Gruenbaum is one of the last performances of Ulrich Muhe, who the world knows as the star of one of the late decade's great films, The Lives of Others. Regrettably, he doesn't really have much to do here because of Levy's refusal to render his hero comical. There are some nice moments of physical comedy, as when Gruenbaum accidentally KOs a taunting Hitler who challenges him to box, and a nicely timed sequence in which the actor closes in to kill the Fuehrer with a gold bar as Nazi officials watch through a two-way mirror in horror (and Goebbels disregards the whole scene) until Hitler makes an emotional breakthrough that stays Gruenbaum's hand. There are also framing scenes that hint that Gruenbaum is telling a bit of a tall tale (the film's subtitle translates as "the really truest truth about Adolf Hitler"), but Muhe's performance and the film itself are inevitably handicapped by an understandable reluctance to make much fun of or with a character in constant peril of death in a gas chamber.
"And in this scene, Herr Hitler, you face the final guardian, Kareem Abdul Jabbar. He is very tall."
Ulrich Muhe and a track-suited Helge Schneider in Mein Fuehrer.
While making a Hitler comedy is still going to look blasphemous to many people, Levy's reluctance to be very outrageous beyond the original transgression puts Mein Fuehrer out of contention with The Producers, but Mel Brooks himself might stop short at the camp gate, after all. In the end, however, Levy has an arguably funny point to make about Hitler's role in Germany's defeat, but before I elaborate on the other side of the screen cap, I'll warn you of spoilers in case you plan to see the film sometime.
Above, Gruenbaum gets Hitler to play a dog most convincingly. Below, Hitler threatens to develop a doglike devotion to his teacher.
* * *
When Goebbels says he needs a Jew to stoke Hitler's hatred, he's being disingenuous. He really needs a Jew to restoke Germany's hatred. As he confides to Himmler, Goebbels's true plan is to kill Hitler by exploding a bomb underneath the podium during the big New Year's speech. Gruenbaum is supposed to be the fall guy, reigniting German anti-semitism along with the war effort. Albert Speer overhears part of this conversation and rushes to Hitler to denounce Gruenbaum. Hitler is incredulous and seems to forget about the whole affair, but we can assume that our hero's deduced what's really up.
Things get more complicated for the Fuehrer and his fuehrer when Hitler suddenly loses his voice in the middle of an angry scolding of a barber who lops off half his moustache. While another man's moustache can be requisitioned in a pinch, Hitler's vocal situation proves hopeless. Anticipating Singing in the Rain, however, Hitler has a solution: Gruenbaum can be placed beneath the podium and impersonate him while the Leader himself mouths the words of his speech. At gunpoint, Gruenbaum is compelled to read Hitler's banalities and bigotries until he can't stands no more. He starts improvising, making Hitler denounce himself as an impotent bedwetter, until he's shot down. Hitler flees the scene in dismay moments before Goebbels's bomb goes off.
Why did Gruenbaum throw his life away? In simplest plot terms, he has nothing to lose now that the Nazis have agreed to his final request and freed his wife and children. With them presumably safely away, he can now show the courage to say what he really thinks of Hitler, at whatever cost to himself. But it's also possible to believe that Gruenbaum sacrifices himself in order to save Hitler's life, in an ironic reversal of the moral pressure he's felt throughout the picture to kill him. This may be simply because he's come to pity his pupil despite his evil career. It may also be because he's intuited what Goebbels believes: that Hitler is now only useful to the war effort as a dead victim -- that Germany's only chance to pull victory from the jaws of defeat will come if Hitler dies. Since Hitler himself tells Gruenbaum that he didn't come up with the Final Solution all by himself, our hero most likely understands that the war is bigger than Hitler alone, and that the best way to ensure that Germany loses and the Shoah ceases as soon as possible is to keep Hitler in power. The irony of that realization, if you think about it, may be the most amusing thing in Levy's erratic little experiment in historical irreverence.
No subtitles on this German trailer uploaded by muhmachtdiemama, but you should get the idea anyway.