Three films with a very sick pedigree that are worth finding

by Martin Hafer

During the latter years of the Nazi regime, many of the films coming out of Germany were sick, twisted propaganda pieces that were filled with hate, such as the incredibly anti-Semitic films Jew Suss and The Eternal Jew.  These are the sort of evil movies you’d expect from an evil and racist regime.  However, what is shocking is that despite these virulent films that were sponsored by Propaganda Minister, Josef Goebbels, the country also managed to bring out several films which actually hold up quite well today.  While they might be a bit difficult to find, two of them (Titanic and Munchausen) are occasionally shown on Turner Classic Movies. Or, you can watch the full subtitled version of The Adventures of Baron Munchausen below.

The least objectionable of these films is clearly Munchausen.  It’s all about the exploits of the legendary Baron and his great penchant for exaggerating his heroic exploits to the point of being ridiculous.  Is this film as good as Terry Gilliam’s later version, Baron Munchausen?  Perhaps not, but it is fun from start to finish and holds up even today.  It’s the sort of adventure film you would never think the Germans could have made considering that their empire was in the midst of falling town around them in 1943!  Yet, the film is very charming and fun–the sort of escapist fantasy that is hard to dislike.

1943 also ushered in one of the most ambitious and expensive productions overseen by the Nazis, namely Titanic.  Unlike Munchausen, it does have a political agenda but it’s also one that is still very watchable.  Much of this is because despite the war going very badly for the Germans, they spent very lavishly on the film and Goebbels saw this as a very personal project–one he oversaw throughout the production.  It’s a very odd telling of the Titanic disaster, told through the lens of the Nazi party.  In this completely fictitious version, British and American industrialists KNEW that the ship might sink but simply didn’t care, as they were so greedy that they would do anything to break the record to fastest Atlantic crossing.  Why?  Because breaking the record meant more profits — something that was meant to prove to audiences in occupied Europe that the Allies were corrupt.  In contrast, the lone German officer aboard was kind and fought his superiors to no avail to abandon their evil ways!  Ultimately, the film bombed … mostly because all the theaters in which it was to have played had been literally bombed! Still, despite its obvious attempts to be a propaganda film, it has some amazing special effects and is very entertaining.

The final film will be much harder to find, but it’s also the best of the three. In Michael and Harry Medved’s book The Hollywood Hall of Shame: The Most Amazing Flops in Movie History, they describe the insane attention to detail taken in the film.  While the German army was being routed in the East by the Russians and in the West by the Americans, Free French and Brits, Goebbels ordered thousands of German soldiers to be taken off the front lines in order to film battle scenes for this movie about a small town’s heroic stand against the invading forces of Napoleon, back at the turn of the 19th century.  It was an obvious message to the Germans of 1945, to fight to the death — just like the citizens of Kolberg back in days of old. Amazingly enough,  Kolberg is first-rate entertainment, and nothing particularly objectionable can be found in the film. It is a decent enough history lesson and has special effects, cinematography and acting on par with the best of Hollywood at the time … all at a time when the German empire was quickly crumbling!

The bottom line is that if you’re looking for an entertaining film and want something different, these three films are very different. Well crafted, entertaining and surprisingly good considering the time and place in which they were made, these three relatively forgotten films deserve to be remembered.

The Adventures of Baron Munchausen (1943): A-

Titanic (1943): A-

Kolberg (1945) : A-