Join us for our year-long celebration of the USA World Premiere Movie in conjunction with Made-for-TV Mayhem! Check out out previous entries on THE FORGOTTEN here, MURDER BY NIGHT here, THE TICKET here, SNOW KILL here, DEADLY GAME here and ACCIDENTAL MEETING here!
There’s really no better way to get people’s feathers ruffled than evoking Nazi imagery, so it’s not too surprising that USA made HITLER’S DAUGHTER just to get people’s attention. The title evokes the idea of a film along the lines of an ILSA sequel, or at least a follow-up to the Bud Cort/Peter Cushing classic SON OF HITLER*, and gives you the hope of 90 minutes of cringeworthy sleaze that would shame your family for generations to come.
However, a quick glance at the VHS cover box featuring some of the worst composite art ever put together by a major studio (in this case, Paramount) should put any hopes to rest. The cover features he three classy ladies – Veronica Cartwright, Kay Lenz and FLASH GORDON’s Melody Anderson – dressed more for a “Dynasty” reunion than a look at the savagery of the Nazi party. And, of course, it’s a USA World Premiere Movie, so promising more than it could ever possibly deliver is merely part of its nature.
The film starts off with a bang, or more accurately, several bangs, as we see Hitler’s mistress delivering a baby girl, followed by every non-infant associated with the delivery including the mother being quickly disposed of by the Nazi guns. Cut to the present day, when a fiercely-fought election between the current vice president (whose shrewish wife, played by Cartwright, has her own reasons for wanting her husband in power) and a newcomer with a female running mate (Lenz) hinges on their response to, er, the reunification of Germany.
As a plot contrivance, I suppose this works only because we’re already in a world in which Hitler had a long-lost daughter. While the reunification of Germany was huge news in 1989 and certainly a political issue, by the next time there would have been a presidential election in 1992, German/U.S. relations probably would not have been on the top of everyone’s mind. This, however, is the least of the plotting issues that HITLER’S DAUGHTER has.
The vice president’s press agent Ted gets a letter from a Nazi hunter who claims that Ted got in touch with him first. When Ted agrees to meet him, it turns out to be a set-up, the Nazi hunter is killed and Ted is framed for his murder. In an inexplicable turn of events, he’s left in a car by a river, with a folder of evidence (we know this because the Nazi hunter courteously croaks out “EVIDENCE” just before he dies while holding the folder), and the car explodes just after he leaves it. It’s like they wanted to kill him but also kind of didn’t, and they wanted the evidence but also wanted him to have it for some reason. It seriously doesn’t make any sense, other than to forward the plot and to give us an exploding car.
In the role of Ted is Patrick Cassidy, who would seem like a lesser-known name to headline a USA movie, but he had just played the Patrick Swayze role in the short-lived “Dirty Dancing” TV series. The fact that the series had already been forgotten by the time the film was issued on VHS in 1991 probably explains his exclusion on the box. Cassidy is fine, but the movie quickly spirals out of control and as Ted gets involved with more intrigue as we dutifully wait for he and his girlfriend (Carolyn Dunn) to catch up with the stuff that we already know because the movie is friggin’ called HITLER’S DAUGHTER and opens with the birth of Hitler’s daughter.
Ted’s storyline takes up a big chunk of the film and serves like a second-rate Len Deighton adaptation, involving the occasional shoot-out, a second Nazi hunter (this one with an eyepatch!) and, yes, a second ridiculous car explosion. The second boom involves a poor paperboy who happens to shut a car door on his route, his fire-battered corpse on the lawn of the intended victim who barely gives him a second glance before running away — and he’s supposed to be a good guy, which should give you some indication as to how ill-conceived this movie is!
However, the more interesting parts of the film involve the three ladies who could be the second coming of the Third Reich. Cartwright is in fine form as the scheming would-be first lady, who has her own political ideas – some of which, like the idea that a first lady could become Secretary of State, are laughed at by her peers. Always a joy to watch on screen, especially in a villainous role, Cartwright is fantastic and gets a chance to shine when confronting the Barbara Walters-esque journalist (and other potential Hitlerette) played by Anderson, with whom her husband is having an affair. Spitting at the newswoman about her “wild sexual cavorting,” Cartwright comes off as a character not to be messed with.
Sadly, the rest of the film is pretty messy, not having the budget or running time to do the fully-rendered political thriller they clearly intended to make. Based on a novel by WWII historian Timothy B. Benford, I’ve no doubt there were vast chunks excised from the source material that might have made for HITLER’S DAUGHTER to make a bit more sense, or at least be a bit more focused, but the screenplay by Sherman Gray and Christopher Canaan feel more like the Cliff’s Notes version of a Robert Ludlum adaptation.
It’s not to say that HITLER’S DAUGHTER isn’t entertaining. It’s got a certain ridiculousness to it and it’s never dull so much as nonsensical. Bonus points for the finale, which manages to be significantly darker than the average USA Network fare, in which evil triumphs, because good is stupid. Plus, it’s called HITLER’S DAUGHTER! 24 years later, it’s a title that still promises so very, very much.
* as I write this, SON OF HITLER is actually more obscure than HITLER’S DAUGHTER, clocking in at a mere 53 votes on the IMDb to DAUGHTER’s 66. Someone needs to package these together for no reason of than I want them to.