The Nazis lost on all fronts . . . with the possible exception of their victory on the aesthetic one. The love of the pure human form expressed by Leni Riefenstahl in her seminal films, such as Olympia and Triumph of the Will, has been enormously influential in the bizarrely abstracted world of fashion photography. In film, Nazis are invariably handsome, and many of Hollywood’s leading men have played them. I attended a museum exhibit (Mirroring Evil: Nazi Imagery/Recent Art) for which an entire room was devoted to handsome Hollywood film Nazis. The exhibition also featured a film that compared Nazi photos with modern fashion photographs. Susan Sontag wrote a essential essay, “Fascinating Fascism,” in part about this very issue. In fact, there is a whole book on the topic, The Terrible Beauty of Nazi Aesthetics by Frederic Spotts.
This attitude was true in art as well as in flesh. Failed landscape painter Adolf Hitler held a large museum show of Nazi art, highlighting his approved aesthetic ideals. Hint: it generally involved lots of muscles and beaming blonde women and children.
Nothing says high art like an accordion. This style can be described as “heroic realism.” At the time of the Nazi’s greatest power, contemporary accounts by people visiting Germany noted how attractive-looking Nazis were. Click here to visit a gallery of Third Reich art. Wow, never realized how much Nazis loved moose.
So where am I going with all this? Well, because of all this incessant talk about how hot all the Nazis are, it becomes difficult to recall any prominent film and TV Nazis who don’t conform to the Nazi aesthetic. Why is Hollywood catering to these stereotypes? What Nazis are there who aren’t be-muscled tall blondes straight out of the Nazi’s own propaganda materials? Ha. Well, here are a few.
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5. Sergeant Schultz: Our old friend from the film Stalag 17 and TV show Hogan’s Heroes. Schultz is a classic, loveable clown. He’s a bit of a Bavarian Falstaff. He’s plump and slow when on duty, and he looks even worse when he’s out of uniform. His single greatest devotion is not to the Third Reich or any Aryan ideal but to fresh-baked strudel.
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4. Arnold Ernst Toht: One of the “bad guys” from Raiders of the Lost Ark. In fact, he’s the baddest of the bad, a sniveling, whining, devious little man in a black leather overcoat sneaking around the desert. Nothing says Gestapo like a black suit and hat, rimmed glasses, and a bad sniffle.
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3. Red Skull from Captain America: A Nazi deep-weapons research scientist with overweening ambition, Johann Schmidt aspires to the Aryan ideal of the superman through dangerous scientific experiments that transform him into the hideous Red Skull (this is based on the new movie; in the comics, there are three Red Skulls, two Nazis and a Soviet, depending on the era of the issues in question).
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2. The Illinois Nazis from the Blues Brothers: The Illinois Nazis are the most memorable of all the reactionary buffoons lampooned in this wonderful musical satire. These pear-shaped and pint-sized schlubs look more like dispirited bureaucrats than avenging blond beasts. They drive pintos and green station wagons, blasting the heroic strains of Wagner. Jake Blues utters one of the movies best lines with the simple “I hate Illinois Nazis” before running a platoon of them off a bridge and into the murky water below, which inspires their drenched leader to mutter “I’m gonna kill those sons of bitches.” Or die trying, Mr. German-American Bund. Or die trying.
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1. Joseph Goebbels: He looks terrifying . . . like a serial killer, as befits someone who ran the Nazi propaganda machine and who would eventually would kill all six of his own children. When Hitler came to power, American officials quickly concluded that all high-ranking party officials were clearly pathologically mentally ill . . . with the exception of Goebbels, who was the only one they felt was reasonable and rational. He was a showman, an entertainer, and a sick fuck. The closest the Nazis would get to Hollywood.