When Nazi Propaganda Minister Joseph Goebbels produced the documentary Der Ewige Jude (The eternal jew) which rationalized that Jews were nothing more than “human rats”, it only got him a limited audience- it was too “intellectual”. However, when he produced the drama Jud Suss, an emotional story, he noticed a sizeable shift in anti-semitic thinking.
If emotionally charged drama was what was needed to rally public opinion, then- by golly- he was going to give them an epic on a scale only seen in Hollywood, to justify moving in on the only spot left on the European map not flying the Swastika: England.
And so, the idea of making a Titanic movie was hatched. The ship’s sinking would provide a grand stage to expose the mentality of the greedy and oppressive Anglo-Saxon upper class as they claw and shoot their ways onto lifeboats. The head of the White Star line himself would find himself portrayed as a Mabuse-like villain whose limitless “typically british” greed (and not human folly) would endanger the lives of everyone on the ship.
The lone German officer on board, would prove to be a heroic figure, rescuing children from flooding cabins and objecting loudly every time his superior officers would arrogantly laugh off the perils ahead.
The film’s look makes it unmistakably German: Once they hit the iceberg, the aesthetics go into Expressionistic overdrive, with the emergency lighting providing the chiascuro (low key) lighting and the listing ship creating “dutch” angles aplenty.
Shot on an actual Ocean Liner, The SS Cap Arcona (which itself would later perish in an even bigger tragedy than the Titanic), the film boasted lavish production values and impressive special effects (some shots would be recycled in A Night To Remember 15 years later). The production itself was rife with troubles and ego clashes culminating with the firing of director Selpin(and possible execution- he was fund hung in his prison cell after one of his outbursts landed him in court for treason).
And for what? Not much as it turns out. The most expensive movie in German cinematic history (at the time of its release) would find itself shelved as Goebbels found himself troubled with the end results: scenes of passengers being held back held back in steerage looked too much like repressive operations by nazi troops and the sinking of the ship itself came across as a biting metaphor for the rapidly collapsing Reich. Goebbels had the film pulled, it was never rereleased. It would remain unseen until Kino’s restoration in 2005.
But to give credit where credit is due, they did manage to make the Brits appear villainous: they had them speaking in German.
Before I get any angry letters from my readers in Germany, I should point out that it’s not just the language but the delivery. We’re talking uber-rigid speech patterns so often parodied today. Indeed, the entire stiff demeanour and mannerism of Nazi regimentation that comes across in the actors gives the impression of a floating convention of movie villains.
And as we stated before on this blog, “movie Nazis are fun”. If this film wasn’t so reminiscent of many human tragedies, it would be a howler.
Pain Level: 7/10
Quality of Pain: Will leave you with a sinking feeling
Painjoyment Level: High