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The Bud Cort Hitler Movie
There’s a theory that the 1979 comedy Son of Hitler, in which Bud Cort portrays a timid woodworker who becomes a pawn in a Nazi resurgence because he is the illegitimate son of Adolf Hitler, was a real life application of The Producers. That is to say, an abysmal movie made deliberately so in the belief failure is often more profitable than success. Maybe this is too fanciful a thought — Son of Hitler may have just been a money laundering scheme. After all, it was conceived by one of Germany’s most famous bank robbers.
Burkhard Driest was a promising law student in the 1960s before he threw caution to the wind and plundered five and a half thousand marks from a Sparkasse savings bank. Driest spent three years in jail for his crime, after which he wrote the semi-autobiographical novel Die Verrohung des Franz Blum (The Brutalization of Frank Blum). In 1977, while working as an extra in Sam Peckinpah’s Cross of Iron, Driest conjured up an idea about a movie involving Hitler’s progeny. “I always thought Bud Cort would be good as Hitler’s son,” he later remarked, “because in a way he’s a very strong contrast to any kind of Hitlerism.”
Cort said he signed on for Son of Hitler because Driest and producer Gerg Goering (ahem — no relation to Hermann) hired Rod Amateau to direct. “I knew it would be important if Amateau was involved,” Cort enthused to The Hollywood Reporter. Amateau was probably best known for directing nearly every episode of “Dobie Gillis,” but he also worked on “Mr. Ed” and “My Mother The Car.” If people my age know Rod Amateau as the director of anything, it’s The Garbage Pail Kids Movie. God almighty, what a résumé.
As you might imagine, studios were not jumping at the chance to finance Son of Hitler (originally titled Hitler’s Son). The film’s $5 million budget was raised through a gaggle of private investors on both sides of the Atlantic. Authorities in West Germany tried to prevent Son of Hitler from shooting in their country, but there was apparently no stopping this bad idea. “We didn’t run into any overt animosity when we were shooting in Munich,” Cort said. “Only groans…our working title was Return to Munich but when we’d confide to someone we were doing a picture about a supposedly fictional son of Adolph Hitler, they’d groan and say, ‘We’re tired of Hitler and dragging all that up again.'”
It sounds like there was more animus between director and star. Amateau described Cort as neurasthenic to visiting Los Angeles Times reporter Bart Mills. Cort conceded that he was difficult. “I do fight for things other actors would let pass. Do I call Hitler my daddy or my papa? I think it should be papa. The authors heard about my changing it and they had a row. I had a stroke. There was a lot of screaming. I said I wanted to call my lawyer and my agent. It’s in my contract that I approve all changes. Eventually I agreed to reshoot the line their way. I did the worst acting I could.”
Dan Warfield from Stars & Stripes was also granted a set visit. At one point, he suggested to Cort that Son of Hitler’s premise was threadbare. “It could be another M*A*S*H,” the actor retorted. Going even further, co-star Peter Cushing, who plays the film’s top ranking Nazi, told Warfield that Son of Hitler “could be another Star Wars.” “Audiences are so unpredictable,” Cushing continued. “This is the sort of picture that will be sold by word of mouth.”
Or not sold at all. Apart from a special screening in London in January 1979, it’s unclear if Son of Hitler was ever actually released anywhere in an official capacity. A print was liberated at some point — Son of Hitler is on YouTube in its entirety. Five minutes was enough for me. Cort’s doe-eyed yokel, replete in lederhosen, mugs like there’s no morgen as an elder in ill health attempts to reveal his true heritage. Naturally, a fatal heart attack occurs between the words “Adolf” and “Hitler.” Interspersed are scenes of Cushing and the brute Leo Gordon exchanging dialogue that would embarrass Rock N’ Roll High School Forever.
Then comes the title sequence, where Son of Hitler is written in what looks like crayon over newsreel footage of Hitler and the whole thing is scored by a “comical” military march. Sorry folks, that’s where I draw the line with this Lil’ Hitler garbage. I felt like I was being poisoned. It’s my understanding that the film eventually reveals that Cort’s character has never even heard of his real dad and would rather find a girlfriend than lead the Fourth Reich. Apparently, hijinks ensue.
Son of Hitler mastermind Burkhard Driest remained a scoundrel of repute in the decades that followed. Amongst his notable later scandals was a 1995 tv series where a scripted stabbing (his own) was presented as documentary fact. Driest did a 180 to Buddhism in the 21st Century, saying in 2009, “There is no longer any reason to build up any aggression against me. I can hardly lift a stone, let alone a club, so take it easy.” Driest died in 2020 following a long illness.
As for Bud Cort, I’ve heard he wasn’t thrilled with what ended up on the screen in Son of Hitler and derided the movie as “a booger.” Well, they can’t all be Harold and Maude.