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The Death of the Führer (1973)

Roland Puccetti
Arrow Books 
(imported from Ludic Despair)

If you're like most dolts produced by the American education system, you probably actually believe Adolph Hitler died in his bunker in 1945 when the Russian Army reached Berlin.  Such ignorance is understandable, given how important it was, then and now, to protect the world from the terrifying REALITY of the situation, namely this: At the end of WWII, Adolph Hitler's brain was surgically removed, placed in stasis, and then transplanted into a willing new host!   Most likely, "Hitler" is still somewhere on the planet today, scheming, ever scheming, to return and complete his plans for world domination. My money says the brain is now in Rick Perry.  Every Texas yahoo talks about secession now and then, but Perry's recent campaign pledge to annex the Sudetenland is troubling to say the least.

They Saved Hitler's Brain (aka The Madman of Mandoras) (1963) dared speak this truth in the tortured logic of Z-cinema some fifty years ago.  Legend has it that the film began shooting in the late fifties--only to be shut down by Nazi agents in Hollywood looking to suppress its startling revelations.  It took the courage of a rag-tag band of UCLA students in the early sixties to shoot some additional framing footage, thereby padding out the original film by ten or fifteen minutes so that it might get distribution and thus see the light of day.  But it turns out the Nazis had nothing to worry about.  The temporal rift created by grafting together the film stock and styles of the late fifties and early sixties was so jarring that the movie elicited only jeers and ridicule.  For years it played in the post-fringe graveyard of late-night television, leaving an astonished few to admire the stamina of the actor forced to kneel for hours at a time behind an old ham radio set and under a bell jar in order to "sell" the illusion of functional decapitation.

Happily for lovers of historical drama,  the saga of Hitler's itinerant brain did not die with that noble, yet failed cinematic experiment.  In 1973, novelist Roland Puccetti tried once again to alert the world to the ongoing hazard presented by allowing Hitler's brain to remain at liberty,  giving us the sublime revisionism of The Death of the Führer (Arrow Books-1973).

I have now read Puccetti's book.  Before recounting its alternative history of the years after the Second World War (absolute and total spoiler alert), let me say this:  The Death of the Führer MUST be adapted for the screen as soon as possible.  How it hasn't already ended up as a major motion picture is a true mystery, one that makes me suspect Nazi sympathizers are once again pressuring Hollywood to ignore the R-rated bombshells contained in this book.  The Death of the Führer is everything Inglourious Basterds hoped to be--but done with such economy and ease that it utterly shames Tarantino's lumbering attempt to pass off what are essentially five interminably long dialog scenes as some kind of fast-paced caper film.  If you want brutal and stunning Nazisploitative action, then Puccetti is your man.

We begin at a Bavarian ski lodge some time in the 1960s.  A young man--his name is unimportant, call him Mr. Framing-Device if you like--has twisted his leg and must stay off the slopes.  An old man sitting on a bench nearby accurately diagnoses the skier's condition from afar--for you see, this old man is a doctor: Karl Giesvius. As so often happens when strangers meet in the Bavarian Alps, their conversation soon turns to Hitler.  Karl, it turns out, knows the REAL story, which he proceeds to tell us:

Ten or so years after the end of WWII,  Karl had been sitting in a Parisian cafe when suddenly a local rushed in and begged him to attend to a dying man elsewhere in the city, a dying man who claimed to have information about the whereabouts of....Hitler!  Understandably intrigued, Karl rushed to the man's bedside to hear a startling confession: "I assisted in the removal and transplantation of Hitler's brain!"  Later, after the man dies, Karl looks through some old photos and verifies that the dying man had indeed been a member of the Führer's personal medical team.  He decides to fly to Berlin and begin his investigation.

First task: get inside the Führerbunker and see if any clues are still there.  Now, you might think the Führerbunker would have been picked over for just about any and all items of historical import, and that accessing it would be difficult if not impossible.  But this turns out not to the be the case.  Consulting a map of the compound, Karl figures out where the ventilation shaft should be, and after moving a few well-placed rocks, he's unearthed the entrance.  After shimmying down the vent, he's the first person to stand in the Führerbunker since the Russians collapsed the entrances at the end of the war.  What's down there?  Junk, mostly.  It would also appear a Russian soldier took a retributive shit on Hitler's bed, an extremely resilient shit considering it somehow survived for a decade before Karl descended into the bunker to witness it.  He checks out the conference room.  Nothing.  Eva Braun's bedroom.  Nothing.  He's just about to give up and/or suffocate from a lack of oxygen when finally Karl discovers a hidden passageway connecting Hitler's bedroom to... a secret surgical theater! 

Looking around the tiled room with his flashlight, Karl discovers a bloody operating table and scalpels that still have hair on them (the hair of Hitler!).  Strangely, though the Nazis had apparently pioneered the art of brain transplantation, they still didn't quite understand that one should shave a surgical area before operating.  Karl continues his search for evidence.  His flashlight illuminates a strange object on the floor.  Bingo! It's a brain!  

Hitler's brain?  Well, no, actually--Karl quickly reasons it is the brain of the poor schmuck who donated his body so that Hitler could have a new ride.  This was some particularly good writing, I thought.  Here Puccetti captures the urgency of the situation back in 1945.  With the allies advancing, Nazi doctors had no time to wash down the operating theater nor throw away the old brain--a point Puccetti emphasizes by revealing that the floor-brain is still in the steely clutches of the forceps used so many years ago to wrench it from its skull!  There's also a bucket of congealed blood nearby, but Puccetti does not speculate as to why the brain didn't end up there rather than on the floor. Also, we are left to wonder how this brain tissue, much like the enduring pile of Russian infantry crap in the next room, could survive more or less in tact for over a decade.

Karl's investigation continues. He finds a plaque bearing the name of the surgical genius responsible for all this brain shuffling: Dr. Wilhelm Tager.  Karl is flabbergasted.  Tager, as it turns out, was his buddy from medical school before the war, his old fencing partner, and a genius of neurology who finished at the top of their class.  That just about seals it.  Find Tager find Hitler's brain, he reasons.  And then he can kill them both!

After a little more detective work, Karl tracks Tager down to a remote castle somewhere in Spain.  Next obstacle: How to infiltrate a well-guarded compound full of evil Nazi scientists?  Here Karl decides for an elegantly direct approach--he simply floors his motorcycle and breaks through the front gate (as seen on the action-packed cover above).  That might seem crazy, but Karl's plan is actually a bit more complicated.  After taking a few Nazi bullets and wrecking his bike into a tree, it is Karl's hope that Dr. Tager will attend to him and then recognize him from their college days.  And this is precisely what happens.  After surgery, Karl wakes up and tells his "old friend" that he just happened to be vacationing in Spain and that the throttle on his motorcycle just happened to get stuck--that's why he crashed through the gate uncontrollably. 

One might think that the Nazi brain trust (those entrusted with the Nazi brain, that is) hiding out in Spain would be the most paranoid gated-community on the planet--but no one seems to question the fact that Karl, unseen by Tager since before the war, has suddenly and seemingly coincidentally arrived on their doorstep.  Before you know it, all the Nazis have welcomed Karl into their little clique, probably because Karl wastes no time fishing for Hitler leads by constantly bemoaning the fate of the Third Reich.

Later, once he's completely healed from his injuries, Karl is invited to a big party hosted by the owner of the castle, the beautiful Baroness Gerda Bach-Wisliceny. The party goes well as Karl learns a few new tidbits by eavesdropping.  But still no sign of Hitler's noodle.

Things really heat up later that night when a guard knocks on Karl's door.  The Baroness has requested a private audience.  Well, one thing leads to another, and before you know it Karl and the Baroness are in her bedroom ripping off each other's clothes.  And then this happens:


Her fingers dug into my arms with sharp nails, her back arched spasmodically, she started to pull me down deep into a bottomless pit.  Somewhere within my body a train of cold liquid left its station with relentless fury and plunged on to its destination.

Here Puccetti is telling us, as artfully as he can, that Karl is about to ejaculate into the Baroness.  The story continues.

Gerda's eyes opened widely now.  The pupils looked dark in the fire glow, much darker than before, and somehow beyond them and behind them there was a deep rustling of Teutonic forests, of shadowy predators roaming in the night...Only then did I raise my trembling, terribly tired fingers to her head, slide them under the golden hair and feel the bony ridge across her skull.  Only then did her lips part to give the fateful cry. 
      'ICH BIN DER FUHRER.'
Yes, friends, our intrepid hero and narrator has just enjoyed a simultaneous orgasm with Adolph Hitler-- a drop-dead gorgeous Hitler, mind you, but Hitler nonetheless (an alternate cover for the book foregrounds this reveal a bit more forcefully). 

Some might be thinking this was surprisingly enlightened on Hitler's part, this willingness to have his brain transplanted into a woman.  Funny thing about that--it was actually a complete surprise for the Führer.  Later we learn that Tager and his team had a young, strapping Aryan male all ready to host Hitler's brain, but the kid died during surgery from an unforeseen complication.  The original Baroness Gerda Bach-Wisliceny, a loyalist if ever there was one, stepped right up and volunteered her body.  Man, was Hitler ever mad when he woke up.  But we are told that the Führer eventually warmed up to and even embraced the idea of being a sexy Baroness.  Realizing it made for a good hiding place, the brain decided to stay put.

But back to the post-coital revelation that our narrator just had some manner of queerly heteronormative gay sex with Hitler.  "What would I do," wonders the reader, "under such circumstances?"  Given that Karl is dedicated above all else to his mission, he loses no time recovering from this quite literal "mindfuck" and stabs Baroness Hitler-brain straight through the heart, leaving her for dead.

For the next twenty or so pages, Karl is on the run trying to evade capture in the compound.  He jumps a guard and steals his uniform, which buys him a little more time to wander around the castle in search of a way out.  Eventually he finds another series of hidden passageways leading deeper and deeper into the castle's foundations.  Finally he stumbles upon, wouldn't you know it, another goddamn secret operating theater!  No sooner have you killed Hitler's host body than his evil surgical team is right back at it putting his brain in yet another body.  Actually, Karl probably should have seen this coming. After all, as narrator, he of all people should understand the basic premise of his own story.  Caught off guard indulging in some well-deserved self-recrimination, Karl is taken into custody and whisked away to a holding cell. 

You're probably thinking at this point that Karl himself is destined to be the new donor body for Hitler's brain.  Makes sense.  Hitler needs the body and the Nazis no longer need Karl--that's certainly what a lesser writer would settle for here.  But Puccetti has other and much more incredible ambitions.  Karl is wheeled into surgery alright, but finds that his nemesis Dr. Tager instead plans to implant a type of experimental electrode "harness" in Karl's brain.  In fact, he forces Karl to remain awake as he cuts off the top of his skull and inserts the electrodes one by one.  Later, in post-op, we discover that Tager and his assistants can now control Karl's actions simply by pushing the appropriate buttons: THIRST, HUNGER, LUST, etc.  This is the sort of thing Nazi doctors live for, apparently.  Bouncing Hitler's brain from body to body is a neat trick and all, but Tager's real ambition is to rule the world by implanting electrodes in every human skull!  We also discover here that Tager has no real investment in Nazi ideology--he chose to ride Hitler's coattails only because Hitler seemed--at the time at least-- the most likely to make his dream of global brain control come true.  He would just as easily have cast his lot with the Americans or Russians, if need be.  That's just how evil Tager is--the pure evil of pure science.

After some pleasure/pain interrogation from Tager and his buttons, Karl is taken back to his cell, which it so happens is a glass cube.  There he devises a brilliant plan.  He will break the glass by ramming his head into the wall, which will also probably disable the brain-electrode stuff at the top of his brain.  At the very least, he reasons, it will interfere with its optimal operation.  Gathering his strength and courage, he runs headlong into the glass--so hard that he blacks out.  When he comes to, however, he finds the plan has indeed worked--there is nothing but shattered glass all around him (and no guards, apparently).  Karl quickly runs back to the lab and pulls all the wiring out of the control-console so that Tager cannot send any more brain signals.

But the console can be quickly repaired, Karl reasons.  No, there is simply no way around it, the electrode net in his brain must come out.  But how?  Who will do the delicate surgery?  Karl.  Karl will do the surgery.  Karl will do the surgery on himself.  Brain surgery.  Karl will perform brain surgery on his own brain.

Are you beginning to understand why this novel must be committed to film as soon as possible?  I already have Scarlett Johansson down for the role of the Baroness.  As for Karl...well, who cares really?  I just want to see the scene wherein Scarlett Johansson reveals that she is actually a busty receptacle for Hitler's devious brain.  I would trade you any number of Final Destinations and/or Centipede units for such a moment to be captured on film.

Back to the brain surgery.  Karl sets up a mirror to see the top of his head.  "The scalp was easy," Karl tells us.  Then the skull bone.  Then the membrane covering the brain.  Underneath are the electrodes.  Though delicately inserted only hours earlier by Dr. Tager, Karl finds he is able to simply rip them out of his brain with no real consequences.  But the suspense isn't over:

There I was, nude and exhausted, unarmed and with the whole top of my brain exposed to raw air. If I so much as leaned forward, the cerebrospinal fluid encasing my brain would spill out; I could imagine the sticky liquid dripping over into my face and blinding me.  

To make matters worse, a guard suddenly appears and interrupts the operation.  Luckily, Karl still has the presence (and fluid) of mind to dispatch him with a nearby bone saw.  But there he remains, his brain still exposed to "raw air" and all of his brain juice about to spill out.  He decides he has no time to stitch the membrane and just goes for wiring the skull back in place.  After that he's so tired that he just kind of flops his scalp back over the bone, figuring he'll deal with that after he's finished killing Tager and finding Hitler's new cranial hideaway.

Eventually he corners Tager and forces him at gunpoint to the "vault"--the most secret of secret chambers in the bottom floors of the castle.  Inside is the requisite vat with Hitler's pulsating brain floating inside, awaiting its new host.  As an incidental detail, we are also told there are two crossed sabers on the wall as part of the castle's Coat of Arms. Almost immediately, however, this proves not to be incidental as Tager calls Karl's bluff on the number of bullets in the gun, which leads directly to the two men retrieving those very same sabers and reliving their days as college fencing opponents (remember? I told you about that earlier).  Karl is worried, for he never beat Tager in their university matches, but it remains his only hope.  Thrust and parry.  Thrust and parry.  And then Karl spies an "Auto-Destruction" button on the wall.  It's true.  He really does.  A big red button that will blow everything up.  Even if Karl can't escape, he can blow up the entire castle, Hitler's brain, and all the remaining Nazis at the same time!  

Karl pushes the button.  No, you fool! screams Tager.  Ten minutes to absolute annihilation.  Just then Karl sees that the brain vat has become unmoored and is rolling into the periphery of his vision.  Two quick ballet leaps and he is standing over the bubbling vat. He then drives his sword directly into the Fuhrer's brain!  Tager screams in horror, and Karl takes advantage of his shock to stab Tager "in the crotch" all the way back to the pelvis.  Tager collapses, and in doing so, knocks over the now pinkish red vat of brain and blood.  Hitler's brain slides across the floor where Karl, not wanting to leave anything to chance, scoops it up. 

Karl must escape--the castle is still going to blow at any second.  Miraculously, he discovers another secret door leading to some kind of mining-car contraption below.  Still clutching the well-stabbed yet still relatively cohesive Hitler brain, he jumps in and releases the brakes.  A bloody Tager crawls along the tracks begging for mercy.   But no dice.  Karl rides the mining-car out of the castle and out into the open air.  There he sees a mighty condor flying through the sky, and considers throwing Hitler's brain on the grass so that the majestic bird might swoop down and carry it away.  For that would be a fitting final indignity for Hitler's stupid evil brain--snatched up by razor-sharp talons and fed to a nest full of baby condors.  Just then the earth rocks with the force of the castle exploding.  In the end, Karl simply falls on the brain and "collapses" it good and flat.  

Victory!

Back to our Bavarian ski-lodge in the present day.  The story over, Mr. Framing-Device doesn't know what to think. Did this old man really have sex with Hitler in a woman's body, operate on his own brain, and then almost throw Hitler's brain to a hungry condor?  Just then a nurse appears on scene to retrieve Karl--the sun is setting and it's time to go back home.  Mr. Framing-Device takes the nurse aside and asks if he might visit Karl again some day.  "Why not?"the nurse responds, "visiting hours at the sanatorium are open to everyone."

And there we leave it.  Karl might be crazy.  Then again, he might just have a bad case of tuberculosis.  I guess the next generation of historians will have to make the ultimate determination: did Tager somehow get the brain back and put it in Scarlett Johansson, or did it end up in the bellies of a dozen hungry little condor chicks?

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