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When Berlin tried to be Hollywood

ON DVD

July 25, 2004|Susan King

"Titanic" and "Munchhausen"

Kino on Video, $30 each

The collection: Not only did Nazi Germany want to dominate the world, Hitler and Propaganda Minister Joseph Goebbels envisioned Berlin as the next Hollywood. To achieve this goal, Goebbels commissioned several big-budget films during the height of World War II to rival such Hollywood imports as "Gone With the Wind" and "The Wizard of Oz." Produced in 1943, "Munchhausen" and "Titanic" were two of the most ambitious. Neither was ever released in America.

Munchhausen

Starring: Hans Albers and Brigitte Horney

Das scoop: This adult fairy tale starring the very Aryan-looking German superstar Hans Albers and a bevy of young women -- several of whom are topless in one scene -- was released as part of the national celebration of the 25th anniversary of UFA studios. Albers plays a womanizing 18th century aristocrat who travels to the moon, Constantinople and even Venice -- more than 100 gondolas were used in the scene. Shot in Agfacolor, Germany's answer to Technicolor, "Munchhausen" cost an enormous 6.5 million reichsmarks but quickly recouped its cost -- German audiences found the fast-paced, slightly naughty fantasy a welcome refuge from increasing war casualties.

"Munchhausen" is surprisingly entertaining, with some terrific special effects for its time -- the sequences on the moon are particularly inventive. Though Albers is a bit long in the tooth in the lead, he brims with personality and charm. And Transit Films/F.W. Murnau Foundation has beautifully restored the film.

Extras: An informative interview with Friedmann Beyer, the director of the Murnau Foundation; clips from other restored Agfacolor films; a look at the restoration of "Munchhausen"; a vintage German animated film based on the tales of Munchhausen; the trailer and stills.

Titanic

Das scoop: The first film about the tragic 1912 ocean voyage since the silent days is quite effective as a disaster film -- some shots of the sinking Titanic were even used uncredited in the 1958 British classic "A Night to Remember." But the lavish soap opera is primarily a Nazi propaganda tool, a searing indictment of English greed.

It is the Germans who are the decent, honorable people on the ship -- a noble German officer tries to warn the captain and the rest of the crew of the impending danger of the icebergs and even manages to find time to save a little girl trapped in her room.

"Titanic" quickly ran into problems during production. Because of delays with the second unit, the film's director, Herbert Selpin, was overheard making derogatory remarks about the German army. After a volatile meeting with Goebbels, Selpin was sent to prison -- two days later he was found hanging in his cell, an alleged victim of an "arranged" suicide.

The film was banned in Germany after the Berlin censors found the scenes of panic hitting too close to home for the German public, which was undergoing nightly bombing raids from Allied planes. An edited version made its way to occupied Paris and was finally seen in Germany in 1949. This version restores the trial sequence of the White Star Line management and the denouncement of England's "eternal quest for profit," which was cut in the 1940s.

Extras: A 1912 Titanic newsreel; a tour of the Olympic, the Titanic sister ship; the trailer and a stills gallery.

-- Susan King

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