The Academy Award nominated documentary Prisoner of Paradise
tells the life story of Kurt Gerron, an actor and talented director who
was popular in pre-war Germany. Living during the insanity that was
Nazi Germany, Gerron, a Jew, was taken to a concentration camp. There
he was ordered to make an impossible film; one that turned the horror of
a concentration camp into a paradise.
Kurt Gerron was a star of both the stage and screen in pre-war Germany.
He starred in the classic film The Blue Angel with Marlene Dietrich
and directed several popular films. But all that changed when the
Nazi's came to power. Gerron was a Jew fled the country leaving behind
his substantial houses and most of the money he had earned. With
his family and parents to support, he settled in Paris, then later moved
to Amsterdam in search of work. While many of his contemporaries
emigrated to the US and South America, for some strange reason Gerron stayed
When the Nazi's marched in though, Gerron and his family were shipped
in a cattle car to the concentration camp of Theresienstadt in the present
day Czech Republic. Crowded, with little food of clean water, many
of the greatest Jewish artists in Europe found themselves in this camp.
The commandant allowed them to put on shows and cabarets, and in these
Gerron proved to be vastly entertaining and was noticed by the higher ups.
As the Allies landed in France, news of what was happening to all the
European Jews who had disappeared was beginning to leak out. The
neutral countries were starting to pressure Berlin into releasing details.
To appease these countries, it was decided that the Red Cross could let
an inspector come to one camp, Theresienstadt. Thousands of the Jews
were transported to Auschwitz for extermination so the ghetto wouldn't
look over crowded. The camp was cleaned and decorated, and even a
pool was installed. The Red Cross agent, a young man of 26, was taken
on a carefully planed tour showing people making bread and a Jazz band
playing in a café. The ruse worked, and the inspector gave
the camp a glowing recommendation. If one person could be fooled,
why not try to fool everyone?
It was then that the Germans decided to make a film, showing how lovely
and wonderful the concentration camps were. The picked Kurt Gerron
to write and direct the film, and he pored his heart into the production,
creating a film that was better than anything the German's expected.
Told through contemporary photos and film clips and through the stories
of camp survivors, Prisoner of Paradise is a compelling and interesting
documentary, which raises as many questions as it answers. Why did
Gerron stay in Europe when others were leaving? He even raised money
to send Peter Lorre to Hollywood, but didn't go himself. In one heart
breaking scene, it is revealed that he did have an offer from a Hollywood
studio, but they refused to pay for a 1st class ticket, so he turned them
The film touches on the question of whether Gerron should have made
his film, but doesn't dwell on it. They put forth the premise that
he was in love with movies, and took the assignment so that he could direct
once again, though I think pragmatic concerns, such as the fact that he'd
be killed if he refused, played a more important role in his decision.
The one fact that does support the film theory is that Gerron worked, and
worked hard, to make a very good film that did just what the Nazi's wanted.
He was able to turn a concentration camp into a model city full of culture,
art and happy citizens.
The stereo English soundtrack fits the program well. The narration
and dialog is very clear, and the few sound effects and the incidental
music sound clean. There are no subtitles.
The non-anamorphic widescreen image is very good. The WWII era
film clips show their age, and the old photos are sometimes blurry, but
this is to be expected. The contemporary segments are clear
There are no extras on this disc. It is very disappointing that
the film that Gerron created for the Nazis, the 23 minute long Theresienstadt,
wasn't included. Including that would have made this a complete package.
This was a very good movie. Equal parts biography and Holocaust
tale, the film is able to explore Gerron's life while also commenting on
the strangeness of having a Jew create propaganda for the government that
is killing his people. An engrossing and captivating film, Prisoner
of Paradise is Highly Recommended.