Genre mashing is one of the greatest things there is about genre cinema – a cinematic practice of squishing different types of movie together to get a create a whole new experience for an audience can enjoy which subverts expectations and makes life a living hell for anyone who ranks their films by a strict genre code.
Splurging so many different genres into it’s compact running time that it’s virtually impossible to know what to class it as is The Man Who Killed Hitler And Then The Bigfoot ,(from here on I’m understandably gonna switch to shortening that from here on in), a plodding tale about about an aged, unsung American hero who is called up to save the country one more time despite being weighed down with numerous regrets.
We meet Calvin Barr as a young man as he negotiates his way into a Nazi stronghold in disguise and infiltrates a room containing one Adolf Hitler before putting numerous holes in both the führer and out knowledge of the history of World War II. It’s clear we’re in the same area of fuzzy accuracy as Quentin Tarantino’s Inglorious Basterds, but despite his actions Barr’s efforts fail to end things outright and returns home irrevocably changed due to the harrowing act of killing a man – even one such as the leader of the third Reich. The Calvin Barr we meet in the winter of his days is a quiet, reserved and private man who keeps himself to himself and is fairly distant to even his younger brother.
After he finds of some carjackers one night, Barr is approached by the FBI who need him and his superlative tracking skills to track down and kill the legendary creature known as Bigfoot, who is emitting a deadly virus across Canada that’s killing both people and animals. Chosen due to his impressive but classified war record and the fact that he’s immune to the virus, he eventually relents and stalks the hairy beast through the Canadian wilderness; but can this man, who has done incredible things, drag his weary and heavy heart through one last act of service for his country?
An extraordinarily sober feature about the nature of American myth making, TMWKHATTB almost feels like the kind of story you’d get if you used a time machine to get Mark Twain up to date on historical events, pumped him full of mescaline and then asked him to write a story about being old, which in some respects puts it on similar footing as Don Coscerelli’s Elvis vs Killer Mummy epic, Bubba Ho-Tep; another fantastical tall tale about being over the hill and forgotten in America.
However, be warned: there’s a big danger of succumbing to it’s title, which promises neo-grindhouse levels of unrestrained trashy excess on the scale of Hobo With A Shotgun, when in actuality it’s a somber treatment of deliberately outlandish material. This isn’t so much a treatment of the kind of exaggerated story telling exploits such as The Adventures Of Baron Munchausen but instead a story of a quiet man who wishes to forget the astounding thing he accomplished in his youth. If anything, it somewhat does it’s job too well, keeping an admirably straight face even when our hero engages in his brief, Predator-esque struggle with the wiry sasquatch or having him shoot holes in Hitler with formed of various other implements that would give Scaramanga from The Man With The Golden Gun tingles, adamant that it keep it’s mature tone even when Barr gets a faceful of Yeti puke. It proves to be a double edged blade, however, and you frequently wish that the film would shift out of second gear but it stubbornly holds it’s pace while choosing to also be mysterious to the point of being annoying – intentionally leaving out little details here and there in an attempt to be deep. It’s not that these aspects are poorly done, it’s just that the deliberately undisclosed contents of a box stored under Barr’s bed and the patchy timeline of his relationship with his hometown sweetheart makes it feel more like omissions from an elderly and forgetful story teller (and maybe that’s the point) but it just doesn’t come off anywhere as intriguing as the filmmakers obviously hoped it would.
However, numerous aspects keep this tall tail on the rails and chief among them is the lead performance of the world’s greatest moustache and the being it has affixed itself to who we know as Sam Elliott. There’s possibly no one in the world that can do grizzled world weary quite like Elliot and any poignancy that you may glean from the movie comes almost entirely from his performance and that laconic, basso drawl that emanates from underneath that magnificent bush of upper lip fuzz. Almost entirely internalizing every single regret he has, it’s an impressively subtle performance that he matches with his old school grit in his later tussle with a sasquatch that looks like it’s been thrown out of the Mos Eisley cantina for dealing crack cocaine.
Portrayed by Aiden Turner in his younger years, the film oddly feels less sure footed when dealing with Calvin’s past, downplaying the aforementioned Hitler slaying and focusing more on his inability to deal with ordinary people or propose to his beloved before it’s too late.
An interesting concept that doesn’t quite come together into a cohesive whole, The Man Who Killed Hitler And Then The Bigfoot tries hard to ground it’s bizarre ideas – possibly a little too hard, actually – in a story that has lofty aspirations when dealing with a protagonist that’s confidently north of retirement age, yet scuppers the balance between meandering character drama and casual weirdness.
Come for the title, but stay for Sam Elliott…