‘American Traitor The Trial of Axis Sally’ Summary & Analysis – An Artist’s Survival Tale


To polish a country’s pride, nationality is often attached to an artist and his/her art. This is an American artist, that was a german painting. An artist had always been a nomadic tribe, an anarchist who never believed in nationality. Yet from time to time, his/her art and talents have been exploited to promote political agenda, because why not, art is a mass medium. A similar instance has been inquisitively explored in Michael Polish’s film, American Traitor The Trial of Axis Sally.

The film is based on William E. Owen’s novel of the same name. The narrative centers around an American broadcaster, Mildred Gillars, also known as Axis Sally. During the Nazi Regime, she became instrumental in Hitler’s propaganda and shaking the spirit of American soldiers, through her radio program. In 1949, she was presented in front of the American Jury that would decide the fate of her past actions.

‘American Traitor The Trial of Axis Sally’ Summary

After the fall of Hitler’s Germany and the victory of Allied forces, many Nazi officers and their aiders were put on trial around the world. Mildred Gillars, who was inherently an American, was deported to the United States, where she was put on trial. She was charged for treason against her own country and assisting in promoting Nazi propaganda, voluntarily.

However, her defense attorney, James Laughlin (Al Pacino) argues that Mildred, like many other artists, was under death threat, which was the sole reason for their actions.

The film captures the past life and present court case against Mildred Gillars, through captivating scenes. Was she the culprit?

Read More – ‘American Traitor The Trial of Axis Sally’ Ending, Explained

The Analysis

In the entire narrative, James Laughlin captures two integral points of an artist’s life. Firstly, if art is viewed from the tint of anti-nationalism then it doesn’t mean that it was created with the same purpose too. The perspective of the artist might have been totally different and if it offends you then it doesn’t mean you accuse the artist. When you don’t arrest an inventor for inventing a machine gun that killed millions or a nuclear bomb for the apparent reason, then why is the work of an artist viewed as a threat to human life? Mildred Gillars read from the script that was given to her by the German officers. Her voice or her narration couldn’t be treated as a weapon.

Secondly, for a performing artist, her persona on stage/film/any other work is not the artist herself. That’s a fictional image. If a writer writes about a psycho killer in a book, then that doesn’t make the writer a killer himself/herself. We should be able to make a clear distinction between an actor playing a villain and an actor in real life. Hate the character, not the actor.

While these two major points are the crucial elements of the film, sadly it was fetched too late. The entire monologue was handed to Al Pacino, because he does it well, which was quite a moving scene. But isn’t it a film? I mean, so many words? Pacino is good with words, but writers could have gone an extra mile and tried plotting at different intervals.

Unfortunately, the film is too monotonous and tedious to watch. The viewer might easily lose interest and a singular Climax Speech could summarise the whole film. Other crucial characters like Mildred’s husband, and even her own character stays numb for longer chunks of the film. The film doesn’t participate in character transformation or layered plot. It is a simple-handed historical story without any quirk.

American Traitor The Trial of Axis Sally is a 2021 historical drama film directed by Michael Polish.

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Shikhar Agrawal
Shikhar Agrawal
I am an Onstage Dramatist and a Screenwriter. I have been working in the Indian Film Industry for the past 12 years, writing dialogues for various films and television shows.

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