'The Bunker': a tiresome drama you can't blame on Hitler

"While much is too strange to believe, nothing is too strange to have happened." That's the Thomas Hardy quotation in which refuge is sought by those responsible for the unremittingly grim failure of "The Bunker" (CBS, Tuesday, Jan. 27, 8-11 p.m., check local listings).

Better read the above quotation this way: "If you have found unconvincing the three-hour ordeal you have just been submitted to, don't blame us."

A totally miscast Anthony Hopkins, capable of Emmy Award-winning performances in the past, does not manage to make Adolf Hitler a believable character for one minute -- even if you admit that Adolf Hitler was not a very believable or understandable character in real life.

Based on the book by James O'Donnell, "The Bunker" follows all of the major Nazis into the Berlin bunkers as Hitler waits underground with his chosen few for a turnaround in the war. He is joined by Eva Braun, played in very ladylike fashion by Susan Blakely and by the whole cast of Nazi characters we all have come to know so well -- Speer, Borman, Goebbels, et al. -- all with very British accents, by the way, except for the American accents thrown in for good measure. Well, at least we were spared the phony "Cherman" accents one usually associates with Hitlerian drama.

However, you can't blame Hitler entirely for this unrelentingly tiresome drama. Produced and directed by George Schaefer, with a John Gay script, it manages to convert an ominous, tragic, insane situation into a series of grueling tragi-comic scenes, with Hopkins switching from bumbling ass to tender child-lover to maniacal rascal in quick succession. There are several poignant moments, usually involving the needless sacrifice of children. And while the facts may be more or less accurate, I constantly had the feeling I was watching an opera without music, a libretto without the soaring arias that bring it to life.

Albert Speer himself has written about the Third Reich, and of course there are excellent books on the same topic by William Shirer, John Toland, and others. You will do better to read about the period than spend three interminable hours seemingly underground, watching earnest actors desperately trying to breathe life into a comic- strip drama about it.

Even though experts have supposedly re-created the bunker just as it was, from the very start "The Bunker" seems as doomed to failure as was the epic period it does not manage to depict with any feeling of authenticity as to time or character.

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