Israel Govt Press Office/Wikipedia.)
The Eichmann Show
I caught up with this BBC TV film from 2015 a couple of weeks back, late one night on SBS. Quite short, not much more than an hour and a half in length (plus commercials), but a really absorbing little movie.
The Eichmann of the title is Adolf Eichmann, a German Nazi bureaucrat who played a major role in carrying out the Holocaust in World War II. After the war, he fled to South America. He was tracked down there by the Israeli secret service, kidnapped in 1960, and spirited back to Israel where he was put on trial for war crimes in 1961. He was convicted, and eventually hanged in 1962.
The trial was filmed by a TV company from the US. The BBC movie of 2015 is a dramatisation of the real-life story of how the Eichmann trial was filmed. In 1960, US TV producer Milton Fruchtman (played in the 2015 film by British actor Martin Freeman) was convinced the upcoming Eichmann trial must be filmed, so the world could see what the Holocaust really meant. After convincing an initially reluctant Israeli government, he hired an American director, Leo Hurwitz, who'd been previously blacklisted during the McCarthy anti-Communist witchhunts of the 1950s. In the 2015 movie, Hurwitz is played by the Australian actor, Anthony LaPaglia.
Apart from getting the Israeli government onside, the other major practical problem the US film crew had was convincing the Israeli judges to allow TV cameras in their court room. Initially they said no; cameras would be too disruptive of the proceedings. Then, the Americans came up with the idea of building false walls in the court room, with windows, and the TV cameras would hide behind the windows in the false walls. Finally, the Israeli judges agreed to this.
Once filming got under way, the Americans prepared an edited video package at the end of each day's court proceedings, then despatched those packages by air to dozens of overseas countries who screened them on their nightly news bulletins. In this way, the Eichmann trial gained world-wide publicity and re-awakened major interest in the Holocaust. It is sometimes said that these edited tapes of the Eichmann trial were the world's first-ever major TV documentary series. Worries by Fruchtman and Hurwitz that their TV coverage would be overshadowed by Soviet cosmonaut Yuri Gagarin's space flight (he was the first man in space) and the Bay of Pigs invasion in Cuba – all these events occurred at the same time – proved mainly, if not entirely, groundless. Of more concern were anonymous death threats, which the TV crew decided to ignore. The 2015 film portrays all this tellingly. Even more telling, is how the US TV producers were increasingly affected and frustrated by Eichmann's refusal to show remorse and “fess up” in the face of overwhelming evidence.
Though Eichmann is portrayed in a few brief scenes by a modern actor, most of the time he is played by himself. The modern (colour) footage of this 2015 drama is cleverly and intriguingly intercut with real-life (black and white – colour TV was not then available) footage from the actual 1961 trial. Such is the editing and production skill of the 2015 movie makers, that this amalgamation of the original and the re-created, the black-and-white and the colour, works beautifully. For the history buff, it is fascinating to see this extensive, original film of the real-life Eichmann in the Israeli court room.
I am old enough that I remember the Eichmann trial. I was in my early high school years in Cairns. While I wouldn't say the trial had extensive coverage in the North Queensland media of the day - bear in mind TV didn't arrive in Cairns until the mid-1960s - it was certainly mentioned enough in other media outlets that it made a lasting impression on me. However, I think it probably fair to say that, contrary to the more positive "spin" in the 2015 movie, I, as a youngster, and probably most of my fellow Cairns-ites, were more immediately fascinated by the exploits of Yuri Gagarin. He was certainly Big News in North Queensland at that time!
Anyway, this 2015 re-creation of how the Eichmann trial was filmed is very good viewing. Directed by Paul Andrew Williams from a screenplay by Simon Block, the film was largely shot in Lithuania and Malta. I am not at all sure this film saw a cinema release in Australia. I wasn't even aware of its existence until I saw it on TV. Whether it has been released on DVD in this country, I also don't know. Perhaps you can find it on the SBS "catch up" facility, or on one of the subscription streaming services.
If you are a history nerd, as I am, try to track it down. You won't be disappointed.
Gilbert's star rating (out of five): * * * 1/2