Hitler and Film: the Führer’s Hidden Passion

by Bill Niven, Yale, 312pp, £25

Bill Niven, the author of this new book on Hitler, is aware that his subject’s interest in the arts has been exhaustively documented. There have been books about what Hitler liked to read, his interest in architecture, and his passion for Wagnerian opera.

But Niven believes that Hitler’s interest in film has been either ignored or misrepresented by previous historians. Take the question of the Führer’s favourite film. Google suggests that it was Walt Disney’s Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs, a myth Niven believes began with a hoax: the director of a Norwegian museum claimed that he’d discovered cartoons of Snow White drawn by Hitler during the Second World War, and this entered into popular currency after Kate Atkinson wrote about Hitler enjoying the film in her novel Life after Life. In truth, although the film was ordered for Hitler’s home in February 1938, we have no evidence he ever actually watched it.

Another candidate is the 1933 RKO classic King Kong, a possibility so irresistible that a German critic wrote a book about it entitled Why Hitler Loved King Kong but Banned Mickey Mouse, and a Bavarian writer claimed Hitler saw the movie 300 times. But again, Niven points out, we have no solid evidence Hitler ever saw the film.

The most serious candidate for Hitler’s favourite movie, Niven believes, is Fritz Lang’s silent two-part epic, The Nibelungs, which Hitler’s photographer Heinrich Hoffmann claims he watched with Hitler at least 20 times. Niven makes a strong case for why Hitler would have liked this film, given his passion for Wagner’s Ring cycle and how “in the Third Reich, the Nibelung saga generally came to stand for the struggle between Judaism and Germanic strength”.

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