Matchup of the Day: Hannah and Her Sisters vs. Stalag 17
These movies have nothing to do with each other. Or do they?
Hannah and Her Sisters is a Woody Allen dramedy starring Michael Caine, Woody Allen, Mia Farrow, Barbara Hershey, Diane Wiest, Max von Sydow, Carrie Fisher, Maureen O’Sullivan. . . (deep breath) . . . and featuring small appearances from Lewis Black, Julia Louis-Dreyfus, Julie Kavner, and John Turturro, to name a few. Its comedy derives from Allen’s familiar brand of hypochondria and fearful nihilism, as well as the misadventures of a dozen peculiar-yet-ordinary characters as they sleep with the wrong people, snort cocaine in the wrong clubs, join the wrong religions, take the wrong people to the opera, and buy drawings from the wrong petulant artists. The drama comes from the consequences of these foibles: the divorces, separations, anxieties, and family squabbles that follow in their wake.
Stalag 17 is a Billy Wilder dramedy starring William Holden, Otto Preminger, Peter Graves, and some Hollywood journeymen like Sig Ruman of Marx Brothers movies. Stalag 17 was a Broadway show first, and its funnymen Harvey Lembeck and Robert Strauss reprised their supporting roles for the film. They provide a lot of the film’s comedy, from Strauss’s character (“Animal”)’s obsession with Betty Grable to an attempt to paint their way into the Russian part of the camp where female Red Army prisoners are barracked. Amidst the Hollywood impersonations and “horse races” (the horse are captured mice) that entertain the POWs is a high-stakes mystery about betrayal. One of the prisoners is tipping off the German guards about escape attempts and other valuable information, and the consequences are deadly.
Now what if I told you that both of them are about Nazis?
Stalag 17, of course, takes place in a prisoner-of-war camp in Germany. The guards are the willing muscle of the Nazi regime. The American prisoners mock them by dressing up as Hitler and holding a mock rally. In the barracks, a smuggled radio provides news of Patton’s advance and RAF sorties. Clearly Stalag 17 is a movie that closely concerns Nazis.
Though Hannah and Her Sisters takes place in New York City in the mid-1980s, many characters refer to Nazis. Allen writes these lines for comedic effect and to characterize the speakers. When Hannah’s sister Lee (Hershey) returns to her stuffy artist boyfriend (von Sydow)’s drab studio, he tells her he’s been watching a documentary about Nazis. He treats her to a rant about human nature and the unanswerability of the question “Why did this happen?” He’s humorless, and a pedant, and she finally rankles at his habit of treating her like an ignorant student. Later, Allen’s character discusses religion with his Jewish parents. If there’s a God, why were there Nazis, he asks. “How should I know why there were Nazis, I don’t even know how the can opener works,” his father replies. The references are sprinkled in a few other places, as well, like when Caine’s character replies to a reasonable question from Farrow’s character by comparing it to a Gestapo interrogation. The potency of Nazi allusions serves Allen’s double objective of asking big questions and answering them with irony.
Here’s how these two Nazi-adjacent ensemble dramedies stack up on Flickchart:
Hannah and Her Sisters
- Global ranking: 265
- 3025 users have ranked it
- Wins 53% of matchups
- 15 users have it at #1
- 148 users have it in their top 20
- Global ranking: 165
- 1809 users have ranked it
- Wins 52% of matchups
- 4 users have it at #1
- 48 users have it in their top 20
I disagree with the global chart: Hannah and Her Sisters is in my 91st percentile and Stalag 17 is in my 81st. Where do they stand for you? Vote on this matchup in the comments below!