This week on An Alan Smithee Podcast we look at two World War II films about heroines fighting Nazis armed with only their wits and their breasts: Black Book and Bloodrayne: The Third Reich.
This episode also marks our last look at an Uwe Boll film, at least for a while. As the man’s filmmaking improves, it just gets harder to mock him for stupid technical choices that were once abundant in his early works like House of the Dead. Worse, he has no particular personal hang-ups to creep their way into his stories like an Ed Wood, Tommy “The Room” Wiseau or James “Birdemic” Nguyen. If Uwe Boll is making a cheap movie about vampires in an old West town, as we saw in our Bloodrayne II episode, that’s exactly what it’s going to be about. We’d have more luck finding subtext in a Sci-Fi Channel Original Movie.
Uwe Boll doesn’t seem to make these bad video game licensed action movies because he enjoys them, but to fund a few of his more personal film projects and get great deals on German tax incentives for funds. His only distinguishing stylistic trademarks are boobs and mechanically rote violence. Thus does Bloodrayne: The Third Reich bring back his Ingenue Natassia Malthe as Bloodrayne the vampire ass-kicker with twice as much nudity, and three times as gratuitous. This film may contain the most gratuitous lesbian scene in the history of b-movies.
Bloodrayne: The Third Reich is, like Quentin Tarantino’s Inglourious Basterds, only as reverential to the events of World War II as need be to fulfill quotas for the World War II genre. The low budget production values only add to Boll’s workmanlike lack of taste, especially in the opening sequence where Bloodrayne and some resistance fighters liberate a concentration camp-bound train car with less prisoners inside than a coffeeklatsch on Passover. The film’s best actor is Clint Howard, who occasionally lends his strange face to low budget horror or sci-fi, playing “Dr. Mangler” – a sensitive, respectful nod to the man who made infamous Nazi doctors of human experiments, Joseph Mengele. To give Uwe credit, he only thinks he’s goofing on Nazis. Yet how ignorant and uncaring toward history do you have to be to end your World War II movie with the line, “Guten Tag, motherfuckers”? And he’s German!
Speaking of tasteless, and moving slightly elsewhere in the European continent, Dutch filmmaker Paul Verhoeven was met with some skepticism in the mid-2000s when he announced his long awaited return to filmmaking (after the ill-respected Hollow Man of 2000) would be a World War II film produced in his native Netherlands, the 2006 release Black Book (Zwartboek), most critics assumed it would be similar to his pulpy American hi-gloss Hollywood trash but in World War II: Basic Instinct with Nazis. That film would have been spectacular in ways that Inglourious Basterds only hinted at, yet the resulting work is far and away the most mature, assured work from Verhoeven since Robocop, or anything from the time before Verhoeven came to America.
Black Book was apparently a tremendous success in the Netherlands and the only reason one could venture why the film was rejected by the Academy Awards for Best Foreign Picture is payback for Verhoeven having turned his back on the enclave of Hollywood to go back overseas. The film takes all of Verhoeven’s accumulated filmmaking skills and applies them to a World War II yarn which is part pulpy thriller and another part empathic tale of survival, inspired in part by Verhoeven’s own childhood on the run during the war. The heroine, played by Milhouse’s great-aunt Carice van Houten, is a Jew hiding in plain sight with dyed-blone hair amongst the Nazis as a secretary secretly spying for the resistance.
The pulpy elements of Black Book are pulpy as hell; the premise of a hot Jewess screwing and screwing with the Nazis is both pulpier than Inglourious Basters and less pulpy than than the Jew-amongst-Nazis drama Europa, Europa.” Carice van Houten’s furtive, oft-agonized role as Rachel Stein / Ellis de Vries is perhaps best understood in the context of Verhoeven’s other put-upon but strong heroines. There’s the dogfood-eating but proud Nomi Malone (Elizabeth Berkley in Showgirls), medieval firebrand Agnes (Jennifer Jason Leigh in Flesh + Blood), and who could forget the toughest female cop this side of Heather Locklear, Anne Lewis (Nancy Allen) of Robocop?
The corniest pulp element of Black Book is probably the one which involves Rachel sleeping with a Nazi SS officer who apparently discovers her Jewishness, and doesn’t seem to care. The difference between Verhoeven and Boll is that while Boll including such a scene in his upcoming film Aushwitz (really? yes, really) Verhoeven’s gimmicky film about a Jewess in hiding is offset by an informed perspective on deadly historical realities, like people who pretended to be benefactors of Jews on the run only to double cross them and take their money while leaving them for dead. Amidst twists like that in Black Book there is full frontal Nazi nudity and literal buckets of shit dumped on our long-suffering heroine, proving that if there’s one director who can out-trash and out-class Uwe Boll in the same movie, it’s Paul Verhoeven.
NEXT EPISODE: MAE WEST SPECIAL! (SHE DONE HIM WRONG (1993, LOWELL SHERMAN) & SEXTETTE (1978, KEN HUGHES)