Most of the captured enemy film, newsreel clips and old government footage in "How Hitler Lost the War" seems awfully familiar. But at least this documentary (airing at 5:25 p.m. Saturday on Channel 28)--1 1/2 hours plus pledge breaks--starts off by advancing a challenging premise: that Germany would have lost World War II even if the United States had never entered the war.
Not that anyone who might take exception to that theme is going to be upset for long. "How Hitler Lost the War" could just as well have been titled "How This Program Lost Track of Its Premise."
We're told that to understand the premise, we'll have to retrace Hitler's rise to power. Deja vu for students of the conflict. Plus misinformation: One of the first things we hear is a former U.S. Army historian telling us that Hitler "grew up deprived of comfort and also deprived of love." Actually, as any decent Hitler biographer (Toland, Bullock) will tell you, young Adolf wasn't all that bad off economically, and Adolf's mother lavished love upon her favorite child.
More misinformation follows, but so does some striking footage (some of it from that incredible propaganda film "Triumph of the Will"), which--along with the memories of interviewed Germans--gets across Hitler's ability to mesmerize his audiences and to use new technology, such as radio.
All of this seems to be leading up to building a compelling case--perhaps that Hitler represented a Dionysian psyche capable of great genius and inevitable self-destruction. Instead, the program simply recounts Der Fuhrer's classic mistakes--the hesitancy before Dunkirk, the failure to invade Britain, the attack on the Soviet Union.
The program then leaps in just a few seconds from December '41 to December '44 and, to keep us hanging on through the final pledge break, says of the coming finale: "This part of the story is an amazing one, and few people, even today, know about it."
The "amazing story" turns out to be a superficial rehash of how German designers made a jet plane and other advances toward the end of the war--not exactly hot news to anyone who's read the war's history. Here we're thrown a new premise--that Hitler would have done a lot better if he'd built a whole bunch of these jets instead of spending time and money on V-1 and V-2 rockets (as if it mattered much at this stage of the war).
"How Hitler Lost the War" might have been much more valuable if it had concentrated on this aspect of the German war effort.