Public Domain Theater: Hitler – Dead or Alive (& “Daffy – The Commando”)

Welcome to Public Domain Theater, your home for the wonderful world of films that have (in the United States, at least) fallen into the public domain, and are free for everyone to see!

This month, we go back to that strange time when Hollywood was making movies about World War II while World War II was still going on. Perhaps because it didn’t have the weight of history behind it then, perhaps because the full scope of the Holocaust was not known, or perhaps because people were getting more than enough grim takes on the war from news broadcasts, these films often treated the subject with a more lighthearted touch than you’d expect.

Such as our feature film, Hitler – Dead or Alive, released in 1942 and starring Ward Bond. The plot? A trio of Prohibition-era gangsters, recently released from Alcatraz, decide to pull one last job: a million-dollar contract to rub out Hitler. These tough talking hoodlums treat whacking Adolph as just another hit, dismissing the perils of infiltrating Nazi Germany with, “We used to run a beer racket in Milwaukee – we’ll get along all right.”

It’s not without its dark moments, and a big speech about standing up to military strongmen, but overall it’s a rousing adventure story that gets some good comedy out of planting wiseguy gangsters in a war setting. At one point, they shoot down a German plane with a tommy gun; that about says it all.

But if that film went quasi-comedic, leave it to the folks at Termite Terrace to turn the Second War to End All Wars into a full-blown farce. Once again, irrepressible screwball Daffy Duck is pitted against Nazi agents, this time in “Daffy – The Commando”. From the moment he’s airdropped into Germany, it’s one bit of slapstick and lunacy after another, and ends with Daffy taking on Ol’ Adolph himself.

They may not be as moving as Schindler’s List, but if you want some films showing how sticking it to the Nazis could be a gay old time, come check out these offerings from the public domain!

Opening Cartoon:

Feature Presentation: