Valkyrie is, in essence, a thriller more than it is a war movie, and it’s a damn good one at that. Charting the real-life events that saw a number of high-ranking Nazi officers attempt to overthrow Hitler, the movie stars Tom Cruise as Col. Claus von Stauffenberg, one of the leaders of the daring plot. The movie opens with Stauffenberg in North Africa, voicing his displeasure towards Hitler and the state of his country. His rant isn’t given long to linger, though, because Stauffenberg is soon injured by an American aircraft attack. From that very point, the action and tension is pretty much wire to wire until the moment the credits roll.
It’s so expertly crafted, I found myself literally holding my breath during certain sequences, even though I had a pretty good idea of how it was going to end for Stauffenberg and his fellow dissenters. Cruise turns in an A+, ferocious performance, and the rest of the cast is also eerily right on the money.
Sure, they do all inexplicably have American (and sometimes English) accents and are not speaking German, but the cast all convey the tense inner turmoil each character is going through as they decide who to side with. It was truly one of the better historical films I have seen.
Best of all, you can catch it right here on CHARGE! at 12:00PM EST/PST on Sunday, March 27th.
But, before you settle in to watch this classic piece of historical mastery, I’m going to give you the tools with which to truly appreciate the Valkyrie story. Below are some of the most important things this movie got right…and a few of the things it got wrong when it came to the real life events that inspired ‘Valkyrie.’
Things They Got Right
Costumes/Props/Vehicles: All of the costumes are either authentic military uniforms or clothing of the time. The details are spot on down to the various medals the characters wear. For a scene involving telecommunications, the set designer acquired over 30 exact period teletype machines. The P-40s used are all authentic. The tanks are real! Do you know how hard it is to get an authentic 1930s tank? Most films just rebuild those. The planes are authentic too. The only problem is the aforementioned plane that injures Stauffenberg in the opening scene drops bombs that it does not actually have the capacity to carry.
Some of the messages delivered in the film are the real messages dug out of archives; now that’s going above and beyond. Additionally, despite Cruise’s involvement, they managed to get permission from Germany to shoot in the real Bendleblock building where Stauffenberg was executed (spoiler sorry).
The shining jewel, however, is Hitler’s headquarters, also known as the Wolf’s Liar. The production spent 3 months building an exact replica. Historians say it is authentic from the inside the to the mosquitoes seen flying around outside.
The Plot: For the most part, the plan was conceived and carried out exactly as portrayed by the film. Early in the film, a bomb is placed on Hitler’s plane, but it fails to go off. The characters then have to retrieve the bomb from the S.S. which is disguised in a liquor box. I thought for sure this was a convenient Hollywood cliche inserted in the opening to build tension, but it really happened! In fact, the full story leading up to July 20th has other assassination attempts that were not even included simply because they didn’t have time.
Things They Got Wrong
Tresckow Didn’t Retrieve the Liquor Bomb: In one of the movie’s tensest scenes, a major character retrieves the liquor bomb from the S.S. without revealing it’s contents. In reality, this was carried out by one of his aides. Sheesh, imagine being an intern and getting that job.
Haeften Didn’t Step In Front: At the end of the film, the young conspirator Werner Von Haeften steps in front of Stauffenberg’s firing line, revealing himself to be a traitor. He is shot in front of Stauffenberg as they share a knowing glance. Haeften seems at peace with his decision. In reality, this never happened. Haeften was discovered and executed after the initial Bendleblock executions.
Hitler didn’t approve review Valkyrie in person for Stauffenberg: Valkyrie basically refers to an executive order which calls for the reserve army to step up in the case of a military coup. Stauffenberg’s plan was to assassinate Hitler, then use army radio frequencies to announce the S.S. was attempting a coup and have them arrested. Once they were away, Stauffenberg and his allies could instill new leadership. First, however, they needed Hitler to approve the rewritten declaration that explicitly ordered the reserve army (which Stauffenberg fronted) to be called upon to eradicate threats. In the film, Stauffenberg sweats it out while Hitler reviews it. In real life, however, it was approved separately and then sent to Stauffenberg.
Stauffenberg’s Plan: It wasn’t really Stauffenberg’s plan. The film portrays him as a man on a mission, the de facto leader of the conspirators. It suggests that his vigor is the inspiration that pushes other into the resistance. In reality, Colonel Henning Von Tresckow did most of the legwork. He managed to get a great many resistors assigned under his command, making his officers a hivemind for conspiracy. There, several plans to assassinate Hitler were conceived, but they were all aborted or failed. Historically, the other military leaders did not waver their decisions or need as much guidance as they receive in the film. Hitler had many steadfast dissenters and critics in the German military, but the S.S. was a powerful regime to remove.
Stauffenberg himself: This is actually the biggest misstep of the film. Stauffenberg is portrayed as a straightforward hero, but his life story is not so simple. Earlier in his career, Stauffenberg was a major support of Hitler and the National Socialism ideals he preached. He and Tresckow both participated in heinous massacres on the eastern front, and Stauffenberg believed in Nazism and was even an anti-semite. Although he was very much opposed to genocide as most German leaders were, he did believe that the removal of Jewish culture would be beneficial to his country. Stauffenberg, as well as others, only began to oppose Hitler outright when it looked as though the war was no longer winnable. In fact, the opposition to Hitler was mostly lead by rich conservatives who were upset they lost power when he took over.
The saddest part is, expert historians have come to a consensus that even after a successful assassination, the rebels would have been overpowered and Hitler’s right-hand man would be put in place to resume his vision. The problem is, they attempted a military coup that did not involve the many citizens of Germany who were hostile towards the Nazi regime (and ready to fight it to the death with proper leadership), which ultimately limited its chances of success in the long run.
Despite all this, there’s no denying that Valkyrie is a wholly fascinating story. It’s also perfectly clear why the filmmakers opted to make the changes they did, cutting out many of the blurred lines and gray areas that existed with the personalities in the real-life plan, instead opting to focus on the tension and complexity that would have been associated with concocting such a daring plan to take down the most-feared man in the world.
Catch Valkyrie on CHARGE! on Sunday, May 27th, at 12:00PM EST/PST.