Those with an interest in German films and their history will want to own two excellent and thought-provoking documentaries which cover the Weimar Republic years 1918-1933 and the Nazi years 1933-1945 These are respectively Rudiger Suchsland’s 2014 doc From Caligari to Hitler: German Cinema in the Age of the Masses and his Hitler’s Hollywood and both were released as a double pack of dual-format Blu-Ray/DVDs earlier this month by Eureka Entertainment, RRP £12.99
Suchsland’s Weimar doc features scores of cuts from some of the best films around anywhere at the time and includes Fritz Lang’s Metropolis with its glorious dual-format saint/sinner performance from its star Brigette Helm, cuts featuring Louise Brooks in Pabst’s Pandora’s Box and Diary of a Lost Girl, and cuts featuring Marlene Dietrich in Joseph von Sternberg’s The Blue Angel where she played opposite top actor Emil Jannings, who stayed put in Germany as the Nazis came to power. This was not the case with most film industry talent, with 800 actors, directors, writers, composers and producers fleeing Germany for Hollywood and other safer parts including von Sternberg, Dietrich, Pabst, Lang and Ernst Lubitsch, Billy Wilder, Peter Lorre, Frederick Murnau and Fred Zinneman.
This left the Nazis with the talent that was prepared, and allowed to make films for them under the jackboot of Joseph Goebbels, and some of these are featured in Hitler’s Hollywood. These included those of director Leni Riefenstahl, who pleased her Nazi masters by making propaganda stuff that made them look good, and director Veit Harlan who won considerable favour by making films that made the Jews look bad. Riefenstahl’s legacy was her 1935 Triumph of the Will, which glorified the 1934 Nazi Party Congress held in Nuremburg. Harlan’s was the vile 1940 call to murder, Jew Suss, which portrayed the Jews as dangerous rats that had to be exterminated, and which was shown to SS units before they went on missions against Jews, and to concentration camp guards. After the war, and on trial for crimes against humanity Harlan claimed that since he was forced to make Jew Suss he could not be responsible for its content, the “only obeying orders” defence which was accepted, in his case, by the German courts.
In fact Harlan’s Jew Suss was an anti-Semitic remake of a successful pro-Semitic 1934 British film of the same name, and Goebbels also authorised an expensive 1934 film about the sinking of the Titanic which blamed the disaster on Jewish greed, and portrayed German officers aboard as heroes and the British as villains. In the event Goebbels decided that the film would damage morale, rather than improving it and it was never shown in Germany Another, better film featured in Hitler’s Hollywood is a treat for Ingrid Bergman fans, some footage from the 1938 Four Companions where she played one of four female art students setting up their own advertising agency. Apparently when the 23 year old Bergman was in Germany filming for this she formed the view that the Nazis were “only a temporary aberration, too foolish to be taken seriously” and that Germany would not start a war “because the good people there would not permit it”, a misjudgement she later regretted when war broke out in 1939.
The two Suchsland documentaries are intended, it is reported, to be part of a trilogy, so the third instalment should be a treat for both cinephiles and lovers of history.