The Aryan Couple

The continued proliferation of Holocaust dramas isn't all that problematic, since the tragedy remains relevant to our understanding of institutionalized evil, and since every few years, a film like Roman Polanski's The Pianist finds a fresh approach. Still, the rare moments of insight hardly seem to make it worth enduring an oafish bore like The Aryan Couple, John Daly's somber inversion of Schindler's List. In Daly's tale, the industrialist dealing with Nazis is a Hungarian Jew (Martin Landau) who tries to save his German servants (Kenny Doughty and Caroline Carver). The couple's jobs are jeopardized when Heinrich Himmler offers to secure freedom for Landau's family in exchange for control of all of his assets, staff included.

This slight twist on an old story—based on a late-in-the-Reich Nazi policy called "The Europa Plan"—explains The Aryan Couple's reason for being, but not Daly's decision to write, direct, and produce a thriller plot around it. Doughty and Carver are heavily involved in the resistance, so when they learn Himmler and Adolf Eichmann are coming to dinner, they debate whether to poison the architects of The Final Solution. The tense meal offers the movie's only real charge, though the anxiety is minimal, because although The Aryan Couple makes the Holocaust into a pulpy plot point, it's not bold enough to kill off Himmler and Eichmann before their historically appointed time. Instead, the second half of the movie becomes a routine cat-and-mouse chase, as Doughty and Carver hide their true identities to escape the Gestapo.

Daly is a veteran producer (his most impressive credits include Platoon and The Last Emperor) who's been in the feature director's chair once before, for 2003's trifling historical adventure The Petersburg-Cannes Express. He fumbles the tone of The Aryan Couple from the start, with Auschwitz footage that's too exploitative for such a thin suspense picture. He also makes his Nazis cartoonishly wicked: They chuckle over the fortune they're about to steal, and when Himmler (played by Danny Webb) hears about Landau's servants, he insists, "They must be silenced!" The movie trots out familiar images of Jewish masses huddled on trains, with a dryness that implies importance, then undercuts them with scenes of bad men swaggering around while a low, ominous hum anchors the soundtrack. It turns real genocide into another kind of B-movie moustache-twirling.

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