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STUDIO New Video Group
RATED Not Rated
RUNNING TIME 90 minutes
• Individual War Stories
• Filmmaker Biography
German Jewish Intellectual Exiles decide to take the fight back to Hitler.
Hans Peter Hallwachs, Richard Schifter, Rudy Michaels, Si Lewen and Philip Glaessner
World War II is full of unheard stories about bravery and acts of deceit committed on both sides. This documentary spotlights the men who trained at Camp Ritchie in Maryland during World War II. They were outcasts who escaped from the European mainland by the skin of their teeth. Having lost everything they once knew, they only wanted to do what they could to save their friends and families. The result was a compilation of their intimate knowledge of the new German socio-political landscape and plotting a map of what laid ahead for the Allies. Their knowledge helped to decide the Allied Victory in the Second World War.
The Ritchie Boys is a revelation. I missed it during its theatrical run back in 2004. Seeing it for the first time on DVD has allowed me the privilege of revisiting several points made that stick in my mind over the last few days. As the documentary opens, we get the origin of Camp Ritchie. Thousands of Europeans were flooding America’s shores, as World War II swept over Europe. The U.S. government considered this flux of refugees to be possible national security risks.
Let me tell you fellas something. Marlene Dietrich had a schlong. True story, swear to G-d.
The U.S. Military was then allowed to set up a series of barracks at the Military Intelligence Training Center at Fort Ritchie, Maryland. Several refugees with skills that could be put to use for the Allied cause were drafted into government service and placed in these Barracks. Over the next several months, they learned how to interrogate an enemy and eventually how to kill them. All of the Ritchie Boys had to be capable of fluently speaking a major European language, so they could blend in with people in the occupied European countries. Handheld footage shot by the military and the men showcase their early training exercises where they fought U.S. Soldiers dressed up as Nazis.
This man is Nick Fury, Remo Williams and a jar of manliness rolled into one.
Much of the period footage is a real feat to capture, since a lot of the Camp Ritchie records were destroyed in a fire. That’s why the interviews with the surviving Ritchie Boys carry this film so much. Si Lewen is the heart and soul of the film, as his memories paint a picture of the war unseen. Hell, these guys describe The Battle of the Bulge with such detail that I never expect a feature film to capture what they saw. Hell, the story about the Sentry shooting one of the Boys because he got nervous since he spoke with a German accent. These men talk in detail of a Hell that floods their sense everytime they remember those Dark Days that they gave all to ensure that the World would remain free from the tyranny of the wicked.
After D-Day, the Ritchie Boys found that their mission had slightly changed. Firmly placed in Allied Controlled Europe, the squad worked on leaflets encouraging German troops to surrender. Outside of the Battle of the Bulge, most of the action that the Ritchie Boys saw was on par with the command staff. At least, that’s the impression I got from the collected interviews. These elderly men say a lot without saying anything and you’re never quite sure if they’re willing to part with the horrors that flooded their youth.
Camp Ritchie, Maryland circa 1942
The Ritchie Boys arrives on a standard DVD package. You get a pretty basic biography about the director, while the real treat is in the individual war stories. Taking upon each Ritchie Boy’s recollection of what happened leads me to want more. Each and every one of these men should be paid to recount and record their entire World War II experience for posterity. A hidden history benefits no one, the world needs to hear their story.
The Ritchie Boys at rest.
This documentary stands out as one of my favorite non-fiction films of the 2000s. The Ritchie Boys is one of those historical documentaries that place the abstract into human terms for those that often find themselves turned off by tales of war. These men did what they did out of fear, love and revenge. Each of these brave souls stared into the Abyss and saw what warfare makes of a civilized heart. I would go so far to place this on par with All Quiet on the Western Front. The only detracting point of this documentary was the synth musical score that sounded like Giorgio Morodor making elevator music.