Two reporters trick their way into the offices of top scientist Samuel Thornton (Russell Hicks) to inquire about his recent plans. He had put a price on the head of Adolf Hitler after the Gestapo had murdered his professor brother who dared to speak out against the dictator, and three ex-convicts had taken him up on his offer. They were led by Steve Maschick (Ward Bond), and all were itching to get their hands on the million dollars up for grabs, but they had to do it fast. They travelled to Canada, joined the Air Force and went to Britain where they were part of the parachute regiment. One night, the trio hijacked the plane they were on, and forced the pilot, Johnny Stevens (Bruce Edwards), to fly them over Germany where their mission would begin...
A prime example of World War Two propaganda from the more sensational end of the spectrum, this ridiculous, low budget war effort was scripted by Sam Neuman and Karl Brown. It's not exactly Mrs Miniver, it's not even Desperate Journey, but as far as drumming up support against the Nazis went, its deeply unsubtle melodramatics must at least have struck a chord with the kids of the day, as it resembles a war comic book brought to life. Taking a "fight fire with fire" approach to international crisis politics, Steve and his band regard the Fuehrer as no better than a gangster, and taking out the villain will be the equivalent of bumping off a rival gang boss.
The film is packed with incident, some aspects of it more difficult to believe than others. After they hijack the plane, the would-be assassins are flying over Germany when they are shot at by a Nazi warplane. Steve's repsonse? He produces a machine gun and fires out of the open door at the attacker - and shoots it down! They then parachute to the ground, with the reluctant Johnny accompanying them, stop a truck, and pretend to be looking to check the drivers' papers. The supposedly German-speaking Steve manages, "No good, see?!" before clobbering them, and the group steal the truck to transport them to Berlin - and it's full of beer, too.
Just when killing Hitler is starting to look like a jolly holiday, they are stopped on the road by the police, and end up in a prison camp, called Dachau here, but more like the Alcatraz they previously spent over ten years in for "tax evasion". Meeting the camp commandant, Steve leads him to believe they are defectors with a special message for Adolf, but they have an unexpected ally, a socialite member of the anti-Nazi underground codenamed Rosebud (Dorothy Tree). She helps them escape (the old cliché about stealing uniforms that are a perfect fit rears its head once again) to a hideout in the basement of her house, where they discover Hitler is, conveniently, on his way to visit the prison camp.
Although frequently crass in its method, you can't deny the film's sincerity. For most of the story, Steve is in it for the money, even after one of the gang is killed in the escape, but when he hears the Nazis kill "dames and kids", his consciousness is raised. There are jokes, as when the gang dress up as musicians and asked to play Beethoven's 5th - "5th what?", "Symphony!" "uh... How does it go?", but it's not all daft, as it's admitted that simply killing Hitler won't end the Nazi reign of terror. When the Fuehrer does show up, he's played by frequent forties Adolf actor Bobby Watson, and after pontificating in a dodgy accent ("Today Europe - tomorrow ze Vorld!") he is predictably reduced to snivelling cowardice when Steve pulls a gun on him. While the gang shave off his moustache (really!), do they kill him? That would be telling, but there's a shock ending which sees executions (including crying children), that should leave you in no doubt as to who the good guys are. Hitler Dead or Alive may be difficult to take seriously, but is nevertheless remarkable in its own way. Music by Leo Erdody.