Director: Fritz Lang
The psychological thriller M was the first sound film to be directed by Fritz Lang and launched the film career of the actor Peter Lorre. Lorre played a serial killer of children ('M' = mörder or murderer) hunted by both the police and the criminal underworld in a paranoid, hysterical Berlin.
M opens with the case of Elsie, a schoolgirl who disappears and after a while is found slain in the woods. Since her murder is preceded and followed by similar crimes, the city lives through a veritable nightmare. The police work feverishly to track down the child-murderer, but succeed only in disturbing the underworld. The city's leading criminals therefore decide to ferret out the monster themselves. The gang of criminals enlists the help of a beggars' union, converting its membership into a network of unobtrusive scouts. Even though the police meanwhile identify the murderer as a former inmate of a lunatic asylum, the criminals with the aid of a blind beggar steal a march on the detectives..."
[Siegfried Kracauer, From Caligari to Hitler: a psychological history of the German film. Revised and expanded ed. (Princeton UP, 2004), p.219]
English title: Girls in Uniform
Directors: Leontine Sagan, Carl Froelich
Film based on the play Gestern und heute by Christa Winsloe, portraying the love of a pupil for her teacher in an all-girls boarding school ruled by an authoritarian Prussian head mistress. Notable for its all female cast and sympathetic portrayal of homosexuality.
Mädchen in Uniform, with an exclusively female cast, pictures life in a Potsdam boarding-school for the daughters of poor officers … The film exposes the devastating effects of Prussianism upon a sensitive young girl. While the girls on the whole manage to put up with the hardship inflicted on them, Manuela, a newcomer, suffers intensively under a rule alien to her tender and imaginative nature. ... Only one teacher is sympathetic: Fräulein von Bernburg. Manuela senses Fräulein von Bernburg's unavowed affection for her and responds to it with a passion involving her suppressed desire for love."
[Siegfried Kracauer, From Caligari to Hitler: a psychological history of the German film. Revised and expanded ed. (Princeton UP, 2004), p. 226]
English title: Who Owns the World?
Director: Slatan Dudow
Political drama, co-written by Bertolt Brecht, which portrayed the life of a working class family in Berlin during the economic depression of the early 1930s, including unemployment, suicide, eviction and pregnancy outside marriage. Kuhle Wampe was the name of a tented shanty town of the unemployed next to a lake in the Berlin suburbs.
The first section of this film about the unemployed details a typical situation in a worker's family wrecked by the economic crisis. Daughter Anni, the only working member of the family, braces herself against the morbid atmosphere at home; but her brother, having learnt that his dole will be cut by a new “emergency decree”, commits suicide. … The second section is set in Kuhle Wampe, a tent colony of the unemployed: the family has been taken to this shelter by Fritz, Anni's lover. Determined not to sink into the swamp of scanty living standards of the tent colonists Anni leaves to live a life of her own in Berlin. In the third section Anni, having joined the workers' sports movement, attends a sport festival held by the radical labour unions. Candid-camera work zealously records an uninterrupted succession of athletic contests, speaking choruses and open-air theatrical performances … The film ends in a commuters' train crowded with middle-class people and returning young athletes, where a clash of opinions develops, intended to reveal the antagonism between proletarian and bourgeois mentality.
Of course the board of censors banned the film, on the pretext that it vilified (1) the President of the Republic, (2) the administration of justice, and (3) religion."
[Siegfried Kracauer, From Caligari to Hitler: a psychological history of the German film. Revised and expanded ed. (Princeton UP, 2004), pp. 243-5]
English title: Red Sky at Morning
Director: Gustav Ucicky
Drama set on a German submarine during the First World War, including a love-triangle and glorification of death in war. Released in the week after Hitler became Reichskanzler.
A film about a submarine during World War I, a mingling of war exploits and sentimental conflicts. Liers, the subcommander, and his first lieutenant Fredericks are on home leave in their small native town, and as they depart it becomes apparent that both have fallen in love with the same girl. Then the submarine is seen in action, torpedoing and sinking a British cruiser. … [It then] challenges a seemingly neutral vessel which, however, reveals itself to be a British decoy boat. Signaled by the decoy, a British destroyer rams the sub. A crucial problem arises, for in the sinking hull ten men are left alive with only eight divers' suits available. ..." [Siegfried Kracauer, From Caligari to Hitler: a psychological history of the German film. Revised and expanded ed. (Princeton UP, 2004), pp. 269-70]
"At the Berlin first night the new Cabinet with Hitler, Dr Hugenberg and Papen, were present. … The picture was received with tremendous applause." Variety, 28 February 1933.
English title: Hitler Youth Quex
Director: Hans Steinhoff
Pro-Nazi drama about the political development of a young boy who rejects the Communism of his father for the Hitler Youth and Nazism, based on the real-life case of Herbert Norkus and developed from a 1932 novel of the same title written by Karl Aloys Schenzinger (the novel is available at the university library).
The film is set in the Berlin working-class neighborhood of Beuselkiez during the Weimar years when National Socialism was a fledgling movement. It tells the story of Heini Völker (= of the Volk), a boy of about fourteen and son of a communist, who is drawn against his father’s will to the Hitler Youth. Despite initial distrust by his new Hitler Youth friends, Heini repeatedly proves his fidelity by warning them of communist ambush plans and by printing pro-Nazi leaflets at the print shop where he works. He survives asphyxiation when his destitute and anxiety-ridden mother commits suicide, but increasingly incurs the wrath of the communists. At the end of the film a communist with the telling name Wilde (= the wild one) murders Heini, who dies with the words of the Hitler Youth song on his lips."
[Linda Schulte-Sasse, Entertaining the Third Reich: illusions of wholeness in Nazi cinema. Duke UP, 1996, p. 258]
… in its depiction of the enemy, [Hitlerjunge Quex] would appear to have been consciously influenced by the image of the depression in the Weimar Republic seen in a number of left-wing film productions. [It has been] rightly noted that the style of Hitlerjunge Quex is not far removed from its political opposite, Berlin Alexanderplatz.”
[David Welch, Propaganda and the German cinema 1933-1945. Clarendon Press 1983, p. 63]
English title: Triumph of the Will
Director: Leni Riefenstahl
Nazi propaganda film portraying the 1934 National Socialist Party Congress in Nuremburg, including speeches by the main Party leaders. Triumph des Willens replaced Riefenstahl's film of the 1933 Nuremburg rally (Der Sieg des Glaubens), which had shown Hitler with the soon to be purged leader of the SA, Ernst Röhm.
Through a very impressive composition of mere newsreel shots, this film represents the complete transformation of reality, its complete absorption into the artificial structure of the Party Convention. The Nazis had painstakingly prepared the ground for such a metamorphosis: grandiose architectural arrangements were made to encompass the mass movements, and, under the personal supervision of Hitler, precise plans of the marches and parades had been drawn up long before the event. Thus the Convention could evolve literally in a space and time of its own: thanks to perfect manipulation, it became not so much a spontaneous demonstration as a gigantic extravaganza with nothing left to improvisation. … The Convention speeches played a minor role. Speeches tend to appeal to the emotions as well as the intellect of their listeners: but the Nazis preferred to reduce the intellect by working primarily upon the emotions."
[Siegfried Kracauer, From Caligari to Hitler: a psychological history of the German film. Revised and expanded ed. (Princeton UP, 2004), pp. 300-1]
English title: Final Chord
Director: Detlef Sierck (also known as Douglas Sirk)
Melodrama set in (and contrasting) the United States of America and Germany. The plot includes abandoned children, suicide, adultery, blackmail and a drug overdose.
English title: Request Concert
Director: Eduard von Borsody
Romance based around the popular radio show Wunschkonzert für die Wehrmacht, which claimed to play music requested by members of the armed forces. The hero is a Flight Lieutenant in the Luftwaffe who is sent to fight both in the Spanish Civil War and the Second World War. Wunschkonzert was the second most popular German film in the years 1940-1942.
A 1942 book about the request concerts - Wir beginnen das Wunschkonzert für die Wehrmacht - is also available at the university library.
Inge Wagner goes to the 1936 Berlin Olympics and is offered a ticket by Lieutenant Herbert Koch, a stranger. Only when Hitler arrive at the games does Inge abandon caution and enter the stadium with Koch. They quickly fall in love and decide to marry, but after three days Koch is suddenly called away to the top secret mission Legion Condor aiding the fascists fighting in Spain, from where all correspondence is prohibited. The couple is separated without a word for three years. While listening one night to “Request Concert”, Inge’s hopes are answered. Koch calls in to the programme and requests the music of the 1936 Olympics, signalling that he has never forgotten her. The war and misunderstandings keep hindering their reunion: Helmut, an infatuated young lieutenant from Inge’s home town, carries her picture, which his commanding officer, now Captain Koch, sees, leading him to believe that Inge is engaged to Helmut. The confusion is resolved only when Helmut is injured and all three meet in the hospital.”
[Linda Schulte-Sasse, Entertaining the Third Reich: illusions of wholeness in Nazi cinema. Duke UP, 1996, p. 289]
English title: The Great Love
Director: Rolf Hansen
Drama portraying the convoluted wartime romance between a German fighter pilot and a Danish cabaret singer. Die große Liebe was seen by more Germans during and after the Second World War than any other German film.
The singer Hanna Holberg (played by Nazi cinema’s premiere vamp, Zarah Leander) loves a fighter pilot who is constantly forced to the front until their romance breaks down for her lack of patience. Yet the film complicates this configuration by splitting Hanna Holberg into a public and a private person in competition with each other. Her public person stands for the collectivity her private person must painstakingly learn: with her performance she effortlessly buoys the spirits of civilians and soldiers, reminding the latter in one song that “The world will not go under” because of a mere war. … Her final performance conflates public and private affirmation in what became Nazi cinema’s most famous song, “I know someday a miracle will happen”: it promises happy closure at once to the war, to the waiting, and to Hanna’s career.”
[Linda Schulte-Sasse, Entertaining the Third Reich: illusions of wholeness in Nazi cinema. Duke UP, 1996, pp. 293-4]
Directors: Veit Harlan and Alfred Braun
Historical drama portraying the defence of the town of Kolberg against French forces during the Napoleonic Wars, based on the autobiography of the town's mayor Joachim Nettelbeck. One of the last films of the National Socialist period.
The story concerns a rather obscure historical incident that took place in the city and fort of Kolberg on the Baltic coast during the Napoleonic war of 1806/07. In 1806, after the battles of Jena and Austerlitz, Napoleon attempted to obliterate Prussia, only the fortress town of Kolberg prevented a complete victory for the French. The local government and army are represented as defeatist and corrupt because, realizing the inevitability of the French advance, they decide to surrender the town. But under the inspired leadership of the Mayor, the citizens decide to defend their territory by resisting, to the end if need be, the invading French forces. … the importance of Kolberg is that it brings together archetypal themes that pervaded the Nazi cinema: the Führerprinzip, national idealism, obedience, and sacrifice, and the indomitable spirit of the ‘real Germans’ (Echtdeutsche)”.
[David Welch, Propaganda and the German cinema 1933-1945. Clarendon Press 1983, pp. 225-226]