Swing Kids (film)
Theatrical release poster
|Directed by||Thomas Carter|
|Produced by||Mark Gordon
John Bard Manulis
|Written by||Jonathan Marc Feldman|
|Starring||Robert Sean Leonard
|Music by||James Horner|
|Distributed by||Buena Vista Pictures|
|Release date(s)||March 5, 1993|
|Running time||114 minutes|
Swing Kids is a 1993 American musical drama film directed by Thomas Carter and starring Christian Bale, Robert Sean Leonard and Frank Whaley. In pre-World War II Germany, two high school students, Peter Müller and Thomas Berger, attempt to be swing kids by night and Hitler Youth by day, a decision that acutely impacts their friends and families. The film received mixed reviews.
In 1939 Hamburg, Peter Müller and Thomas Berger join their friends (Arvid—a big-band fanatic and swing guitarist—and Otto) at the Bismarck, a swing club. They have a good time, dancing and enjoying the music. Leaving the club, Arvid (who has a club foot) can barely keep up as the other boys run off. After he catches up, they laughingly stop to urinate on Nazi propaganda posters. As they head home they see a man being chased by the Gestapo and are only mildly shocked, even when he jumps off a bridge and is shot in the river.
Peter goes home to find his mother, Frau Müller, in an argument with a Nazi officer. Herr Knopp (head of the local Gestapo) arrives and curtly dismisses the officer. Knopp questions Frau Müller about some of her late husband's friends; Herr Müller had been accused of being a communist, and was irreparably damaged by an interrogation at the hands of Nazi agents. Peter never understood what happened to his father, and evades his younger brother Willi's attempts to question him on it. When Peter and Thomas visit Arvid, Thomas accidentally scratches one of Arvid's records; Arvid flies into a rage, and Thomas suggests that he and Peter leave so Arvid can "jack off to his records". To apologize to Arvid, Peter and Thomas steal a radio (which Peter knows was stolen from a ransacked Jewish home) from a bakery. Thomas escapes, but Peter is caught. Herr Knopp (who is attracted to Peter's mother) intercedes for him; in return, Peter must enroll in the Hitlerjugend (HJ). On Peter's first day at HJ school, he finds Thomas wearing the HJ uniform and a broad smile; the fun-loving Thomas notes that it is the perfect cover: "HJs by day, swing kids by night!"
When Arvid is walking home one day he is confronted by HJs who take a Benny Goodman record from him, smash it and beat him up. Emil (a former friend and swing-kid-turned-HJ) deliberately stomps on Arvid's fingers, damaging them severely. Arvid wakes up in the hospital, terrified by HJ uniforms until he realizes it is only Peter and Thomas. He eventually cheers up, noting that he can learn to play with two fingers. During a Boxing class at HJ school, Thomas challenges Emil. When Thomas is defeated, he refuses to give up, becoming more aggressive. Thomas accuses Emil of selling out to the Nazis, to which Emil replies, "I wised up." Emil and Thomas reconcile as Thomas, seduced by the power and the perks, begins to buy into the Nazi philosophy.
Peter (who has a job delivering books) is asked to spy on his boss, whom the Nazis suspect is working against the Reich. He peeks into a book he is delivering to Frau Linge (who knew his father), discovers incriminating papers hidden inside and becomes even more fearful of the Nazis. Arvid (working at a jazz club) refuses to play a German song, lashing out at the club's patrons for being blind to the Nazi agenda. Peter is sympathetic; Thomas, however, loudly argues the Nazi side, saying Arvid should watch out because "we're coming for you next" (referring to the Nazi policy of executing the disabled). Shocked and angry, Peter shouts "You're turning into a Nazi!"; Thomas bluntly responds, "So what if I am?". Arvid realizes that there is no future for him in Germany, and no hope of escape. He goes home and commits suicide in the bathtub, slitting his wrists with a broken record.
In HJ school, the boys are encouraged to spy on their friends and families. Thomas (whose father despises him) accuses his father of insulting Hitler, hoping to cause trouble for him. He is unnerved, however, when the Nazis come to his home and take his father away; his subsequent attempts to resume his friendship with Peter and persuade him to collaborate with the Nazis are tinged with fear.
Peter is sent by the HJ leaders to deliver identical small packages to three different families. Hearing screams from the second house as he walks away, he opens the third one. Inside, there is a small plaque with a swastika and the word Verräter (traitor), a small pile of ashes, and a wedding ring. Horrified, he runs to Frau Linge. She gives him a letter his father wrote to her husband about the anti-Nazi work he did, and Peter finally understands what really happened to his father.
Abandoning his HJ uniform, Peter wears his most fashionable clothes to a club he knows is slated for attack. Thomas finds him, begins beating him and suddenly comes to his senses, begging Peter to run: "They won't let it go this time!" but Peter, almost willingly, boards the truck taking him (and others) to a labor camp. Thomas calls to him, "Swing Heil!"; Willi (who has followed) defiantly shouts the phrase through his tears.
- Robert Sean Leonard as Peter Müller
- Christian Bale as Thomas Berger
- Frank Whaley as Arvid
- Barbara Hershey as Frau Müller
- Tushka Bergen as Evey
- David Tom as Willi Müller
- Julia Stemberger as Frau Linge
- Kenneth Branagh as SS-Sturmbannführer Knopp
- Noah Wyle as Emil Lutz
- Jessica Hynes as Helga
- Martin Clunes as Bannführer
- Jayce Bartok as Otto
The film received generally unfavorable reviews from critics. Review-aggregation website Rotten Tomatoes gives it a score of 38% (based on 13 reviews), with an average score of 4.6/10. Jonathan Rosenbaum of Chicago Reader described the film as a "corny but sincere weeper", while Roger Ebert of the Chicago Sun-Times gave the film one star (out of 4) and criticized the screenplay (calling it "murky" and including it on his "Most Hated" list). On Metacritic, which assigns a weighted mean rating out of 100 reviews from film critics, the film has a rating score of 39 (based on 20 reviews).
- "Swing Kids". Rotten Tomatoes. Retrieved 2012-07-24.
- Rosenbaum, Jonathan. "Swing Kids". Chicago Reader. Retrieved 2012-07-24.
- "Swing Kids :: rogerebert.com :: Reviews". Rogerebert.suntimes.com. Retrieved 2012-07-24.
- "Ebert's Most Hated :: rogerebert.com :: News & comment". Rogerebert.suntimes.com. Retrieved 2012-07-24.
- "Swing Kids Reviews, Ratings, Credits, and More". Metacritic. Retrieved 2012-07-24.