How about this — honesty in showbiz! The press handout starts with: “Before you see the Tom Cruise Hollywood blockbuster [‘Valkyrie’]…” the History Channel advised us to view their “Valkyrie: The Plot To Kill Hitler.” So I did last night when the special made its first two-hour airing.
I wasn’t alone, 1.5 million other viewers also tuned in, putting the special 36% above the average of the web’s better offerings. And it will air again next month, closer to the Dec. 26 opening day of the Tom Cruise-UA starrer. The theatrical feature has long been in development-production, but the tv’er began the road to reality 12-18 months ago, said History’s senior vice-president of programming and development David McKillop. And he said no one at the History Channel has seen any of the Cruise-controlled feature’s footage. But of course the tv’er is now out in the open for the feature folk to see.
And open it is — maybe too open, early-on, delaying the meat of the show: the nail-biting final chapter recounting the attempted assassination of Adolph Hitler by officers led by Col. Claus von Stauffenberg (played by Cruise in the feature). Following the opening sequences showing the animal-like annihilation of Jews by Hitler and his soul-less fellow countrymen, it seems unreal that the attempted assassination took so long to come about. But their trial by fellow officers and countrymen points up the unending murderous hate of their countrymen. The plotters’ slow-hanging death only points out samples of the torture to which they subjected their death-camp millions. It leaves a never-to-be forgotten reminder.
The tv’er goes beyond the now-too-painfully familiar footage of mass murder and includes personal, warm stories of the principals involved in the attempted Hitler finale. Stauffenberg’s military career included service in the African campaign during which he suffered the loss of a hand and an eye — although later scenes in the doc do not illustrate him with the eye patch which has become such a visual attraction for the photos released of Cruise as the Colonel. Also making the piece totally personal are scenes of Stauffenberg, his murdered wife and four children. Can these sequences also be glimpses of Cruise in the feature? “Showing real-life family members of the subject is part of our [History Channel]’s technique,” McKillop said, emphasizing their many awards. The interviews make the courtroom sequences of 60 years ago real — and the deaths chilling.
Among those interviewed for the documentary is Chris McQuarrie, producer-screenwriter of the feature film. Thanks, History Channel, for the invitation — but I’ll also see Tom Cruise and “Valkyrie.”