Top Secret Trial of the Third Reich, The (DVD Review)13 May, 2009 By: John Latchem
The latest in First Run’s long line of documentaries spotlighting the inner workings of Nazi Germany is well timed to take advantage of buzz around the Tom Cruise-starrer Valkyrie, which focused on the July 20 Plot to assassinate Adolf Hitler.
Top Secret Trial focuses on the aftermath of the July 20 Plot, offering the original footage of the show trial of its perpetrators. Though the trial’s outcome was never in doubt — a swift execution for most of the defendants — the proceedings offer a valuable insight into the mindset of the Nazi regime. Prosecutors played fast and loose with rules of evidence, even condemning priests for hearing the confessions of those accused of the crime.
The trial footage was secretly recorded by Joseph Goebbels for a Nazi propaganda film. But he miscalculated its effect; the footage generated sympathy for the even-headed conspirators, sentenced to death by a visibly deranged judge.
This documentary consists entirely of archive films. Much of the imagery comes from the trial, though there are also plenty of scenes of the German army marching through conquered lands, and oblivious scores of German civilians celebrating their nation’s triumphs. The fanaticism among those who favor Hitler is a scary sight, yielding the vast dangers inherent in establishing power through a cult of personality.
But through its canonization of the German opposition, the film also serves as a timeless reminder of the value of dissent in keeping government in check, and the dangers inherent when it is not allowed to do so.