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By Alan Silverman
04 January 2009
In 1944, as the tide was turning against Nazi forces in World War II, a group of German Army officers conspired to assassinate Adolf Hitler and end the war. They almost succeeded. The "July 20 plot" has been the subject for several films including the latest starring Tom Cruise.
|Tom Cruise and Kenneth Branagh in United Artists' 'Valkyrie' |
Photo by United Artists
Aristocrat Claus Von Stauffenberg was a career military officer proudly wearing the German Army uniform long before Hitler came to power. Severely injured on the battlefield in North Africa in 1943 he returned to Berlin to discover he was not alone in believing that 'Der Fuehrer' must be stopped.
Detection meant death, but they went ahead with a plan to blow up Hitler and his top generals. Stauffenberg, a trusted senior staff officer, would carry the bomb into the bunker.
Tom Cruise stars as Claus Von Stauffenberg.
"I read the script and thought this is an incredible suspense thriller. I put it down and said 'is this really true? Did this really happen?' I found out that, actually, these events and certain parts of the film where you think it's going to be a movie 'convention,' they actually occurred," he says. "When Claus Von Stauffenberg goes to meet Hitler at the Berghof the day after D-Day to get Hitler to sign the Valkyrie order I thought 'well, that's a cool moment, but it has to be a movie convention.' When you look at it these events actually occurred. That is exactly what he did. The meeting where Hitler comes and touches his arm and looks at him …it's documented that that actually occurred."
Key scenes of the film were shot at the actual locations of the true events in Germany where Cruise's casting became a subject of controversy. Press reports detailed protests against his personal belief in Scientology, but Cruise dismisses those as blown out of proportion.
"You look at the stuff in Germany and it's a great headline; but, like the film, it is not everyone. We had an outpouring of warmth and excitement about the film and about me and my family being there. We had a great experience in Berlin. The government partially financed the film and at the end of the film I received a wonderful award called a 'Bambi' for courage in bringing the story to the screen. I think that it's been misrepresented in the press in that way also because we had a great time," he says.
Director Bryan Singer says the script, by Christopher McQuarrie and Nathan Alexander, was meticulously researched and that attention to authentic detail continued through the entire production. Singer also acknowledges that it may be a challenge for audiences to understand that these characters in German military uniforms are the 'good guys' of this World War II story.
I think people are always ready to see the human-ness in anyone, in any character, if it's a good film. The difference here is that we have German soldiers who are not Nazis. They are not members of the Nazi party. They are fighting for the German army. Those two things were quite separate. They blurred as the war went on, but initially they were quite separate; and these German soldiers are trying to kill Hitler. They are trying to kill Nazism. They are trying to bring it down. So this is not a movie about a sympathetic Nazi," says the director.
Kenneth Branagh portrays one of the highest-ranking conspirators, Major-General Henning von Tresckow; and Branagh says these soldiers knew history would be unforgiving if they did not take action to stop a leader whom they knew was wrong.
"I think the film doesn't necessarily ask for sympathy. I think it tries to tell a story and lets the audience make up their own minds and respond with their own hearts if they choose to. I think it's one of the things that makes it a knotty, interesting and fascinating, to my mind, story of how powerfully they believed - as late in the day as it seemed to be - that it was fundamentally important that, even if, as most of them knew, they were doomed to fail, the important thing was that an attempt had been made at that kind of level that could tell the world, generations to come, that we were not all like him," he says.
On July 20, 1944, Stauffenberg slipped a bomb into the 'Wolf's Lair' where Hitler was being briefed on the war's progress. It exploded, but failed to kill any of the top Nazi leaders who were there. Stauffenberg was among 200 people executed for their involvement in the plot. The international cast of Valkyrie also features Terence Stamp, Bill Nighy, Tom Wilkinson, Carice van Houten and Thomas Kretschmann.