Titanic (1943)

"Good"

Titanic (1943) Review


The production of this 1943 Titanic was a cinematic disaster to rank alongside the maritime disaster it depicts. And it couldn't have happened to nicer folks: the Nazis. The story goes like this:

Titanic was a production of the German company Tobis, which hired as its director Herbert Selpin. Millions of marks were spent on what was one of Germany's more lavish wartime productions, with principal photography shot aboard the Cap Arcona. (This ship was later used to evacuate liberated prisoners from the Nazi prison camp Neuengamme to Amsterdam; when the Allies accidentally fired on and sank the ship, most of the prisoners not killed in the accident were picked off by Nazi forces stationed on the coast nearby.) Before location shooting had been completed, director Selpin, aggravated by second unit delays, was overheard making disparaging remarks about the German navy; his complaints were relayed to the Gestapo, who arrested him. He was later found hanged in his cell at the Gestapo prison Prinz-Albrecht-Palais in Berlin, the victim of a dubious "suicide."

Meanwhile production continued and the film was completed. The night before its German debut, however, the building housing the premiere print was destroyed in an air raid. Nazi propaganda minister Joseph Goebbels, who had already endured protests over the treatment of Selpin, and who sensed that the scenes of shipboard panic portrayed in the film too closely echoed the actual panic of a German population suffering nightly Allied bombings, banned the film, which was then seen, after extensive cutting, only in occupied Paris. (He also banned Titanic actress Jolly Bohnert, whose career sank with the ship.) Although the remaining prints were put in storage, the film was subsequently lost. When the negative resurfaced in 1949, the German public got their first glimpse of the film, but it was again banned in the western-controlled sectors shortly thereafter due to its virulently anti-British content. (Like the American film Salt of the Earth, which was made by blacklisted filmmakers during the McCarthy era and blackballed with unqualified success in the U.S., Titanic did find an audience with Soviets, who welcomed this message.)

So it was that the film described in its own posters as "the greatest film experience of our time" and "the film Germany has awaited for years" became instead one of cinema's great, mostly unviewed debacles, and, seeing as how it was the work of Nazis, no one has made much fuss about its unavailability since. But whatever else it may be, Titanic remains a work of much historical interest, and in that spirit the good people at Kino have stepped up with a DVD release of the film - one supplemented with generous period extras - that raises a real oddity from a watery grave.

And as a historical document, Titanic is interesting indeed. Front and center in the film is its propagandistic message about British arrogance and greed. Its first-act plot presents a financial cause of the disaster: Ruthless White Star Line president Bruce Ismay, anxious to improve company stock performance, bribes Titanic's captain with a substantial bonus for an early arrival in New York, thus endangering all aboard. Among them is John Jacob Astor, of the American Astors, who is plotting to buy the company's shares low, and the financial intrigue of these and other investors on the ship - all looking to line their already full pockets - comprises the bulk of the pre-iceberg action. Among the crew, only the German officer Herr Petersen urges that heed be paid to ice warnings and dropping temperatures; he is ignored and then reprimanded by his grasping superiors, and when tragedy strikes he alone behaves nobly.

Which leaves us at the main event: the sinking of Titanic. Here the picture acquits itself very nicely, with effects impressive enough reportedly to have been lifted uncredited for use in the superior 1958 British version, A Night to Remember. (And they do look familiar.) Among the survivors are Sir Ismay (Herr Petersen arranges a place on a lifeboat for him in order that he might live to face charges) and Petersen himself; the film ends with a maritime board of inquiry acquitting Ismay and a subsequent on-screen warning about the tragic cost of British capitalist greed.

The German cast that goes down with the ship is, I assume, an impressive one (those same posters brag of "nine stars in one ship"), although Nazi actors are understandably little-known to most of us today. The screenplay often lists with the ship; Petersen, for example, addressing a woman who is later redeemed in his eyes through the loss of her fortune, says, "I mistook you for a woman who merely had the misfortune of being too wealthy, a woman a man could love if circumstances were different. I was mistaken. Forgive me." In the stockholder meeting that opens the film a man asks, "Do you think all the little people who have invested their pennies will just sit on their shares?" Another answers, "You should be happy if they sell. Then the price will drop even more and give us more chances to buy on the cheap." Snidely Whiplash couldn't have stated it more baldly.

Even so, this Titanic is never less than interesting to watch - those intrigued by the disaster should make a particular effort to see it - and at its best it's a fascinating glimpse into a chapter of film history we seldom see.

And if some Nazis went broke making it, well, that's life.



Facts and Figures

Reviews

Contactmusic.com: 3 / 5

Cast & Crew

Director: Werner Klingler,

Producer:

Contactmusic


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