What would the November Sweeps be without Hitler? Nazis continue to be even more plentiful on television than Smurfs; during peak ratings periods, they're virtually unavoidable.
The latest melodramatic meditation on the Third Reich is "Blood and Honor," a somber and shallow five hours with the Hitler Youth that airs tonight and tomorrow night at 8 on Channel 20.
Ostensibly an account of how insidiously Hitler nationalized German youth into a nightmarish force bent on world domination, the film, written by Robert Muller and directed by Bernd Fischerauer, proves one of the most desultory nightmares in scream history. The script follows three German families -- the status-seeking Monkmanns, the self-deluding Kellers and the naive Kuhns -- from 1933 to 1939, as Hitler rises to power and Germans find it socially and economically advantageous to join the party and look the other way when human rights are trampled to bits.
Hitler's hard sell was made extremely attractive to German youth, but the filmmakers don't want to make it look too attractive to the modern viewer, so they capriciously afflict all the good Germans who turn into bad Germans with terminal and unrelenting cases of the guilts. Everyone stalks about haunted and morose -- the children come across like the alien creatures in the sci-fi classic "Village of the Damned" or, just as improbably, they exchange knowing snarls, as if to say, "Heh-heh-heh, aren't we evil?" A school principal lectures a recalcitrant teacher, "Try to overcome those ridiculous scruples of yours."
But Hitler didn't rally a nation with a call for abandonment of scruples. He offered a new set of scruples and hope for a country ravaged by economic strife. History has judged Hitler's mission a hideous perversion, but surely the Germans didn't think of it in that way at the time. The characters in this film all seem aware of what Hitler's Nazi party was later revealed to be.
Occasionally, some aspect of life in a totalitarian state -- one in which every intimate aspect of existence has been nationalized and made part of a cause -- is effectively dramatized. A husband kissing his wife goodbye in front of the children says, "Heil Hitler, dear." A young girl tells her teen-aged, uniformed boyfriend, "We will love each other forever, just as we love our country and our Fuehrer!"
But even the better moments tend to be undone by impossibly static and listless performances and by the director's slack, slovenly approach. Certainly, this is the paltriest collection of child actors ever assembled in front of a camera. The Daniel Wilson Production was filmed in English and in German for foreign sales, and one suspects some of the German actors learned their English lines phonetically, but just barely.
In voiceover narration, one of the characters drones on and on about how duped they all were. Newsreels pad out the hours, and it's the kind of film in which viewers are told four times within about 15 minutes that "it was 1939," either through narration or a printed legend on the screen. Hitler, the narrator says, exploited "the evil that we all keep locked in us"; "Blood and Honor" is a feeble excuse to unlock it yet again.