Sunday, 18 May 2014
Titanic (1943 version) (4 Stars)
It was 1943. The war had already turned against Germany. German cities were being bombed daily, and despite Hitler's promise of an Endsieg (final victory) German soldiers were on the retreat. But what was going on in Germany apart from the war? "Titanic" was being filmed, with a budget of four million Reichsmark, the equivalent of $190 million today. The film was so important that soldiers were relieved from duty to serve as extras in the film.
Cinema had always been important in Nazi Germany. Detractors say that this was because it was a means of propaganda. This is an unfair criticism. The true reason is that Adolf Hitler and Josef Goebbels were both passionate film fans. During the Weimar Republic (1918-1933) Germany had led the world in film production, both in artistic quality and box office success. Hitler and Goebbels had grown up with these films, and any patriotic German was also proud of German films. In 1933 the German film industry was on the verge of collapse. Jewish film directors and actors were no longer allowed to work, leaving a vacuum behind them. Josef Goebbels stepped in to take charge of the film industry and make sure it continued to make top quality films.
From 1933 until 1945 all films had to be personally approved by Goebbels, both before and after production. This wasn't necessarily to create Nazi propaganda in the films; it was to prevent anti-German propaganda or general negativity. Films were intended to be escapism, so that the average German would watch them and be happy. Were the Third Reich films inferior to the Weimar Republic films? Not at all. Film critics have to grudgingly admit that the German film industry was still flourishing, making better films than America and England.
"Titanic" was an important film project to Goebbels personally. He granted it a bigger budget than any other film he had commissioned. The film's story concentrates on the president of the White Star Line, Bruce Ismay, and his insistence that the Titanic should arrive ahead of schedule to improve the company's share value. The only voice of reason is First Officer Petersen, who repeatedly implores both Ismay and the captain to sail slower. A romance develops between Petersen and the rich Russian aristocrat Sigrid Olinsky. There are also smaller romances, such as between Sigrid's makeup girl and a violin player. The film isn't on a par with James Cameron's "Titanic", technically speaking, but the acting is first class and the disaster is presented as well as can be expected in an age before computers.
The ship scenes were filmed on board the Cap Arcona, a passenger ship that had been commandeered by the German navy. At the end of the war, when Germany's concentration camps had been captured by the Russians, the Cap Arcona was used as a prison ship for holding Jewish prisoners. On May 3rd 1945 the British air force mistook it for a military vessel and attacked it, killing approximately 6400 Jews. This was four times as many people as died in the Titanic.