseph Goebbel’s (Cliff Gorman) children, Hitler’s wedding to Eva Braun (Susan Blakely), and the suicides of Hitler, Braun and Joseph and Magda Goebbels (Piper Laurie).

The film ends as groups of survivors are leaving the bunker complex of the Reich Chancellery. The final scene depicts the bunker’s mechanic and final occupant, Hentschel, listening to a radio announcement that Hitler has died fighting. He throws a set of papers at the radio in disgust and the scene dissolves to a series of still images with voiceover explaining the fate of the remaining survivors. The last still image is of Hitler giving a speech during his rise to power, with O’Donnel’s VoiceOver: “It was Thomas Hardy who said ‘While much is too strange to be believed, nothing is too strange to have happened.” The still then comes to life briefly, depicting Hitler giving a political speech. The scene dissolves into the final still image of the ruined bunker as the credits roll.

A 1981 American made-for-television historical war film directed by George Schaefer, produced by Time-Life Productions, written by John Gay, based on James P. O’Donnell’s book “The Bunker” (1975), cinematography by Jean-Louis Picavet, starring Anthony Hopkins, Richard Jordan, Cliff Gorman, James Naughton, Michel Lonsdale, Piper Laurie, and Susan Blakely. An American-French co-production.

In a short scene at the beginning of the film, a younger O’Donnell is played by actor James Naughton. O’Donnell himself provided brief voice-over narrations at the beginning and end of the film. Actors Michael Sheard (Himmler) and Tony Steedman (Jodl) reprised their characters from the British television film “The Death of Adolf Hitler” (1973).

After viewing the dailies, one of the producers complained that Anthony Hopkins’ portrayal of Adolf Hitler was too sympathetic. Hopkins replied that his portrayal was based on the premise that ultimately even Hitler was also human, and that’s what’s so horrific about him. In addition to the historical research, Anthony Hopkins styled Adolf Hitler after his paternal grandmother. His grandfather was a tyrant, of whom Hopkins was scared as a child. Reporters on the set said the sense of realism was so intense that at one point, when Anthony Hopkins entered the room to prepare for the next scene, actors portraying SS German soldiers snapped to attention whenever Hopkins came onto the set, even if he wasn’t in character.

Anthony Hopkins won an Emmy for Outstanding Lead Actor in a Limited Series or a Special for his portrayal of Adolf Hitler at the 33rd Annual Primetime Emmy Awards (1981) Piper Laurie was nominated for Outstanding Supporting Actress in a Limited Series or a Special, and René Magnol, Robert L. Harman, William McCaughey, and Howard S. Wollman were nominated for Outstanding Film Sound Mixing.

The actors’ interpretations of the events differ in ways from the traditional accounts. During the final meeting between Hitler and Albert Speer, Hopkins adopts a sarcastic tone and gestures (including mock applause) that suggest Hitler was already aware of Speer’s betrayal, even though he uses the exact words recounted by the witnesses. This became a controversial scene due to a perception in some circles that the resemblance to Jesus Christ’s legendary foreseeing of Judas’s betrayal was intentional. These accusations were consistently denied, as were reports regarding a rumored on-set romance between Piper Laurie (Magda Goebbels) and Cliff Gorman (Joseph Goebbels).

The film shifts the point-of-view character regularly, and characters who are not known to have left their experiences on record often tell the story. Dr. Werner Haase is used in this manner, even though he was never interviewed (having died in late 1950). Likewise, two scenes are written from the viewpoint of Hitler’s cook, Constanze Manziarly, and in one scene, Manziarly actually has a flashback, remembering happier days. However, Manziarly disappeared while escaping from the bunker, so neither O’Donnell nor any other person was able to interview her or get her viewpoint.

The ending is also influenced by O’Donnell’s book and its focus on the bunker itself, ending just as the main surviving characters are leaving the bunker.
Credit to : Donald P. Borchers

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