Fantasia 2018: THE MAN WHO KILLED HITLER AND THEN THE BIGFOOT Is Not What You Think
A title like The Man Who Killed Hitler And Then The Bigfoot makes a certain image pop into your head. Obviously, the title conjures some literal imagery, but it also evokes an exploitationy tone akin to titles like Ilsa, She-Wolf Of The SS or Frankenstein Meets The Space Monster. That particular combination of pop-culture and historical icons is a staple of trashy genre films, and you’d be forgiven for thinking Hitler/Bigfoot is just such a film.
It is not such a film.
Don’t worry - the titular characters (and their deaths) are both present and correct. But The Man Who Killed Hitler And Then The Bigfoot is a quiet, contemplative movie, driven by a terrific Sam Elliott performance - a film that, while flawed, comprehensively transcends its subject material.
Elliott plays the titular Man, Calvin Barr, a former military man now spending his elder years living a most humble existence. He eats microwave dinners; drinks at the local pub; chats idly to his barber brother; pats his dog. His wartime assassination of Hitler is a well-kept secret, the only hint at his past life his ability to fight back against muggers. But mostly, Calvin sits and reminisces. He feels old.
That all changes, of course, when representatives of the FBI and RCMP track Calvin down using sealed military records, tasking him with hunting down the Bigfoot. Seems the ‘Squatch has been expanding its territory, carrying a deadly virus that could wipe out all of civilisation - and Calvin’s one of the few people immune to it. With this somewhat bizarre justification laid down, Calvin begrudgingly accepts another secret mission to kill an icon - before America gets twitchy and nukes Canada.
The story of old Calvin only takes up half the movie. Weaved throughout, a cavalcade of flashbacks explore the younger, more Aidan Turner-y Calvin’s Hitler assassination and yearning romantic backstory. The assassination flashbacks are terrific - a clockwork espionage sequence with secret gadgets, disguises, and a dead Hitler - but not all of them fare as well. Though the backstory is mostly compelling, it’s teased out in such a way as to ruin the film’s pacing, with many flashbacks floating around aimlessly in the edit. Hitler/Bigfoot is in desperate need of a recut, and it wouldn’t even have to lose much material - it just needs a more conventional structure to hold the audience’s attention more consistently.
What works better than Hitler/Bigfoot’s odd structure is its odd tone. Like Bubba Ho-Tep, it plays with cultural icons to tell a meditative story about age, but it’s much less jokey than that film - to the point that when the action does open up (and boy, does it), it comes as a shock. Bigfoot is first mentioned 45 minutes into the film, followed by an explosive expansion in scale that resolves surprisingly quickly, giving way at last to a series of false endings. The film wouldn’t hold together were it not for Elliott’s committed, soulful performance, granting every aspect of the story weight that a lesser actor might treat as a joke. This is a film that features Elliott weeping openly in the picturesque Canadian wilderness, and yet also features crash-zooms on him as he selects his weapons. For my part, I enjoyed its tonal experimentation, but it’d be a stronger film if it sustained that experimentation over its duration.
If Hitler/Bigfoot's greatest weakness is its structure, its greatest strength is its thematic content. At its heart, Hitler/Bigfoot is about legend, myth, and heroism, and how they're often not what we think they are. “It's not like the comic book you want it to be,” says Calvin, in an amazing speech about his assassination of Hitler. Turns out, killing a human being takes a toll on one's spirit, even when it's Hitler. Calvin mourns that while he just killed a man that day, “his ideas continued to do all the damage they could possibly do without him” - a line with unfortunate real-life significance. Calvin doesn't consider himself a war hero, and neither does society; his classified deeds went unwritten in history. He’s no legend - and so committed is the film to deconstructing myths, even Bigfoot is a pitiable character.
There's a lot to be said for the decision to make a film called The Man Who Killed Hitler And Then The Bigfoot about an old man contemplating his various deeds and regrets. Despite pacing issues and superfluous scenes, it's got charm, largely thanks to an A-grade lead performance, and it looks beautiful for what must have been a very low-budget production. Were the story to reach a more confident conclusion, it'd be a great movie. As it is, it's heavily flawed - but commendable for the unexpectedly thoughtful intent behind it.