Stauffenberg (2004 Germany) and Valkyrie (2008 – US) Compared

After having watched the excellent Valkyrie (here is my review), starring Tom Cruise, I wanted to see how the Germans had treated the very same story just a few years prior to the US production. Stauffenberg is a TV production, starring Sebastian Koch (Black Book, Das Leben der Anderen) as Stauffenberg. Ulrich Tukur (Das Leben der Anderen, The White Ribbon) can be seen in the role of Henning von Tresckow. While Carice van Houten who played Stauffenberg’s wife in Valkyrie looks very different from the real Nina von Stauffenberg, Nina Kunzendorf’s likeness is uncanny.

I don’t think it’s of any use to summarize the movie. Since it’s a true story the plots of the two films are almost identical, however there are some significant differences in the way the story is told which make it worthwhile to compare the two movies.

The title Stauffenberg already indicates that the focus is much less on Operation Valkyrie than on the man Stauffenberg himself. And that’s actually the biggest problem of this TV production. It is quite confusing and for someone not familiar with the story, it isn’t clear what Operation Valkyrie is. I was glad I had seen the US film first or I would have been a bit lost as I wasn’t familiar with the whole story.

While Valkyrie starts with Stauffenberg in Africa, it starts much earlier in this film. We see Stauffenberg first in Berlin, whit his fiancée and future wife Nina, later he is in Poland and only then in Africa. This helps to understand his motivations and his development from someone who believed in Hitler to somebody who was entirely disgusted and ready to kill the man.

What worked far better in this TV production is to make us understand why the assassination failed. The characters in this film are portrayed as determined but they are no sleek robots. There are many mishaps and they are far from perfect. We even get the impression that they were a bit too hasty and that the whole project would have needed more planning. In Valkyrie we don’t really understand why it doesn’t work. Everything seemed so perfect.

What also worked far better here is the human and emotional dimension. These people are scared. They are determined but anxious as well and when they are caught, things do not go well. One of them isn’t even capable of shooting himself, he misses first, tries again, ends up badly wounded and has then to be shot by someone else while in Valkyrie he puts the gun to his head, shoots and is dead right away.

While far from perfect and not as carefully – and one would argue artificially -orchestrated as Valkyrie, Stauffenberg feels emotionally true and is very watchable. If you didn’t like Tom Cruise you might even prefer this smaller scale production.

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Valkyrie (2008) Operation Valkyrie or The Last Attempt to Assassinate Hitler

I suppose it wasn’t in Eichmann‘s favour that I re-watched Valkyrie just before I saw Eichmann. I would say I liked Valkyrie even better the second time. I’m sure it is a movie which aims at entertaining and plays on emotions but at least that is very well done and Tom Cruise is outstanding in this movie. I do have huge problems with the man Tom Cruise but I can’t help admiring the actor.

The movie opens in North Africa in 1942. Colonel Claus von Stauffenberg (Tom Cruise) is far from content with the regime and openly utters his criticism. Before retreating with his troops he gets under attack and loses his right hand, an eye and two fingers on the left hand.

Some time later, back in Berlin, after a painful recovery, he is recruited by a group of high German officers and politicians who want to overthrow the regime. They think it is of the highest importance to do something in order to let the world see that there were not only Nazis in Germany.  The way to go according to these men is to assassinate Hitler. Preferably together with Himmler. After several failed attempts they recruit von Stauffenberg. He seems to be the only one to be able to come up with a plan and to see it through.

Assassinating Hitler isn’t enough. At the same time the group needs to assure that the Army is on their side. The idea von Stauffeberg comes up with is ingenious and based on adapting “Operation Valkyrie” to their own needs.  The amended Operation Valkyrie would enable them to seize control of Berlin after the assassination of the Führer.

As this movie is based on historical facts, I don’t suppose it is a spoiler to say that they failed. The plan was cunning, the execution well done but bad luck and bad timing prevented a success. All the men participating in the coup were executed.  This is one of those movies during which we hope against all hope and constantly wonder why it didn’t work.

Just like Sophie Scholl, Valkyrie manages to show what courageous and unselfish people are capable of doing.

The movie Eichmann illustrates very well that a fascinating topic doesn’t guarantee a good movie. Even though Valkyrie is a US-German co-production it’s pure Hollywood but it’s very well acted and gripping despite the fact that we know the outcome.

The way the story is told and the cast makes this such a good movie. Apart from Tom Cruise, the actors worth mentioning are Kenneth Branagh as Major-General Henning von Tresckow, Bill Nighy as General Freidrich Olbricht, Thomas Kretschmann as Major Otto Ernst Remer and Carice van Houten as Nina von Stauffenberg. The only bad choice was David Bamber as Hitler. I think he’s the worst Hitler I’ve ever seen.

Valkyrie is based on a great story and very well told. While it’s not flawless, it’s still a must-see.