Founded in 1915 (as the Arrow Film Corporation,) Monogram studios was a source of low budget B movies from the silent era through the depression and WW II. They specialized in westerns, but also released a series of East Side Kids films and several movies staring Bela Lugosi (which are now referred to as the Monogram Nine.) Like other studios trying to eek a living out in the shadows of the big producers, Monogram didn't create trends, they followed them. When America went to war in 1942, so did the movies, and Monogram followed. They cranked out several flicks involving nefarious Nazi spies sent to undermine the American way of life and other patriotic films.
Then in 1943 RKO released Hitler's Children, one of the first Nazi exploitation films. These films reveled in the horrible crimes that Nazi Germany would perpetrate against women all while fanning the flames of patriotism.
When Hitler's Children became one of RKO's best grossing films of the year, Monogram released their own propaganda film, the subtlety named Women in Bondage (1943). This too did well, and so the studio went into production with another film, tentatively titled The Private Life of Paul Joseph Goebbels. This titled, while an accurate description of the subject of the film, didn't have the punch that studio execs thought it should. When it was released, the picture bore the more salacious title Enemy of Women.
This movie is the story of Joseph Goebbels, Hitler's Minister of Propaganda. Loosely based on his actual life (they leave out little details such as the fact that the real Propaganda Minister was married and had six children by the end of the war), the biography starts when Goebbels (Wolfgang Zilzer credited as Paul Andor) is a down on his luck playwrite (in reality Goebbels had written an autobiographical novel that he couldn't get published) who is rooming in the house of Colonel Eberhart Brandt (H. B. Warner). Brandt has a beautiful daughter, Maria (Claudia Drake) who is studying to be an actress. Goebbels falls in love with the young woman, and while helping her memorize her lines, he becomes overwhelmed by emotion and attempts to kiss her. Maria pushes him away, causing him to fall, and laughs at him. The Colonel walks in then and kicks Goebbels out of his house.
Years pass and Joseph has become a very powerful member of the Nazi party: Minister of Propaganda. Maria tracks him down and while they talk over old times. Joseph discovers that Maria's been in the theater all this time, but never had the big role she's always dreamed of. So Goebbels calls up the heads of Ufa (the government owned film studio) and tells them to give Maria the leading role in Queen of the Night, which they naturally do.
Maria, because of the copious amounts of press she's received thanks to Goebbels efforts on her behalf, becomes famous. Attending balls and state dinners, she's the toast of Berlin. After making her a star though, Joseph lets her know that he can make her even more famous if they become more intimate. When Maria refuses, the power that Goebbels wielded to make her a star is then turned against her.
This was a surprising film for a propaganda piece made at the height of WW II. The movie actually portrays Goebbels with a bit of sympathy and compassion. He wasn't portrayed as a maniacal monster or a lust crazed mad man, but as a flawed human who can't let the woman he loves go. The ending scene was rather odd, making the audience almost feel sorry for the man.
The actual politics of the Nazi regime are glossed over almost totally. They mention their anti-Catholic stance, but don't mention the Jews at all. More time is given to Hilter's promise of 1000 years of peace (after he rules the world) than the fighting that went on. For a propaganda piece, I was expecting a lot more bashing of the Germans. You would almost think that the German director/co-writer Alfred Zeisler (though born in the US, he was raised in Germany) didn't see Hitler's German as negatively as some other American directors.
The movie was actually enjoyable to watch. The first half of the film moves at a brisk pace and takes the viewer along nicely. There are some surprising events that keep the movie fresh. In the second part of the movie, Maria has an affair and marries a doctor, and the film bogs down in this part. Almost as if the studio execs decreed a romantic subplot, a lot of these scenes seem forced and don't have a lot to do with the main story that got the viewer hooked in the first place. The film does pick up at the end though, and is overall an enjoyable way to spend an hour and a half.
The acting was quite good too. Zilzer, aside from being the only one who speaks with a German accent in the film, bore a fair resemblance to the actual Goebbels. He didn't ham up his part, as would have been easy to do, and played his role with care. Claudia Drake was fine as Maria, but she didn't bring the same evenness to her part that Zilzer did. She was a little too enthusiastic in some scenes and wooden in others. Her character was actually less developed than one would expect, and that could be the source of her trouble.
The supporting cast was better than the stars if anything. H. B. Warner who stared as the title role in Cecil B. DeMille's classic The King of Kings did a wonderful job with his small part. It was also interesting to see a very young Gloria Stuart in a bit part. Stuart would be nominated for an Oscar decades later for her role as the geriatric survivor in James Cameron's Titanic.
The two channel mono soundtrack was average for a film of this age. There wasn't a lot of dynamic range, and there was some background noise that is inherent in film based soundtracks made in the 40's. On the positive side, the dialog was easy to discern, and the background music came through accurately. This soundtrack fits the film well, and was just what I was expecting.
For a public domain film that retails for less than $10 the image of
this film is very good, much better than and average PD DVD and just as
good as many of the old films released by the big companies. The
image is a bit soft, but there are very few scratches or specks, but not
nearly as many as you would expect. The contrast is good, but not
great. Some of the black areas loose their details, and there are
a couple of times when highlights get washed out, but this was the exception
As far as extras go, the movie itself has an introduction with Lou Lumenick, the chief film critic for the New York Post. Lou talks for 3 ½ minutes about the film and the cast. It was a short and sweet, but contained a lot of interesting information. This disc also has a nine minute interview with director Vincent Sherman (who did not direct this film.) He talks about the Red Scare in Hollywood during the 50's, and it's quite interesting. If my memory isn't faulty, this is the same interview that appears on the Underground, a movie that he did direct that Roan also released. There's also a trailer for Underground, and the staple extra on Troma DVDs (Roan's parent company), the Radiation March.
Roan has a knack for selecting interesting films to release on DVD. While Enemy of Women won't win any awards as an exemplary example of war time propaganda, it does have a certain charm to it and is very interesting to watch. The movie gives a very even-handed in its treatment of Goebbels, something you wouldn't expect from an American movie made during WWII and the story is strangely compelling, more so than you would think. The acting, direction and cinematography are all very good too. Retailing at under $10, and with a good looking print and fine audio quality, it is easy to Recommend this DVD.