Images of Tom Cruise in Nazi uniform and an eye patch pinged through cyberspace Thursday, the first photos released from the set of "Valkyrie," the film that sparked fierce debate in Germany over the star's Scientology connections.
Cruise bears a striking resemblance to Col. Claus von Stauffenberg, the German officer he portrays in the film who led a 1944 attempt to assassinate Adolf Hitler by planting a bomb in his briefing room. In one photo, Cruise carries the prop standing in for the bomb-bearing briefcase.
The actor shot his first scenes Thursday, an airport sequence that precedes the film's climax where Stauffenberg flies to Wolf's Lair, Hitler's headquarters in East Prussia, and plants the briefcase bomb under a conference table. Production on the film officially got underway Wednesday.
Air travel also figures in Cruise's real life as he's scheduled to fly back Saturday night to Los Angeles for a star-studded bash to welcome his new Bel-Air neighbors, David and Victoria "Posh Spice" Beckham. Cruise's wife, Katie Holmes, is co-hosting the party with Will Smith and Jada Pinkett Smith.
"Valkyrie," set to open in August 2008, is the second production for United Artists Entertainment, which Cruise revived recently with partner Paula Wagner and MGM. (The studio's first film, "Lions for Lambs," starring Robert Redford, opens in November.)
"Valkyrie" is helmed by director Bryan Singer. The title comes from the plot's code name: Operation Valkyrie.
"Black Book's" Carice van Houten costars as Cruise's love interest, and among the film's cast of award-winning British talent are Kenneth Branagh, Bill Nighy, Tom Wilkinson, Terence Stamp and Eddie Izzard. "Black Book's" Christian Berkel also costars.
Singer is co-producing the film with Christopher McQuarrie and Nathan Alexander. McQuarrie and Singer last teamed for the 1995 hit "The Usual Suspects."
" 'Valkyrie' tells a story that is not only exciting but also important," Singer said in a statement released late Wednesday. "It's something that Chris McQuarrie and I have wanted to do for some time. I can't imagine shooting it anywhere else but on location in Germany, and I'm thrilled that we were able to get Tom Cruise to play Col. Stauffenberg."
Vintage World War II aircraft bearing swastikas and other Nazi symbols flew low over the German village of Loepten near Berlin on Sunday. Locals had been notified in advance of the display of Nazi symbols, which is illegal in Germany.
Germany's official stance on "Valkyrie" has been convoluted. The German Federal Film Fund (DFFF) is giving the movie $6.5 million in subsidies.
But Scientology is an intensely political issue there -- the government considers the group a cult -- and Cruise's membership in the organization sparked sharp words from politicians after his role as Stauffenberg was announced.
Last month, German officials barred "Valkyrie" filmmakers from shooting at the Bendlerblock memorial inside the Defense Ministry complex in Berlin, stating the decision was because Cruise is a Scientologist.
But days later, German officials recanted that announcement, saying the memorial was closed to all film crews and that Cruise's Scientology had nothing to do with the ban.