The Magic Face (1951)

Article 1939 by Dave Sindelar
Viewing Date: 7-6-2006
Posting Date: 12-3-2006
Directed by Frank Tuttle
Featuring Luther Adler, Patricia Knight, William L. Shirer

A professional impersonator in Nazi Germany is arrested and thrown into prison when Hitler takes a fancy to his wife. He manages to escape, and hatches a plot to destroy Hitler by murdering him and taking his place.

Given the hysterical and lurid promises of the ad campaign (“See HITLER KILLED IN SHAME MURDER – after wild wine party!” and “See HITLER SLAIN IN LOVE NEST – after shameless champagne party!”) and the far-fetched premise of the plot, the movie actually comports itself with a decent amount of dignity and tries to make itself convincing. I do like the little attentions to detail; they spend some time showing that the actor has to learn the duties of a valet before he takes on the job itself, and we see a number of scenes of the actor closely watching Hitler so that he’ll know how to imitate him. I also think Luther Adler does an excellent job in the role, and at one time or another he gives imitations of Mussolini, Chamberlain and Selassie as well as Hitler.

For this series, though, the question is whether this movie qualifies as genre or not. I’m inclined to say it doesn’t. The closest explanation I could come up with that someone would classify it as such is that the premise bears a certain similarity to ‘alternate histories” in the science fiction genre, but these histories give us a world different from the one we live in, whereas this movie is trying to offer an explanation as to why certain things happened, in particular, as to why Hitler began making major tactical mistakes in his war planning. And, for the record, the only “wild wine party” here is held by the warden of the prison (with Hitler not on hand) long before Der Fuhrer is assassinated.


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