“Jojo Rabbit” dares to be a slice of Third Reich hipster whimsy about an awkward lad and budding 10-year-old Hitler youth (Roman Griffin Davis), whose faithful imaginary companion is none other than a rather buffoonish iteration of Der Fuhrer himself. As played by the dark satire’s half-Jewish writer/director Taika Waititi in khaki pantaloons and askew mini-mustache, this demented dictator starts out as a goofy father substitute who encourages Jojo to be a good Nazi as he struggles to learn such skills as killing rabbits and throwing a grenade – an act that ends rather badly. But by the end, this alt-world Adolf grows resentful that his reign in the real life has come to an end while Jojo literally gives the hateful being the heave-ho and banishes him from his life forever.
Film fans and history buffs know all too well that this is far from the first time that cinema has treated Hitler as a sick joke, a maniacal madman whose despicable agenda and horrifying atrocities are made impotent when presented as a farce. Some critics found “Jojo’s” mission of poking fun at the Third Reich in a coming-of-age story a bit of a mismatch. However, the audiences at this year’s Toronto International Film Festival saw fit to honor Waititi’s efforts with the coveted People’s Choice Award – which was won last year by “Green Book,” a civil-rights era road trip that ended with an Oscar for Best Picture.
Tour our photo gallery above featuring some of the more notable examples of filmed entertainment made by those who dared to turn one of the most evil beings who ever walked the planet into a farcical blowhard to be laughed at.
“Bosko’s Picture Show” (1933)
The first of Warner Bros. animated shorts that took a cameo jab at the German featured Bosko, a young black boy who wears a bowler hat, as he watches newsreels in a movie theater has a final scene with the dictator in Pretzel, Germany, as the Nazi leader chases comic actor Jimmy Durante with an axe. This Hitler is a ruthless and violent doofus in lederhosen and an armband swastika. In 1943’s “Daffy — The Commando,” the irascible duck hits Hitler on the head with a mallet.
“You Natzy Spy” (1940)
The Three Stooges – Moe Howard, Larry Fine and Curly Howard — were among the first to treat Hitler as a joke in this 1940 short. Moe lampooned Germany’s madman in the guise of Moe Hailstone, the dictator of the fictional country of Moronika, along with flunkies Gallstone (Curly as a Hermann Goring figure) and Pebble (Larry as a Joseph Goebbels type). One piece of shtick: Larry’s character saws off the corners of a square table so it is ready for a round-table meeting. In a 1941 sequel, “I’ll Never Heil Again,” the Stooges reprise their roles as the fascist Gallstone butts heads with the League of Nations. In other shorts, the trio referred to Hitler as Schicklgruber – a reference to Adolf’s father’s birth name.
“The Great Dictator” (1940)
The Little Tramp silent actor Charlie Chaplin took on a big target in major way in his first true talkie as the filmmaker plays both Adenoid Hynkel, the ruthless dictator of Tomainia, as well as a Jewish WWI veteran who lost his memory after a plane crash while saving the wounded pilot. He returns to being a barber in a ghetto as he tries to resist persecution by the storm troopers, but is rescued from hanging by the pilot he saved. Hynkel, meanwhile, engages in a food fight set off by the presence of a jar of English mustard on a buffet table with Benzino Napaloni, dictator of Bacteria (Jack Oakie). The Barber ends up impersonating Hynkel when their identities get confused and he delivers a message of hope for the future, saying, “Let us fight to free the world, to do away national barriers, to do away with greed, with hate and intolerance.” The film was nominated for five Academy Awards, including Best Production, Best Actor, Supporting Actor and original screenplay.
“Der Fuehrer’s Face” (1942)
This Disney wartime propaganda cartoon that placed Donald Duck in a nightmare setting as a factory worker in Nazi Germany was inspired by a Spike Jones version of the title song. As a band composed of Axis leaders march outside in the early morning, Donald gives a heil salute in his sleep. He awakes when the band pokes him with bayonet. He then begins a 48-hour daily shift putting caps on artillery shells on an assembly line while delivering a salute when images of Hitler pass by. Turns out, it was all a horrible dream as sees a miniature Statue of Liberty and realizes he is in the United States. The short ends with Hitler getting a tomato thrown in his face that dissolves into the words “The End.” The cartoon won Best Animated Short Film at the 15th Academy Awards.
“To Be or Not to Be” (1942)
In Warsaw just before the 1939 Nazi invasion, a troupe of Polish actors including Josef Tura (Jack Benny) and his wife Maria (Carole Lombard) rehearse “Gestapo,” a play satirizing Nazis. One player , Bronski (Tom Dugan), proves he can get away with impersonating Hitler on the street. When the company performs “Hamlet” with Tura playing the Danish prince, Maria begins a chaste relationship with a pilot (Robert Stack) whenever her husband delivers Shakespeare’s “To be or not to be” soliloquy. Everything changes when Germany invades Poland and the pilot joins the fight. The troupe gets involved in a stunt to trap a Polish professor who is a turncoat spy as they wear their “Gestapo” costumes and disguise the theater into a headquarters with props from the play. From there, the actors pose as Hitler and his entourage while watching the play and the satire expands into an anti-fascist sex farce as Maria pretends to be Hitler’s mistress and scares off a bumbling Gestapo would-be suitor. While some critics found the film in bad taste, it is now regarded as one of director Ernst Lubitsch‘s best movies.
“The Producers” (1968)
Mel Brooks‘ first lampooning of Hitler. Max Bialystock (Zero Mostel) was once a successful Broadway producer but he has fallen on hard times, The greedy fraud relies on a parade of little old ladies invest in his productions while he romances them. Nebbishy accountant Leopold Bloom (Gene Wilder) is tasked to audit Max’s accounts and discovers a $2,000 discrepancy in the numbers concerning his last play. As Leo agrees to hide the fraud, he says out loud that a producer can make a lot more money with a flop than a hit by overselling shares, since it is likely no one will audit the books. They find the perfect bad script to produce — “Springtime for Hitler: A Gay Romp With Adolf and Eva at Berchtesgaden” written by a deranged ex-Nazi (Kenneth Mars). They hire an equally inept director and a dippy hippie named Lorenzo Saint DuBois aka L.S.D. (Dick Shawn, who delivers the flower-power Adolf you have been waiting for, love beads and all). Instead of being a disaster, the show — complete with a Busby-Berkeley-style swastika done by a chorus line — becomes a massive hit as it is perceived as satire. The movie, which won an Oscar for original screenplay, became a smash Broadway musical in 2001 that won a record 12 Tonys, which was adapted into a 2005 film with Nathan Lane and Matthew Broderick.
“History of the World, Part I” (1981)
Attached to this anthology spoof directed by Brooks is a teaser for Part II — a sequel that does not exist– that previews a segment called “Hitler on Ice.”
“The Ace of Aces” (1982)
This French-German comedy set in Berlin during the 1936 Olympics when Hitler reigned stars John-Paul Belmondo as a French boxer turned trainer who risks his one shot at winning a boxing medal to save a Jewish boy and his family with the help of a German officer he befriended in World War I. Actor Gunter Meisner shows up not just as Adolf –who is mocked for his disapproval of black runner Jesse Owens’ achievements — but also as his bitterly jealous sister Angela in drag. Belmondo eventually dresses as an SS officer and steals Hitler’s car for their getaway.
“To Be or Not to Be” (1983)
This Brooks remake of the Lubitsch original retains much of the first version’s dialogue and plot — but with one major change. He combines Bronski, the Hitler impersonator, and the acting company’s hammy leading man Tura into a single character played by himself. Meanwhile, the treacherous Polish professor (Jose Ferrer) who is actually a spy is transformed into more of a clownish figure. For his performance as a doltish SS colonel, Charles Durning was nominated for a supporting actor Oscar.
Be sure to make your Oscar nominee predictions today so that Hollywood insiders can see how their films and performers are faring in our odds. You can keep changing your predictions as often as you like until just before nominees are announced on January 13. And join in the fun debate over the 2020 Academy Awards taking place right now with Hollywood insiders in our film forums. Read more Gold Derby entertainment news.