When the Stern"-magazine, one of Germany's most influential leftist-liberal mediums, published Adolf Hitler's diaries in 1983, it had the same effect as if CNN would publish the secret sex e-mails of Abraham Lincoln: the diaries were as blatantly fake as a three dollar bill. The magazine, though still ever-present at German newsstands, never regained its reputation entirely and the view, if not trust, that the public had of journalism and media would change forever. Most readers were simply outraged, disappointed and only the most cynical eyes saw elements of unwanted and very 'brown' (the German synonym for fascism) humour.
Director Helmut Dietl has picked up on this humour, having created a farce that remains among the best ever produced in Germany, a land not particularly famous (internationally speaking) for its comedies. It would have been easy for Dietl to poke fun at the "Stern" editors, their greed, corruption and arrogance that were revealed after the scandal but it would have been a cheap shot. Instead, Dietl created a social commentary, holding a slightly distorted mirror into the face of the viewer, forcing them to laugh at their own faults, follies and hypocrisy.
The story is pretty much taken straight from the real-life events: Master-faker Fritz Knobel (Uwe Ochsenknecht) has an inspiration and, after producing fake nude portraits of Eva Braun for aging Nazis (by now disguised as historically interested businessmen), fakes Hitler's diaries, offering them to run-down and out of luck journalist Hermann Willié (Götz George). Willié haggles the diaries off as journalistic sensation to the editors of the newspaper "HHpress" ("Stern"-thinly-disguised). As the money rolls in, tension builds in the minds of deceivers and those allowing themselves to be deceived for the sake of profit; Knobel keeps producing more 'diaries', generally based on the authors own trivial daily life and general being (flatulence and halitosis). Inevitably the scam get's exposed for what it is: the media disgraced, Knobel and Willié make off like bandits, Knobel conning his way into Austria and Willié, either having lost his reason completely or in for one final con, feigning insanity, hijacks the former yacht of Hermann Goering, convinced that Hitler is alive and living in Argentina. (And if you're not convinced that the Fuehrer is alive and well and living in Argentina, then you haven't read enough conspiracy theories).
Heart and soul of this film is the casting: all the actors shine, most of all George, best known in his role of tough-butt cop Schimanski and German synonym for 'machismo' in the 80's, plays a character to slimy, the fragrance of sweat almost permeates the screen. Ochsenknecht's features speak volumes, after seeing her in "Schtonk!", Christiane Hörbiger will forever be the a synonym as Nazi-niece and not to forget Harald Juhnke, in his lifetime known as both "Germany's Frank Sinatra" and "drunkard of the nation", playing George's crooked photo-journalist friend and, in comparison, one of the few voices of reasons in the film. Special credit should go to Ulrich Mühe, whose song and dance during the final part remains one of the films highlights. And, yes, even Veronica Ferres (who, when performing the role of Anna Frank in theatre, animated the audience to shout at the actors playing the Nazis, "she's hiding under the ceiling") could not ruin this film.
If one can blame something on a film it may be that essentially only has one joke, which is the actual premise of the story itself and the triangle love-story of Ochsenknecht, Ferres and Dagmar Manzel, that adds little to nothing to the film and seems rather pointless. Also, if you're not familiar with German mentality, social structure and historic background (going back at least 70 years to a time which many Germans still don't want to talk to much about), a lot of the inside jokes will escape you. The movie isn't as international accessible as, for example, "Das Boot", and, if you're looking for a movie that will make you slap your leg every ten seconds: "Schtonk!" isn't "Airplane" or a Bob Hope film. Rather, it's a film that will make you smirk, perhaps even at yourself.
Interestingly, the strange title of the movie isn't actually a German word (unless you pronounce it like Stunk", which means trouble or bickering) since Charlie Chaplins The Great Dictator" was never popular with German viewers. I leave it to the reader to figure out why but if the readers happen to be Polish or French, let it be said: no, just like us Germans, you didn't raised your right arm in protest either!