Based on the true story, AMERICAN TRAITOR: THE TRIAL OF AXIS SALLY follows the life of American woman Mildred Gillars (Meadow Williams) and her lawyer (Al Pacino), who struggles to redeem her reputation. Dubbed “Axis Sally” for broadcasting Nazi propaganda to American troops during World War II, Mildred’s story exposes the dark underbelly of the Third Reich’s hate-filled propaganda machine, her eventual capture in Berlin, and subsequent trial for treason against the United States after the war.
* * *
[aircraft taking off]
[Mildred Gillars] [over radio] Hello, gang. This is Midge.
Sending you my warmest and fondest wishes tonight out to the American expeditionary forces.
You will soon be welcomed by a sizable German greeting party.
There’s a lot of them, boys. [chuckles]
What chance do you have?
It’s not too late to surrender.
There’s no reason for we Americans to get mixed up in this mess.
I don’t want to see your lives wasted in fighting with the unbeatable German Army.
I’m only saying these things because I care about you.
In reality, there’s no war between Germany and America.
Do yourself a favor and be my special guest in Germany.
[soldier calling out]
[captain] [over intercom] This is the captain speaking.
We’ll be landing at Washington National Airport in about ten minutes.
[Mildred] Hey, stranger.
How can I be a stranger when I saw you last night?
I’m risking my life to see you.
I appreciate you seeking me out.
But, I’m not sure I want the job.
It’s a perfect fit.
After the war.
Your name would be in newspapers.
[whispering] Bright lights on Broadway.
You’ll be the talk of town.
I think you’re a star.
You’re in love with me.
Nothing has changed.
Ah! She’s here.
You set me up.
Hmm-mm. Meet your new band.
Charlie and his orchestra.
Okay, I’ll do it.
[Charlie] Let’s give her a hand.
“Won’t You?” from the top. Thanks.
[piano notes playing]
♪ I’m so lonely And I feel so blue ♪
♪ Looking for a sweetheart Indeed I do ♪
♪ One who swears By stars above ♪
♪ He’ll be forever true ♪
♪ Won’t you come and love me ♪
♪ Love me Just as I would you? ♪
♪ Won’t you come and love me ♪
♪ Love me Just as I would you? ♪
[Dr. Goebbels] What is your biggest weakness?
Being an American?
Born Mildred Elizabeth Sisk in Portland, Maine.
Your mother remarried.
You took the surname Gillars.
In 1911, at 16, you moved to Conneaut, Ohio.
1918, you enrolled at Ohio Wesleyan University to study dramatic arts.
Then I moved to New York City and toured with stock companies and vaudeville.
1929, you moved to France and lived in Paris.
In 1934, you moved to Dresden to study music and was enrolled as a teacher of English at the Berlitz School of Languages in Berlin.
Is this correct?
[Mildred] It is correct, yes.
[Dr. Goebbels] Why should we hire you?
Because I am the best.
Max Otto Koischwitz, the program director of the USA Zone, wants you on his new show.
[troops marching outside]
I want you to understand something.
The spoken word is the most powerful weapon in the world.
With the right words, a war can be won before the first rifle is loaded.
We’re here to attract people, to win them over.
That is “propaganda”.
And it works best when those being manipulated are confident they’re acting on their own free will.
Are we clear?
Yes. Quite clear.
This is Berlin calling.
Berlin calling the American mothers and wives.
And when Berlin calls, it pays to listen in because there’s an American girl sitting at the microphone every Tuesday evening
with a few words of truth to her countrywomen back home.
Now, boys, you know there’s nothing in the world any sweeter than the sounds of home.
Is someone missing you tonight?
Is her name Linda?
Do those thoughts bring back memories of the sultry summer nights dancing so close together?
So close you can hardly breathe…
…and hearing your girlfriend’s soft laughter.
Sadly, boys, tomorrow you’re once again going out against superior German forces.
What chance do you have?
It’s not too late to surrender.
[Mildred] Dance with our lovely frauleins
[Mildred] Nice, virile,
and muscular American men like you.
And now for some music.
[man] Get a quick conviction on Axis Sally.
The case is yours.
[James Laughlin] Listen, it’s a grounder.
There’s no question about it. Easy out.
We’ve confidence in you, Mr. Laughlin.
Thank you for your time.
Look who’s here.
Got a death threat in the mail.
Oh yeah. I thought they were past that.
Well, the public has a hard time forgetting when you defend communists.
No contest. I can’t read these things.
I’ll read it.
Tommy’s not here.
I assumed he was with you. He didn’t call.
Well, he-he-he didn’t call?
He hasn’t missed a day in four years, this kid.
He’s only been here four days in four years.
[chuckles] Objection. Hyperbole.
Your 4:00 p.m. canceled.
How did it go today?
Axis Sally heard I was a judge killer.
She’s not wrong. You are.
Okay. Do you know that judge died in his own chambers on a recess?
He had a coronary artery disease, and he dropped dead.
I didn’t kill him.
[chuckles] He loved me.
He loved my shenanigans in court.
He said I was his court jester.
If I knew I had the skillset to kill judges, I woulda had a baker’s dozen by now.
Okay. Can you at least wait until I pass the bar?
You’re gonna need a good lawyer.
[James] Yeah, I’ll-I’ll take it from here, alright?
So, are you finished signing autographs today?
I’m never finished.
It’s my job.
Well, it’s my job to represent you.
So I do have some rights.
Well, I think you do. You should.
But you’re up on eight counts. Eight counts of treason.
And the prosecution’s looking to hang you.
I was at the hearing. I’m aware of the charges.
Oh, well, that’s good. Here you go.
This is a contract that says you’re aware.
You’ve been informed of what’s goin’ on.
So what’s the plan of attack?
Excuse me? What?
Plan of attack?
I-I don’t know what you’re saying.
This is the part where you tell me that you’ve got it all worked out and I have nothing to worry about.
That’s why you’re getting paid all this money.
Oh, well, I’m not being paid by you, Miss Gillars.
Well, somebody is.
You don’t strike me as a man who does charity.
In fact, I would bet you’re bought and sold [whispers] to the highest bidder.
That hurts even more. Thank you for that.
Why don’t you finish signing that?
Read it, sign it.
And I’ll be back when you’re somehow better framed.
It’s your job to prove I’m innocent.
Miss Gillars, you are, right now, at this very moment, the most hated person in America.
On a par perhaps with Hitler himself.
The only difference between you and Hitler, as the public sees it, is that you’re still breathing.
I will be your lawyer.
I will see that you get a fair trial.
Nothing more, nothing less. You got me. Alright?
I want another lawyer.
[scoffs] Nobody wants to be your lawyer.
You understand that?
I’m your lawyer. Nobody wanted the case.
And you did?
I was asked.
Not by me.
Oh no, not by you, no.
But beggars can’t be choosers. Can they?
This is not fair.
If you live, it’ll be fair.
Sign that paper, and I will talk to you soon.
[calls out] Can I get out of here, please?
Pretty tough case, Mr. Laughlin.
Oh, it’s tough. It’s tough.
That’s why I’m here.
Otherwise, you’d be talking to Mr. Myers, right?
Oh, and sir, is it true Miss Gillars shot and killed three American soldiers?
Oh, come on, Larry.
This is a case about words, not bullets.
Excuse me. Mr. Laughlin!
Hey, I’m sorry, I don’t… I don’t have any spare change. I don’t…
I don’t carry any around.
Can you… can you spare a minute of your time, Mr. Laughlin?
Alright. That’s really a lot more expensive, but go ahead. Shoot.
Tommy’s in the slammer.
Is this real?
What’d he do?
Assault and battery.
Messed the guy up pretty bad. He’s gonna do time.
Now, he had a problem with the giggle water.
Now how do you know this?
I-I used to work for Jerry Matthews, county court public defender.
What do you mean, used to? What does that mean?
Well, you’ve got an open seat at your table and I-I wanna take Tommy’s place.
Where did you serve?
Almost died of dengue fever in the South Pacific, but I got this when I fractured my ankle jumping down a 12-foot perch at Key’s Theater after watching Truman’s inauguration parade.
Well, that’s a tough break.
Tough break. That’s funny.
You-you-you got some real wit, sir.
Now, that wasn’t a pun. Drop the ass-kissing.
Tommy was very good at what he did.
So those are big shoes to fill.
Can you do it? What do you got?
Well sir, I was the reason Tommy passed the bar.
I was the top of my class at George Washington University and the top of my officer training class in the Marine Corps.
I wanna learn from the best.
Well, I’m not looking for a student.
This isn’t county court, kid.
I don’t represent hookers. I don’t represent thieves.
What I do affects the whole country.
I-I’m willing to do whatever it takes.
Can you sit next to a woman for the final two months of her life, knowing that you’ll probably be the last person she sees before she’s hanged? You do that?
You got an hour.
Uh, you got clothes at home?
I didn’t think so.
You’re gonna need a suit.
And you’re gonna need shoes that look like you don’t walk to work.
So, this is for you.
Now if you’re not back before they swear in the jury, you lost your seat at the table.
You don’t have a job.
You will have a suit. You will have a pair of shoes.
Yes, sir. Thank you, sir.
You’ll owe me for them.
I won’t disappoint you. Thank you.
I’ll be back in an hour.
Well, that’s nice to hear.
♪ Yankee Doodle went to town ♪
♪ Riding on his pony ♪
♪ Stuck a feather in his hat ♪
♪ And called it macaroni ♪
Isn’t there a German version of this song?
You bet there is.
[fast-paced music continues]
♪ Yankee Doodle Stay at home ♪
♪ Don’t fly across the ocean ♪
♪ Why should you fight? It’s Europe’s war ♪
♪ Save your boys the explosion ♪
We Americans have decided to side with the British with their “lend-lease” policy.
And for what?
Since when are the British our friends?
♪ Yankee Doodle Clear your eyes ♪
♪ The Germans are your saviors ♪
[Mildred] [over radio] At least there’s no reason for we Americans to get mixed up in this British mess.
Salvador, what the devil is that station that you got us listening to?
[Charlie] [over radio] ♪ .gunfire and their bones ♪
♪ And with your girl be randy ♪
That’s a wrap.
Elva, what are you doing here?
I wanted to wish you good luck.
That’s cliche of you, isn’t it?
James, I want you to look at me.
Oh, your eyes are still green.
Ah, you always did love that about me.
I work for the district attorney’s office now.
Oh! You’re lying.
For God’s sake, fix your tie.
Well, you’re still bitter, I can see that.
Here we are.
Federal District Court is now in session.
The Honorable Judge Edward M. Curran presiding.
[Judge Curran] This is a matter of United States versus Gillars.
Ladies and gentlemen of the jury, your duty here today and over the course of this trial is to determine if the defendant is guilty of treason or not, based solely on the evidence and facts provided here.
We start today with opening arguments.
Is the prosecution ready?
Yes, Your Honor.
[Judge Curran] You may proceed.
Thank you, Your Honor.
Is there a greater crime that a human being can commit than treason?
As it is not a crime against just one man, but a crime against every man of this great nation?
Therefore, it must be treated with the utmost severity.
She went by other names too.
“The Berlin Babe.”
We’ve all heard her broadcasts.
Her relentless treasonous praise of the German military, of Hitler himself.
She was the voice of a man who claimed the lives of over 400,000 American men.
Now I can’t stand here before you and even predict what the defense is going to argue, or if they even choose to present an argument at all.
But what I can do, and what I will do, is prove to you beyond a reasonable doubt that Mildred Gillars is a traitor to our country.
For years, Mildred Gillars voluntarily utilized a German propaganda machine to weaken the American war effort, and to destroy the morale of our troops.
Now if that does not personify the very definition of the word ‘treason’, I don’t know what does.
[Judge Curran] Thank you, Mr. Kelley.
Yes, Your Honor?
Opening statement, Mr. Laughlin.
Oh, yes. Billy.
Want you to read that.
Yeah. Just stand up.
The defense feels that the charges as well as the comments we just heard from Prosecutor Kelley holds less water than a. a midget’s thimble.
And therefore, Your Honor, the defense has no comment at this time.
[murmurs from audience]
Thank you, Your Honor.
You didn’t come into this world naturally, did you, Billy?
They had to tear you out of your mother. Hmm.
Now, I’m-I’m gonna act like I’m talking serious as hell.
And you listen like I’m telling you the secret password to the best whorehouse in town. Got it?
Now, this… this may be the most important part of the whole thing.
Because no matter what happens in here, no matter what those monkeys across the aisle say or do or think, the very most important thing is that we behave as if we just won the war all over again.
Confidence is everything. Everything.
Absolutely everything in this room.
Don’t you ever forget that.
Told you not to speak, didn’t I, Billy?
Don’t talk. Just listen. Okay.
Don’t you ever in your life repeat what I’m about to say to you now.
Because I thought about this a great deal last night.
I cannot stand that damn Gillars broad.
Did you see the way she walked in today?
Like she was Bette Davis or something?
I don’t want anything to do with her for the rest of the trial.
I’ll sit here beside her, I’ll do what I do because it’s incredible publicity.
Win or lose, though, makes no difference to me.
That’s the point…
[Ingrid] A few words, Mr. Laughlin.
A few words, please?
A few words?
Ingrid, for you, I got more than a few, honey.
I’ll be right there, guys.
Now, from now on, after every dismissal, you go down to her holding cell, relay anything I give you.
You do the same every morning.
Before she comes up here, you relay what I’ve said.
Okay? Same thing every single day.
Keep good notes, and tell me anything you think is important.
Am I making myself crystal clear?
Look at that!
Confidence catching on.
Don’t let it go to your head.
We shall see what we shall see.
Yes, I am here at last. I am here.
It was worth… well worth the wait, I’m sorry.
[Eleanor Roosevelt] [over radio] Good evening, ladies and gentlemen.
I’m speaking to you tonight at a very serious moment in our history.
For months now, the knowledge that something of this kind might happen, has been hanging over our heads.
That is all over now, and there is no more uncertainty.
In the meantime, we, the people, are already prepared for action.
How could they do this, Max?
America’s neutral. Why would your ally attack us?
No, this is not what I signed up for.
Mildred, please be careful with your words.
[closes Zippo lighter]
Did you know, after the last war, Americans bought the ruins of German castles and moved them, stone by stone, to the USA?
They thought they could purchase our national history.
They were naive enough to think that Europe respected the wealth that enabled them to buy what their culture lacked.
Did you know that?
America is young.
And we can forgive the mistakes of youth, but their arrogance is unacceptable.
They disrespect our thousands of years of history, and preach to us of morality.
They have the ability to distinguish truth from falsehood.
Gold from floss.
Only difference today in the America you left is that it has decayed even further.
Their capitalism has produced a handful of wealthy men, and a nation of slaves who think they are free.
Their Hollywood films glamorize the lifestyle of the upper few, while the rest of the country keeps fantasizing that one day, this could be them.
They’re too unintelligent to realize that the few pennies they are paid to break their backs will never afford them anything.
A nation of imaginative, dreaming fools.
Why do you defend them?
The United States is falling apart.
Their leaders have been waiting for this opportunity. [sighs]
They want a war.
Do you know why?
The president has led the nation into an economic catastrophe from which there is no escape.
An entire generation of youths lost and jobless.
The country is on the verge of revolution.
So, they send their sons to be slaughtered.
We will only war with America to save the people from their government, and show them a way forward.
You have found success here.
You have found a life.
[inhales] Do not choose to follow a path blindly because of your birthplace.
Germany has opened its arms to you.
Stay with us, and you will know what victory feels like.
I don’t have to remind you that your American passport and travel papers have been confiscated.
This is an oath of allegiance to the Reich.
You must sign this if you are to continue to live here.
[cell gate opens]
[cell gate closes]
[Billy clears throat]
Um, pardon me, Miss, uh, Miss Gillars?
My name is Billy Owen.
[Mildred] Are you just going to stand there like a lost lemon, or do you have a note that you’d like to read out loud to me?
Oh, uh. I-I don’t have a note.
What a pity.
[unlocking cell gate]
[locking cell gate]
Um, Mr. Laughlin thinks that in the…
I am not quite sure I give a damn what Mr. Laughlin thinks.
He is the best, Miss Gillars.
The best of what?
A fast trial, and an even faster execution?
The best at saying nothing?
The best at telling jokes, because he did an excellent job at both of those today.
But his reputation…
That’s what’s really important here, isn’t it?
The Green Hornet?
The judge killer?
A jury of 12 people who already hate me could not give a hot damn about my lawyer’s reputation!
He told me that this would all be cleared up quickly.
That I would have another shot at Broadway from all the publicity.
[sighs] Miss Gillars, he… he’s trying to help you.
I was wondering about this when I saw you out there.
And unfortunately, I was right.
You are as naive and dumb as you look.
You may go now, Billy Owen.
Well, thank you, Miss Gillars, um.
Have a nice day.
[unlocking cell gate]
[cell gate creaking]
[locking cell gate]
[James] What’d you learn?
[Billy] Um, [clears throat], she was born in Maine into a broken home.
Her parents finally split while she was still a teenager.
Went to university to study drama.
She was actually a chorus girl.
And, uh, she did some vaudeville too.
Moved to Berlin in 1933 where she taught English.
Started working for Radio Berlin…
What are you… giving me her obituary?
Everything you just said was in this morning’s paper.
I read it.
Oh, was it?
She didn’t talk to you at all, did she?
No, she didn’t.
You know the Senate has a baseball team?
Won 50 games last year.
They lost 104.
Finished in last place in the American League.
Forty-seven games behind the first-place team, which eventually won the championship, the New York Yankees.
Winners worry about winning.
Losers worry about winners.
Uh, sir, I-I’m not sure I understand.
You’re not gonna get very far chasing ambulances on that bum leg.
Alright, lock up before you leave.
[John Kelley] Your Honor, the prosecution would now like to play the recording from June 17th, 1943.
[Mildred] [over radio] This is Berlin calling.
Berlin calling the American mothers and wives.
It’s a disgrace to the American public that they don’t wake up to the fact of what Franklin Roosevelt is doing to the gentiles of your country and my country.
And I refuse to participate in it, and insist on fighting against it.
You can put American uniform on our boys.
You can put a rifle in their… [over radio] hands…
Hey, Sally’s on!
[Mildred] [over radio] …you can send them across the borders to destroy Germany, but you can never bring understanding between the Americans and the British.
I say, forget Roosevelt, [over radio] and Churchill, who made this war possible.
As an American girl, I stay over here on this side of the fence.
‘Cause Germany’s the side that’s the right side.
In reality, there’s no war between Germany and America, but a war between the Jews and the gentiles.
[over radio] And I almost forgot, I want to say hello to the 36th Infantry Division…
[Mildred] …who just landed outside Tobruk.
Maybe tonight she’ll say something about Jimmy’s unit.
[Mildred] [over radio] You will soon be welcomed by a sizable German greeting party.
And while you’re over there fighting for Roosevelt and all his Jewish cohorts, I do hope that way back in your hometown, nobody will be making eyes at honey.
[over radio] Are you thinking about what your girlfriends and wives are doing tonight, fellas?
You don’t really blame them for wanting some fun, do you?
The last thing in the world they want is for you boys to get all mutilated and broken up from fighting with the unbeatable German Army.
Any girl likes to have her man in one piece.
[over radio] I’m only saying this because I care about you.
I don’t want to see your lives wasted for that mental, moral, and physical cripple of a president of yours.
And now for some music.
♪ Yes we have no bananas ♪
♪ We have no bananas today ♪
♪ We’ve string beans and onions [indistinct]… ♪
♪ And tomatoes. ♪
♪ …and potatoes ♪
♪ But yes we have no bananas ♪
♪ You’ll pay If you stand in our way ♪
♪ I’ve got two words [indistinct] ♪
♪ So yes We’re all out of mercy ♪
♪ And you’ll pay If you stand in our way ♪
Good, boys. Good job.
That’s my guys.
“We girls have needs too, you see.
“The last thing we want in the world is for you boys to be all mutilated and broken up from fighting with the unbeatable German Army.”
That’s what I recall.
You went off script.
Dr. Goebbels, since the beginning of my acting career, I’ve been taught that you’re supposed to convey the feelings.
Not-not necessarily word for word, that sometimes you go off script.
is simply the opposite of beatable.
There’s no opposite for the word “invincible”.
That was the word I used in your script, [inhales] which you failed to express correctly.
Did you notice anything, Max, when you were leaving?
I want outta here.
I have an idea for a new show.
It’s called Letters to Home.
We’ll visit. prisoner of war camps, and you will interview American POWs.
It’ll show parents back home that their sons are alive, and are getting treatment.
Dr. Goebbels would approve because it will show Germans treating Americans with such kindness, care.
Soldiers can record messages and send them back home.
Hello, gang, Midge calling.
I’m interviewing a very nice soldier named Harold, from New York City.
And Harold would like to speak to his sister and mom.
[Max] Everyone would tune in because they’ll get the news faster than from anywhere else.
You’re brave and beautiful to me.
Okay. Let’s get a big smile here.
[Max] After all, Germans and Americans aren’t really enemies.
Anybody for some Apennine nectar?
It’s actually a little stronger than Appenine.
Johnny, would you like to say a few words to those back home, maybe family or a sweetheart?
To Alison, and tell her I love her.
One, two, three.
[James] Do you know, without a doubt, that the woman who interviewed you as a prisoner of war while she was masquerading in a Red Cross uniform, is this woman right there?
[soldier] Everyone kept whispering that it was the famous Axis Sally, but she called herself another name.
And how did you respond?
To tell you the truth, I had a hard time concentrating on anything she was saying.
And why is that?
Well, um, sir…
[soldier] When she sat down…
She didn’t leave a lot to the imagination.
Really? I don’t quite understand that.
Would you describe what it was?
Well, um, sir.
When she moved forward a bit.
[soldier] .to adjust the microphone.
I saw. quite a-a bit.
[James] You saw quite a bit?
Well, can you describe what it was that you saw?
I don’t know that I can say it in mixed company, sir.
[James] Oh, come on.
You could say it. You could say it here.
Look, I’m sure everyone here has heard quite a bit of everything during this trial.
Won’t you-won’t you enlighten us, please?
Are you serious, sir?
I’m as serious as the metal plate in your forehead, buddy.
There’s a woman’s life on the line.
And you testified that she somehow made you say things you wouldn’t normally have said.
So, what is so all-fired secretive you can’t let it out?
Let it out. Come on. Let’s hear it.
It wasn’t just the cleavage showing, sir.
She wasn’t wearing any underwear.
Oh, well, that is understandable, don’t you think?
You were interviewed as a prisoner of war, correct?
Yes, sir. I had been a part of the Army’s 29th Division when I got captured.
Alright. Where are we calling?
Calling the greatest town in the world.
Minot, North Dakota.
So who do you have in Minot?
Got my girl, Margaret, and our firstborn son.
He’s a handsome boy. He looks like his daddy.
[Mildred] I bet.
I bet. And what would you like to say to them?
How are you doing?
[Delbert] Fever’s low. Spirits are high.
Got a little shrapnel tickling my leg, but I’m gonna be alright.
She told me and another group of wounded soldiers that our folks back home would be happy to hear that we’re still alive and bein’ treated well.
And were you treated well?
No, sir. Not exactly.
But, well, I guess you are in a makeshift hospital and they’re doing the best they can, under the circumstances.
They’re not doing much, ma’am.
A soldier’s life, you kind of take it as it comes.
Hello, gang, it’s Midge.
I’m coming to you from a hospital in Germany where I have a handsome young soldier named Andrew from North Carolina…
[John Kelley] Can you identify the person who interrogated you in a German prisoner of war camp?
It was her.
I told her that I recognized her voice.
What did she say?
She smiled and said, “I guess you know me as Axis Sally?”
And how did you answer her?
I told her that we knew her by a few other choice names.
After you and the others had talked to her, what happened?
Well, I didn’t know at the time, sir,
but when I got back home, I found out they had edited the tapes to make it sound like something completely different.
Can you remember anything specific?
She made it sound like we thought it was a disgrace what President Roosevelt had allowed to happen to us fighting men, and that it was a futile war.
[Randy] This woman sold out our country.
Yes. You mentioned that repeatedly now.
Did she undermine your morale?
[James] She… she did?
How did she undermine your morale?
That’s what I’d like. How’d she do it?
My morale was upset by this woman working for the Germans.
I see. Now, you were a paratrooper.
You know, you used to fly behind enemy lines and jump out, right?
Do you recall a tune named, “Germany Is Marching On”?
You remember that?
Doesn’t ring a bell. No.
No? Well, maybe this’ll help.
Billy. [smacks lips]
[switching tap recorder on]
♪ And Germany Keeps marching on ♪
♪ And Germany Keeps marching on ♪
[Randy] I recall the tune.
As you say now, that upset your morale?
Your will to fight in the war?
That’s what I said.
[James] Well, it seems a little hypersensitive for a man who jumps out of planes behind enemy lines, don’t you think?
Sustained. Watch your step, Mr. Laughlin.
I’m sorry for stepping on the truth, Your Honor.
Mr. Laughlin, can I ask you something?
Yeah, just make it quick, Billy, please. What?
Have you thought about using the First Amendment as a defense?
[James] Well, that’s freshman stuff, Billy.
Introduction to Law 101.
The prosecution is saying she aided and abetted our enemies.
[chuckles] You want to argue freedom of speech?
Alright. Well, what about the Expatriation Act of 1868?
I don’t have time for this, Billy, please.
She renounced her American citizenship and swore allegiance to the Third Reich.
Yeah. Ah-huh. Ah-huh.
You can’t commit treason if you’re not a citizen.
You know, it’s not that you’re not smart, Billy.
You’re just dumb. That’s all.
Sir, what… what does that have to do with anything?
You know, there’s things they don’t teach you in law school.
Like how the world works. You know, the bigger picture.
Actors on a stage aren’t the only one with a role to play.
And not every player in this game shows up in the courthouse.
Newspapers have to be sold.
Politicians make promises they got to keep.
And the American public, they need retaliation for the war.
Don’t they? Hmm.
Did you make a deal?
Well, what are… what are you talking about?
Of course, I made a deal.
Did you make a deal?
I made a deal. Of course!
I always make a deal.
I wouldn’t be here if I didn’t make a deal.
That’s the job description.
Here, let’s imagine I argue expatriation.
Do you know what that means?
For all the other Americans who went over there and contributed to the German war effort?
Now no one will get held accountable for their actions, right?
What would that mean?
[chuckles] Get it?
But she didn’t do anything.
What did you say?
But she didn’t do anything.
Boy, you got some extra bone in that head of yours.
Doesn’t matter, Billy.
Get it through your skull. It just doesn’t matter.
But her life is at stake.
I mean, doesn’t that mean anything to you, sir?
I know the picture of death.
You understand? I got it framed right here.
Have you seen it?
I’m sorry, sir.
I… [clears throat]
I didn’t know.
No, because your mouth is open.
Listen, don’t you come up here with your dick on fire and question my morality.
You just keep taking notes and dreaming about getting laid by Goebbels’ ex-whore.
I’m not dreaming about getting laid by Goebbels… is this…
Well then, wake the fuck up!
You wanna keep your job, Billy?
[James] Really? You wanna keep it?
Do me one thing.
Keep your mouth shut during the trial and in the courthouse, and you’ll keep your job.
See, we just made a deal.
Kitchen’s closed, kid.
Come back another time.
I listened to you during the war.
And you made me laugh at a time when nothing else did.
I wasn’t the only one either.
And I’m watching all these guys come in and exaggerate the way they felt.
It really burns me up.
I know I’m not the guy up there asking the questions, but…
I just want you to know that I’m on your side.
Cards might be stacked against us, but I didn’t come back from Okinawa without learning how to fight.
This is for you.
Ah, [gasps], oh-oh.
I feel like a kid at Christmas.
[in German] Thank you. Thank you.
[band playing “Lili Marlene”]
♪ Outside the barracks By the corner light ♪
♪ I’ll always stand And wait for you at night ♪
♪ We will create A world for two ♪
♪ I’ll wait for you The whole night through ♪
♪ For you, Lili Marlene ♪
♪ For you, Lili Marlene ♪
[Max] You were marvelous tonight.
[Mildred] You just tell me what I want to hear.
[Max] I’ve got an idea for a new radio play.
It’s about an American mother who has a dream that her son dies in an invasion of Europe.
[Max coughing, sniffing]
[Mildred moaning, grunting]
[Dr. Goebbels grunts]
[Dr. Goebbels and Mildred grunting]
[Mildred breathing rapidly]
[empty gun clicks]
[Dr. Goebbels breathes deeply]
[Mildred breathes deeply]
[James] Okay, thank you.
Yes, it’s me.
[cell door opens]
So, Billy sent me down here, said you want to talk to me, you got something to say that will change the whole case.
I tried to kill Dr. Joseph Goebbels.
Is that what you brought me down here for, to tell me that?
Didn’t that mean something to you?
Take it easy.
Did anyone see you try this?
Someone we can call on to testify?
Then it didn’t happen.
But it’s true.
Talk to me, tell me this truth.
Let’s do it.
Okay, Dr. Goebbels wanted me in his hotel.
And I was in the room.
And there was a gun on the table.
I reached for the gun, I pointed it at his head.
And I pulled the trigger.
I hoped to kill him.
Uh-huh. Hoping the hope.
Well, that’s not the best situation to be in, now, is it?
Did anyone see this thing, now?
No. I told Max about it.
Yeah, well, Max is dead.
So, your assassination attempt failed.
You have no witnesses.
And now, everyone who was alive at the time is dead.
But it’s the truth.
You’ve to prove it.
What is reality, and what we have to accept, is not always the truth, and that’s the truth.
I had lived in Germany for five years before the war even started.
I had a life there. I was in love.
I never had those things in the States.
And they took my papers, Mr. Laughlin.
I couldn’t go anywhere.
I couldn’t return to the States.
What was I supposed to do?
Everybody likes to think that they would always do the right thing, always make the right choice.
But it is not like that in war.
There’s no right and wrong.
There’s just death and survival.
And I did what I could to survive.
What would you have done, Mr. Laughlin?
I probably woulda tried to kill Goebbels too.
[Charlie] This is Berlin calling.
And when Berlin calls, it pays to listen in.
Instead of our regular program, we want to present a play entitled Vision of Invasion.
When you performed in the play Visions of Invasion, what do you recall about Miss Gillars?
She was quite a good actress.
So, she was serious about the role?
Objection! Your Honor!
The witness’s opinion of Mildred Gillars’ performance is in no way relevant to this case.
Oh, come on, Counsel! Don’t be absurd.
Of course, it is!
She was the star of a radio play that predicted American soldiers being slaughtered like pigs.
This was psychological warfare in which she was a soldier!
[Mildred] [as Evelyn] You know, I sometimes have dreams, premonitions.
I can’t stop thinking about one I just had about all of our young men getting ready for D-Day and the invasion of France.
D stands for doom and disaster, defeat and death!
Did you consider not accepting your role in the play?
No, of course not.
Saying no was never an option.
What would have happened if you refused to play your part?
My wife, my children and myself might have been sent to a concentration camp.
Come with me halfway around the world as Evelyn’s vision continues.
In her dream, she sees her despondent son aboard the troop ship, speaking to his buddy.
[heavy German accent] They say we’ve got the go-ahead to go hit the beaches.
I wonder what will happen to us?
I’ve got a feeling inside that we’ll never see the States again.
I was just thinking what Mother is doing now and what she’s heard.
I was dreaming, son, but you are real.
You are home. Safe.
Alan, I’m so happy.
Mr. Houben, you were the manager of the overseas division of the German Broadcasting Company during the war.
Were you not?
[heavy German accent] Yes, sir.
Do you remember the defendant working on a radio play named Vision of Invasion?
Yes, sir. I was there when they recorded it.
Do you remember if everyone in the play, including Miss Gillars, read from a script?
Yes, sir. They always used a script.
Oh! Something horrible happened!
Alan is dead!
What’s the matter, my dear?
Bad dreams again?
He was right here in the room!
It was real.
Who was the scriptwriter?
Max Otto Koischwitz.
Not Miss Gillars.
You were fantastic.
The whole country was listening.
Dr. Goebbels, Der Fuhrer himself.
Mm. Will it do any good?
Hmm. Somehow. Of course.
[wine glass thuds]
It’s nothing. Maybe the wine.
I’m fatigued. Stress. That’s all.
[Max gasping for breath]
You should rest.
[with effort] No, no.
Now, we’re celebrating.
This is another beginning for us.
I hope so.
Max, you have a fever. We have to get you into bed.
Tell me, do… do you remember ever Miss Gillars going off the script during that production.
You know, saying the words she wanted to say?
Do you remember any time the actors, on any of the readings of the programs, went off script or refused to follow the directions written on the script?
And what happened to anyone who refused to follow directions?
[clears throat] They disappeared.
No? What happened to them?
The man who held the position before me did it.
And what happened to him?
He and his family were sent to a concentration camp.
So, it wouldn’t have been out of the ordinary if Miss Gillars had refused to read the script or follow the notes, that the same thing might have happened to her?
Either that, or she would have been shot like several other broadcasters we all knew.
Were you ever threatened in connection with your work?
This is… this is ridiculous, Your Honor.
Counsel, approach the bench.
Your Honor, we have established time and time again in this trial that the fear of punishment does not constitute actual punishment.
The defense continues to put witnesses on the stand and goads them into saying they were in fear for their lives, which has never been the question at hand.
The whole world knows that life in Germany was scary, but that in no way excuses a criminal act.
I don’t know how much clearer this can be made.
If the defense could produce a witness who was actually threatened themselves, we would have no objections.
Mr. Kelley, do you have anything to add?
No. I think that just about sums it up.
Dare I ask, Mr. Laughlin?
To her point, the dead don’t talk, Your Honor.
So, if they did, we’d have a lot of witnesses.
As it is, you can’t subpoena someone who’s six feet under the ground.
And I am bound by the rules. That is all.
And hearsay and speculation are not allowed in a court of law.
Thank you, Your Honor.
I didn’t know that.
[newscaster] [voice-over] And on the 5th day of June 1944, just as you see them here, a fleet of more than 4,000 ships put out from England.
Paris is liberated.
Cheering crowds line the streets as the Allies speed through the outskirts.
[newscaster 1] Freedom comes back to Greece.
[newscaster 2] Field Marshal von Rundstedt struck with 20 divisions on a 40-mile front.
The Battle of the Bulge.
This is all been hard for me to witness, as it was been hard for you to listen to, girls.
My thoughts go out to Margaret, Delbert’s wife tonight, and to their young son.
And I hope that Delbert will be home to you soon.
We have two more soldiers to report on.
[over radio] There’s Louis Koch from Milwaukee.
I have a report from the 4th of December.
It states that he had a crushing fracture of the right arm [over radio] which was so bad that the doctors had to amputate.
A later report says that the wound is healing quite nicely.
And there is Jimmy Thomas of Portland, Maine.
Jimmy? She said our Jimmy?
[Mildred] Jimmy is in a camp.
.and sends his love to his family on this Christmas.
He’s got a bullet in his left knee which unfortunately splintered the bone.
The German doctors worked on him tirelessly and I have to tell you that Jimmy was just so thankful when I saw him.
He walks with a limp now.
…but he has his life and his health.
Jimmy is alive. [chuckles tearfully]
I just found out on the Axis Sally show.
[Mildred] [over radio] He told me about films he had seen in America.
Films which dealt with the barbarism in Germany, and the treatment which she deals out to American prisoners.
But that wasn’t his experience at all.
He said he realizes today that that’s only propaganda.
Men are coming in by the hundreds.
These American boys, day after day, they’re flying over Europe in their terror raids trying to extinguish a whole race, killing ruthlessly helpless women and children.
I ask you, American women, if you brought up your boys to be murderers?
Because that’s what they are becoming.
These boys were asked to sacrifice their youth and their future… and for what?
[Charlie] Now Midge, it’s Christmas Eve.
I’m sure there will be a stop to all the killing for a moment.
The boys are missing their families and their families are missing them.
Why don’t we give them this Christmas song?
Good idea, Charlie.
[orchestra playing somber melody]
♪ Wouldn’t we rather be home For Christmas? ♪
♪ Closing out the year With those we love ♪
♪ What joy If on that winter day ♪
♪ My boys who were So far away ♪
♪ Came home at Christmas time ♪
♪ Christmas time is meant For making merry ♪
♪ Not making war From London to Berlin ♪
♪ Reindeer, If you’ll lead the way ♪
♪ I promise I’ll forever Stay at home ♪
♪ For Christmas time ♪
♪ At home for Christmas time ♪
Keep listening to this show for more soldiers’ medical reports.
As you know. we often have updates.
Merry Christmas, America.
Would you answer the question, please?
You signed the oath of allegiance to save your life, is that it?
Yes. I signed the oath in order to live.
You said again and again that the Allies should just surrender to Germany.
Did you think your words would actually cause them to, what? Just give up?
It was entertainment.
We sang songs. We joked around.
We tried to make it fun for the soldiers.
You sometimes talked about the girlfriends, the wives back in the States running around with the 4-Fs back home.
Did you think that was entertaining to the guys on the front lines?
They knew I was just clowning around.
Were you clowning around in your medical reports when you read a mother’s name and told her that her son had just died in action?
Or when you continued to tell that mother about her son’s sufferings before his death?
Was that just clowning around?
You know it wasn’t.
Miss Gillars, as Axis Sally, did you really want the United States to lose the war?
Were you in love with Mr. Max Otto Koischwitz?
That’s a personal question.
It’s personal. Yes, I know.
But would you answer my question anyway?
Yes, I loved him.
I had known him when I was a student back in Hunter College in New York City.
And I reunited with him in Germany when we worked together.
And did Prof. Koischwitz have any influence on your life?
I considered him my destiny.
What do you mean by that? Your destiny.
Without the presence of Prof. Koischwitz in my life, I would not be alive and fighting for my life here today.
And, I believe that those years that we had together were worth everything.
Even all the misery that came later.
It’s your firm belief?
I loved him with all my heart, and I would do it again.
[doctor] Fever is too high.
The infection has spread beyond control.
There’s not much we can do for him anymore at this point.
Tuberculosis is very contagious.
You perhaps should be checked.
Thank you, Doctor.
Sweet Max, how will I ever live without you?
You’re my knight.
So smart, so sweet, and always, always believed in me, loved me.
You are the only man I’ve ever loved, and the only one who ever loved me.
[struggling to speak] I’m sorry.
Don’t be sorry.
Don’t be sorry, Max. Please.
I love you.
Always, I love you.
Good evening, women of America.
As you know, as time goes on, I think of you more and more.
I can’t seem to get you out of my head somehow.
We can all only hope for the best from all of this.
And for the American soldiers, I hope that my broadcasts have somehow brought you some relief from the war.
And that wherever you were in Europe or North America, that somehow, I helped get your mind off of the killing, and made it a little better, if only for a few minutes.
This is my last broadcast, and I hope that you’ll be safe and well.
Oh, your resignation. Very professional.
Who’s gonna replace you?
I don’t know. I’m very hard to replace.
[laughs] All right.
Don’t look prepared.
Always carry what the prosecution has against you.
[John Kelley] Defense would have you believe that Miss Gillars was a victim, but the evidence suggests otherwise.
Her friends were Nazis, her fiancé was a Nazi, everyone around her. Nazis.
She chose to be there.
She felt they couldn’t lose.
She was on the right side, and all she cared about was her own ambitions, her own selfish fame.
And as time went on, she realized that she had done wrong.
So much so, that when the war was finished, she went by a false name until we finally tracked her down.
Now, is that the behavior of an innocent victim?
Or of a lying, opportunistic traitor?
What she did was unnerve our soldiers, and brought aid and comfort to our enemies.
As far as the Constitution, that is the definition of treason.
I ask you… I, uh, I beseech you… find that woman guilty of the heinous crimes that she perpetrated against our great land.
Ladies and gentlemen of the jury, I’m gonna have to apologize for the vague odor in the room
that the prosecution left.
Um, horse manure. It’ll go away.
I didn’t get the laughs I expected.
I never do.
“Anyone who thinks, must think of entering this war as they would of suicide.”
Eleanor Roosevelt said that.
“Never think that this war, no matter how justified, is not a crime. Never think it’s not a crime.”
And that is Ernest Hemingway.
But neither of them are being tried for treason.
Why is that?
Like Miss Gillars, they opposed our involvement in the war.
And like Miss Gillars, they spoke out about it.
But unlike Miss Gillars, neither of them had a gun to their head.
And unlike Miss Gillars, their words were not spoon fed to them by the Nazis.
Miss Gillars is on trial for eight counts of treason, for reading from a script she did not write, saying words she did not believe in, and being ordered to say these words on penalty of death.
And now this prosecution would have her hanged.
“Congress shall make no law abridging the freedom of speech.”
I’ve heard that before. That’s the First Amendment.
Mrs. Roosevelt, Hemingway and all the others, they say what they said, and our American laws protected them.
Ladies and gentlemen of the jury, you must understand.
America is watching.
The world is watching us, all of us.
If Miss Gillars is found guilty, freedom of speech may no longer be our right.
It will be a privilege, and a privilege can be revoked at any time, for any reason.
But let’s be honest, right now, Axis Sally was not a person.
Axis Sally was a persona, a character that Miss Gillars played on a radio show.
And here’s the long and short of it.
Not a single, solitary American life was lost because of Miss Gillars’ radio broadcast, not one.
That’s a fact.
On the other hand, many a worried parent.
American mothers, fathers. they all got comfort, because they were hearing about their sons’ whereabouts through her radio programs.
Millions listened to each and every broadcast every week.
Yet this unjustly maligned and accused woman sits here today, fighting for her life, even though there’s not a single shred of evidence, no evidence, that any of her broadcasts were harmful to this country, or they in some way, undermined the morale of our fighting soldiers.
Oh, are you kidding?
Our boys engaged in the rigors of wars are not paying attention to what Mildred Gillars, or Axis Sally, says over a radio program.
Some ridiculous song? Did you hear the song?
“Germany’s beating you” or something like that, whatever it was, something. it was a silly jingle!
A slapstick parody!
Of course, they… they found it ridiculous.
They laugh and they mock it, and they write home to their folks saying, “Did you hear what Axis Sally said the other day?”
Ha-ha-ha, it’s a joke.
You understand? It’s a joke.
Of course, she did say things we didn’t like.
Of course, she did.
But that was the persona.
That was Axis Sally. It wasn’t Mildred Gillars.
Don’t forget, that was a part she was forced to play.
Who is really responsible for those words?
It was the ugly propaganda machine of the Third Reich, Goebbels’ and Hitler’s words, not Miss Mildred Gillars’ words. No.
Let’s just stop for a minute.
And let’s just take a look at what’s really going on here.
Millions of lives were lost.
Now, I don’t know.
I don’t know if you can win a war that cost so much.
I don’t know.
But I do know that there isn’t a person in this room who wasn’t affected by this war, not a person.
So what do we do?
Some lost friends.
Some lost whole families.
relatives, brothers, sons.
I’ll read this for you.
“If there is harm.
“then you shall pay life for life.
An eye for an eye, a tooth for tooth.”
We all know that. We’ve heard it before.
We want justice for this war.
We want our enemies to pay dearly for what they took from us.
And we’re not wrong for wanting this.
But we must pause.
We must be vigilant in where we point the finger.
The woman who sits in this chair here, is not your enemy.
She never was.
We cannot let our pain for our loss, our feelings, cloud our judgment.
Confuse blind justice with blind vengeance.
I have to say, this feels like vengeance.
We must not sacrifice this woman at the holy altar of patriotism.
A patriotism, which very easily could be covering up a lynch mob!
Then the tyranny which we fought against for years will become us.
We saw her during this whole trial.
We know her.
We heard her life story.
We heard the little things about her, the innuendos, et cetera.
We heard the prosecution hammering away, as he is wont to do.
Being alone without a passport, foreign country, no place to go.
In a war zone, a war zone that became her life.
What do you do?
What happens to someone who has to live through that?
Philosophers, psychiatrists, from Plato to Freud, tell us, “Foremost among our basic human instincts is the reflex to survive.”
That’s what Mildred Gillars did.
And that’s all she did.
Let me ask you, what would you have done?
Any one of you?
Think about it.
If you lived in fear, every single moment of every single day, knowing that your life could end with a single bullet to the head.
What would you do?
Or an oven?
Picture yourself in that situation.
What would you have done with a gun, literally, to your head?
What would you have done?
Because if you think for one moment your choices would have been different than hers, well, I don’t think you’d be breathing right now.
I just don’t.
Axis Sally, the persona, is over, like the war is over.
Mildred Gillars, the person, the human being, is still here.
A person who managed to beat unthinkable odds to survive is here.
Give Miss Gillars her life back, her freedom.
She’s an American.
She always was an American.
Let’s treat her like one.
We’re not going to kill this woman because she managed to somehow survive, are we?
Are we going to do that?
I don’t think so.
Well, I hope not.
Thank you very much.
Rest, Your Honor.
[Billy sighs deeply]
Since I was a little girl.
I’ve always known.
I wasn’t the prettiest or the best.
Every success I’ve found, I worked for it, harder than anybody.
My father was a drunk.
He abused my mother, then me.
She left him, and married another one just the same.
My stepfather raped me for years.
I’m so sorry, Mildred.
I don’t need your pity.
[inhales] I’m a survivor.
When you’re forced to grow up that fast, that young, you have to be.
[inhales and exhales]
Men have taken advantage of me my whole life.
But not Max.
I’m damaged goods.
[inhales] But he…
He told me I had what it takes.
And to hear people talk about him like he was some horrible person, it breaks my heart.
I loved him.
When he died. a part of me died with him.
[Judge Curran] Mr. Foreman, has the jury agreed upon a verdict on each of the eight counts?
Yes, we have, Your Honor.
[Judge Curran] Will the defendant please rise?
What say you?
On count one, we the jury, find the defendant, Mildred Gillars… not guilty.
Order in this court.
Count two, not guilty.
Count three, not guilty.
Count four, not guilty.
Count five, not guilty.
Count six, not guilty.
Count seven, not guilty.
And on count eight, involving her part in the German propaganda broadcast of the radio play Vision of Invasion, we the jury find her guilty as charged.
[man 1] Grounder.
I believe that’s what you called it?
[James] Well, it was a hard-hit ball, but it was an easy out.
Our British friends hung their Axis Sally and the trial took three days.
[James] Good for them, but the powers that be told me I should, you know, make it look good.
You got a conviction.
She got 30 years. You won.
Pretty good, no?
You have another case, Herbert John Burgman.
Sixty-nine counts of treason. You’re going to Berlin.
Well, that’s fine.
[man 1] Goodbye, Mr. Laughlin.
Yeah, for now.
[sighs] Oh, man.
When I got this idea of trying to contact this very famous lawyer that I’d been reading about in the newspaper, who was defending Axis Sally, he doesn’t pay any attention to me.
And then a little later, he comes over and says, “Can you be at the courthouse at 9:30 in the morning?”
I said, “Sure I can.”
And he sits me down in the counsel table in this most famous trial.
I’d never been in a courtroom before.
[music fades out]