The time is the nineteen-thirties in Nazi Germany, and the young followers of the Fuhrer, The Hitler Youth, often assemble at rallies to proclaim their allegiance to the cause, but to American Professor Nichols (Kent Smith), who teaches in an American school in the country, this is a disturbing development. He is dismayed to see his pupils fighting with the pupils of the German school next to his establishment of learning, something that seems to be happening almost daily, and one of the most ardent adherents to the Nazi cause is Karl Bruner (Tim Holt), who was born in the United States but considers himself German. Then there’s Nichols' pupil Anna Miller (Bonita Granville), a German who considers herself American…
It sounds like the set-up for a hellish sitcom, yet while the situation was hellish, humour was not the intention, as this was one of the Hollywood propaganda movies of the war years that audiences flocked to see. Especially this one; it was possibly the biggest hit its studio RKO ever had, outgrossing many of their better thought of, and frankly more enduring, classics, which might mean the audience for it may be strictly for those with an interest historically rather than those seeking entertainment. Certainly in its overearnest manner it came across as rather campy, though it had to be kept in mind what they were trying to convey, the full horror of indoctrination by a corrupt and murderous regime.
It may not look too slick today, but Hitler's Children was lapped up across the Allied territories who didn't mind the mixture of accents, with Holt and Granville sounding not the least bit German and the chanting youths patently shouting with an American twang to their tones. They also didn’t mind the high melodrama of the plot, which started hokey and built to a near-hysteria as events drew to a tumultuous close, bringing across the tragedy of the premise by having both Anna and Karl fall for one another, then seeing the fascist regime contrive to split them up. We first see the pair getting to know one another under the benevolent eye of Nichols, until Anna realises how Karl is embracing the sick Nazi ideology.
They don't meet with one another for a few more years, by which time Karl is a rising star in the Nazi ranks and Anna has just been forced to be an assistant in a labour camp, where Nichols meets her and she sees Karl again for the first time in ages. We also get to see the chilling examples of young women giving up their bodies for the Nazis, getting pregnant to produce obedient little Aryans, though we don’t actually see the process, of course, and it is here where Anna begins to get through to Karl as they are still in love. But what chance does their romance have in the face of the monolithic authorities? As this was in the "awful warning" category of film, don’t expect a happy ending.
Actually, one had to wonder if the author of a far better thought of anti-totalitarian work had ever seen Hitler’s Children, because there were a good few similarities to George Orwell's famed novel Nineteen-Eighty-Four, what with the doomed lovers trapped in a harsh society, forced to deny their love, get caught up in frequent rallies to decry their supposed enemies, and even be tortured – Anna is tied to a pillar and whipped at one point. Did Orwell visit a cinema in the war years and catch this, as so many millions did? Not that this was as accomplished as his book, but it made you think. Although designed as a B-movie, it did better than a host of A-pictures combined, possibly because it was not stinting on the lurid aspects: it was quite something to see wholesome teen sleuth Nancy Drew (as Granville was then best known) stuck in such a dreadful set of events. It was certainly the biggest effort anyone here was ever involved with, albeit not by the production's deliberate design, a necessary item but a bit of a relic to modern sensibilities. Music by Roy Webb.