Snide & Prejudice

Michael Davidson/

Michael Davidson/

Adolf Hitler ….. Angus MacFadyen

Dr. Sam Cohen ….. Rene Auberjonois

Goering ….. Brion James

Schaub ….. Sam Bottoms

Himmler ….. Joseph Bottoms

Goebbels ….. Michael Zelnicker

Eva Braun ….. T.C. Warner

Geli ….. Mena Suvari

Renate Muller ….. Claudia Christian

Pablo Picasso ….. Mick Fleetwood

Von Ludendorf ….. Richard Moll

Hess ….. Richard Edson

Sheffield ….. J.D. Johnston

Hindenberg ….. Brian McDermott

The rise of Hitler is played out by inmates of a tony L.A. insane asylum in Philippe Mora’s neatly titled “Snide & Prejudice,” the helmer’s most ambitious effort in a while and almost a companion piece to his first feature-length film, “Swastika” (1973). Witty, abrasive talkfest will probably fare well on TV and video, with theatrical outings more limited; niche distribution is indicated for potentially controversial cult item. The bravura performance of Angus MacFadyen in the Hitler role should also draw attention.

Mora’s “Swastika” was a docu that used rarely seen home movies of Hitler to provide a rare insight into the man. Now the director, perhaps inspired by the ‘ 60s play “The Persecution and Assassination of Jean-Paul Marat …,” depicts the rise to power of one of the world’s most potent forces of evil as seen through the eyes of madmen.

The asylum, called the Temporal Displacement Foundation and presided over by avuncular Dr. Sam Cohen (Rene Auberjonois giving a delicious perf), specializes in dealing with patients who fantasize they’re famous historical characters. Inmate Michael Davidson (MacFadyen) is convinced he’s Hitler, and knows every intimate detail about the Fuhrer. As part of his therapy, Cohen encourages Davidson, and other inmates with Nazi leanings, to act out their fantasies.

Resulting film oddly resembles John Farrow’s wartime “The Hitler Gang,” which also explored the rise of Hitler and the Nazi Party. In Mora’s film, the diminutive Austrian convincingly bullies his way to the highest echelons of power in a defeated and divided Germany, railing against Communists and Jews, and convincing businessmen and community leaders that he has the answers to make Germany strong again.

He assembles his gang of supporters, with Brion James a standout as the uncouth Goering, and, as his power increases, ruthlessly eliminates opposition. Meanwhile, his sexual life is depicted in scenes with his young niece (Mena Suvari), who mysteriously dies after complaining about her uncle’s unnatural acts; with actress Renate Muller (Claudia Christian), who is threatened by Goebbels when she starts complaining about Hitler; and with the compliant Eva Braun (T.C. Warner).

These therapy sessions are often interrupted in amusing ways — once because Hitler’s uniform is at the dry cleaners and Davidson has difficulty playing the part without the trappings, and, on another occasion, when a patient who thinks he’s Pablo Picasso (Mick Fleetwood) stumbles onto the scene.

“Snide & Prejudice” is, by its nature, dominated by dialogue and performance, and could have worked equally well onstage. But despite what seems to have been a modest budget, Mora’s skill in exploring the lives and times of these evil characters should not be underestimated. Pic is often savagely funny, and MacFadyen’s Hitler is an astonishingly vivid characterization.

Snide & Prejudice

Production: A Bombastic Pictures production, in association with Vine Intl. Pictures. (International sales: Vine Intl., London.) Produced by Philippe Mora. Executive producers, Michael Luers, Mark Schouten. Co-producer, Steve Buhai. Directed, written by Philippe Mora.

Crew: Camera (Foto-Kem color), J.B. Letchinger; editor, Robyn T. Luers; music, Allan Zavod; production design, Pamela Krause Mora; costumes, Ann Lambert; line producer, Rod Greene; casting, Felicia Fasano. Reviewed at Cannes Film Festival (market), May 11, 1997. Running time: 119 MIN.

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