On December 26, 2008, the story of Germany's most famous anti-Nazi hero, Colonel Claus von Stauffenberg, will debut as a major motion picture; Valkarie. Stauffenberg's controversial status as Hitler Resistor #1 (he was a Nazi supporter before turning against the regime only because, so say detractors, Germany began to lose the war) will likely (we hope) be given a fair and balanced treatment due to the intense scrutiny the project has received, especially in Germany.
 

The aspect of the film that caused the most controversy was the choice of Tom Cruise to play the title role. The objection to Cruise had nothing to do with the perceived limited acting ability of the fellow, but to a totally peripheral issue; his religion. It seems that Scientology is considered a dangerous cult in Germany, especially by those government officials charged with issuing permits for foreigners to film in their country. Cruise (who has put his own money up for the project), and others involved, insisted from the very beginning that as much of the film as possible should be shot on location. Permission was not immediately forthcoming:

German Defense Ministry Spokesperson Harald Kammerbauer (June 2007): "Stauffenberg played an important role in the military resistance against the Nazi regime and in the Bundeswehr's (the German military's) self-perception ... (They) will not be allowed to film at German military sites if Count Stauffenberg is played by Tom Cruise, who has publicly professed to being a member of the Scientology cult. In general, the Bundeswehr has a special interest in the serious and authentic portrayal of the events of July 20, 1944 and Stauffenberg's person. ... A sincere and respectable depiction of the events of the 20th of July and of Stauffenberg is therefore very much in Germany's interest. Tom Cruise, with his Scientology background, is not the right person for this."

United Artists Entertainment Chief Executive Officer Paula Wagner: "To set the record straight, 'Valkyrie' is a historically accurate thriller that presents the World War Two resistance hero Col. Claus Schenk von Stauffenberg as the heroic and principled figure he was, and we believe it will go a long way towards reminding the world that even within the ranks of the German military there was real resistance to the Nazi regime. 'Valkyrie' was originated and brought to United Artists by Bryan Singer and Christopher McQuarrie. Based on the fantastic screenplay written by Mr. McQuarrie and Nathan Alexander, we gave it the green light. Mr. Singer, the director (X-Men, X2, Superman Returns), then offered the role of Col. Stauffenberg to Tom Cruise because he thought he was perfect for the part. Aside from his obvious admiration of the man he is portraying, Mr. Cruise's personal beliefs have absolutely no bearing on the movie's plot, themes, or content. And even though we could shoot the movie anywhere in the world, we believe Germany is the only place we can truly do the story justice."

The head of the German Resistance Memorial Center expressed fears that 'myth formation' would be the likely result of the film, and stressed that any understanding of Stauffenberg must be colored by the fact that he had been loyal to the Nazi cause for most of his military career. Opposition to the project was not confined only to German politicians, however. Some members of the Stauffenberg family also voiced their concerns:

"I fear that only terrible kitsch will come out of the project. It's bound to be rubbish. ... Cruise should keep his hands off my father. ... He should climb a mountain or go surfing in the Caribbean. I don't care, as long as he stays out of it." -Berthold Maria Schenk Graf von Stauffenberg.

Cruise then went on the offensive, giving interviews to influential German magazines and newspapers.

"I bear a great responsibility to the Germans and to a man like Stauffenberg, who has such a deep significance. And I feel a responsibility to the man himself. ... I feel it's important to show that there was also resistance within the Nazi ranks. I think most people will be surprised. But the film goes even further than that. We hope to be able to show how people can preserve and even transcend their humanity even in the darkest periods. ... This is not a war film. This is a thriller that takes place in wartime. It's about a secret mission, a plot, conflicting loyalties, soldierly honor, patriotism, morals and conscience. ... He rejected Hitler. He came from an old military tradition and was ashamed of what had happened in Germany under Hitler. He was prepared to risk everything, including his own life. What a decision! What courage! What a love for your own country!"

In time, Cruise's media blitz began to pay off:

"Some of the family have spoken out because they don't think it will do the story justice and others don't think the casting is ideal, but I totally disagree, especially after I met Tom and saw how he is approaching the role with such professionalism. I think most of the family are curious to see the finished film." -Philipp von Schulthess, Stauffenberg's grandson.
 

Eventually, permission was given to begin filming, and production began on July 18 2007 in Berlin. The German Federal Film Fund even contributed $6.64 million to the then $80 million production budget. Tempelhof International Airport's Columbia Haus (a former Nazi prison), some of the private Berlin residences used by the conspiritors to hide weapons and explosives, and, most importantly, the Bendlerblock memorial inside the Defense Ministry complex in Berlin (where Stauffenberg and his co-conspirators  were executed, above), were among the historical sites utilzed in the filming. Germany's Finance Ministry had originally denied the producers the right to film at Bendlerblock, explaining that the site should be treated as a 'place of remembrance and mourning' which would 'lose dignity if we were to exploit it as a film set.'

"Shortly before we started filming, screenplay writer Christopher McQuarrie, director Bryan Singer and Tom Cruise made short remarks and then asked for a minute of silence, out of respect for the place (the Bendlerblock) and out of respect for the life achievement of these people who were executed there." -From an interview with German actor Christian Berkel, who plays Albrecht Mertz von Quirnheim.

A replica of Hitler's Eastern front headquarters, the Wolf's Lair, was constructed south of Berlin, even though the real deal was actually located in modern-day Poland. But one of the biggest hurdles the filmmakers had to vault over was the German laws prohibiting the display of the swastika and other Nazi symbols. Even with governmental permission, and after extensive publicity and explicit warnings to residents of the affected neighborhoods, official complaints were still registered by irate citizens.

In November of 2007, Cruise was given a Bambi courage award by Germany's Hubert Burda Media company 'for tackling a story that had never been covered by Hollywood before.'
 
 
The Cast:
Tom Cruise - Colonel Claus von Stauffenberg.
Kenneth Branagh - Major General Henning von Tresckow.
Christian Berkel - Colonel Albrecht Mertz von Quirnheim.
Bill Nighy - General Friedrich Olbricht.
David Schofield - Field Marshal Erwin von Witzleben.
Terrence Stamp - Colonel General Ludwig Beck.
Kevin McNally - Carl Goerdeler.
Carice van Houten - Nina Schenk Gräfin von Stauffenberg (Stauffenberg's wife).
David Bamber - Adolf Hitler.
Eddie Izzard - Erich Fellgiebel.
Tom Wilkinson - Friedrich Fromm.
Thomas Kretschmann - Otto Ernst Remer.
Gerhard Haase-Hindenberg - Hermann Göring.
Anton Algrang - Albert Speer.
Matthias Freihof - Heinrich Himmler.
 

"I thought of it in terms of what Stauffenberg represents. He was someone who realized that he had to take the steps that ultimately cost him his life... He recognized what was at stake. ... I'm having such a fantastic experience. Everybody in Germany has been so wonderful. The people have been incredibly warm and appreciative and helpful and excited to share their stories. I feel honored and I feel a great responsibility in telling this story, because I want to do it justice and tell it right. It's a very compelling story and I feel passionately about it." -Tom Cruise.

Bill Nighy, the English actor who portrays General Freidrich Olbricht: "It's a serious film about a serious subject, but we're all having fun and a good laugh. Put an English actor in a German uniform and he immediately wants to do something comic, like acting very camp or giving a 'Heil Hitler' salute. Don't tell Bryan Singer, but I want to get through this movie without once giving a Nazi salute. That's my secret plan. It also denotes rank. Only the desperate go around shooting their arm up in the air all the time. If you've got any class, keep your arm down, in my view. ... I've seen no protests. We've been made very welcome, and it's a wonderful story from the German point of view. The Second World War obviously has very deeply disturbing elements for the German people, but this is one of the stories that is free of any of that because it's a story of pure German courage and honorable men who were trying to rescue Germany from disgrace. So everyone I've encountered has been very encouraging. ... I can't say enough about Tom (Cruise): he's an extremely professional and charming man who is very good fun and likes to laugh. As an actor, he's marvelous to work with and you wouldn't know he was a producer. He's a very cool and discreet kind of guy and very easy and happy. Even he has trouble keeping a straight face sometimes when he's with us."

David Bamber, the English actor who plays Adolf Hitler: "When I have the costume and make-up on, I usually carry an umbrella to hide my face, but sometimes I forget, and the other day I went to the toilet and the other people in there were shocked to see Hitler walk in."
 
That would be enough to scare the crap out of anyone!
 

 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
Copyright © 2008 Wally O'Lepp All rights reserved.
 
 

Sources:
"Germany bans Cruise film".
"On a mission to kill Hitler".
"We knew the VALKYRIE".
"Germany Bans Valkyrie".
"Tom Cruise - Valkyrie".
"Tom Cruise battles Hitler".
"Tom Cruise - Moment of Silence".
"'I Bear a Great Responsibility to Stauffenberg'".

Note: Having seen the movie, months after writing the piece above, I do not recommend it.




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