Rüdiger Suchsland (director)
22 October 2018 (released)
07 November 2018
This compelling documentary takes a critical look at Germany’s Nazi-cinema era, a state-controlled industry that aspired to match the glamorous aesthetic of Hollywood while at the same time was subjected to rigid political and cultural censorship.
Narrated by German cult actor Udo Kier, HITLER’S HOLLYWOOD examines over 1000 feature films made in Germany during 1933-1945 and shock, horror, surprise: it all was controlled by one Joseph Goebbels, Hitler’s puppet of Propaganda. Indeed, Goebbels pulled the strings when it came to most branches of the art and if he didn’t give it the go-ahead then pity those involved! While most of those movies ranged – just like their American counterparts – from comedies to thrillers and from dramas to revue films – it is fair to say that in most cases an underlying message prevailed: it was a message that championed the perfect Aryan ideology: a happy family life, a perfectly ‘clean’ lifestyle, a body culture involving exercise and sport, in short everything that was wholesome and thus depicted this ‘perfect’ ideology. Above all - of course complete obedience to the Führer.
It is equally fair to assume that most of these films are virtually unknown outside the ‘Fatherland’ and in most cases that also goes for its stars, with the exception of notorious propaganda filmmaker Leni Riefenstahl. That said, other popular actors during the Nazi era included heavyweight actors such as Emil Jannings who had already starred in silent movie classics such as ‘Mephisto’ in FAUST (1926), yet later he continued to appear in several Nazi propaganda films – thus spelling the end of his career after the end of the Third Reich. A worse (and perhaps just) fate befell Austrian actor Ferdinand Marian whose portrayal of JUD SÜSS in the notorious anti-Semitic propaganda film of the same name pretty much ended his career while his own life came to an end shortly after in 1946 during a fatal car accident in Bavaria (though some have suggested suicide).
Swedish actress Kristina Soderbaum embodied the perfect Aryan ideal: blond, blue-eyed and with an athletic physique. The fact that she was married to Veit Harlan (Goebbel’s favourite movie director!) meant that Soderbaum was never out of work during the Nazi regime and appeared in countless films produced by UFA studios, including the historical film KOLBERG (1945), the last and most expensive movie produced during the reign of the Third Reich.
Actress Renate Muller had the Gestapo follow her after she refused to act in Nazi films and her life ended tragically too, while English-born actress Lilian Harvey was one of the most successful actresses during the Third Reich but did the right thing and left Germany before things got too nasty.
Of course, other stars ‘departed’ from Germany before the full terror of the Nazi regime took reign supreme, clearly they could see the spelling on the wall: Marlene Dietrich, Conrad Veidt, Peter Lorre and an array of film directors among them.
Some of the examples of movies made during the Third Reich are HITLER YOUTH QUEX (1933) about a young boy called Heini who, disillusioned by his weekend of camping with the Communist Youth Group, finds more satisfaction when he joins the highly disciplined, highly patriotic and tee-total Hitler Youth Movement – a decision that cost Heini his life. Other movies, such as MÜNCHHAUSEN (1943) or SCHILLER – TRIUMPH OF A GENIUS (1940) glided between pure fantasy and historic drama while comedies such as THE PUNCH BOWL (1944) starring Heinz Tühmann turned out to be an all-time evergreen still shown on German TV to this day.
The ‘Bonus Feature’ is just as interesting and consists of director Rüdiger Suchsland’s first documentary, FROM CALIGARI TO HITLER, depicting the movie industry during the Weimar republic up to the arrival of the Nazis.