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Titanic (1943 German Version)

Kino // Unrated // July 20, 2004
List Price: $29.95 [Buy now and save at Amazon]

Review by John Sinnott | posted June 26, 2004 | E-mail the Author
The Movie:

Many movies have been made about the 1912 sinking of the Titanic, including the 1997 James Cameron blockbuster, Titanic, and the excellent 1958 British film A Night to Remember.  But one of the earlier adaptations of this story was filmed in Nazi Germany in 1943.  Written as a propaganda piece, this movie has an interesting story behind it.  The film was meant to show the English in a bad light, and it succeeds, but it was almost never finished.  Partway through filming, the director, Herbert Selpin, was overheard making remark critical of the German Army.  He was reported to the Gestapo and promptly arrested.  A few days later he was found hanging in his cell, an apparent "suicide" but more likely an execution.

After the film was completed by Werner Klingler, Goebbles deemed the scenes of panic on board the ship too intense and disturbing for German audiences (who were living through nightly air raids at the time) and banned the film.  He only would allow the movie to be shown outside of Germany and it premiered in Paris.  German audiences didn't get a chance to view the movie until 1950.

The movie tells the story of the fated maiden voyage of the luxury liner Titanic.  In the boardroom of the White Star Lines, the builders of the large ship, the president of the company, Sir Bruce Ismay, is having a hard time.  Their stock price has been sinking steadily due to the cost overruns and delays in launching the Titanic.  With confidence in the company eroding, the price is falling faster than ever and the stockholders aren't happy about it.  But the president has a plan.  He's been buying shares as the price has fallen.  When the Titanic is launched he plans to have it cross the Atlantic in record time.  The publicity from this achievement will send the stock price soaring and he will make a fortune.

As the ship sails the rich and famous hobnob on the upper decks, while in the steerage compartments the immigrants live a spare existence but manage to make the best of it.   After a few days, the Titanic starts receiving warnings of ice floes and icebergs from other ships in the area.  1st Officer Petersen, the only German officer on board, wants to change course and slow down for the safety of the passengers.  He is overruled by the Captain who has been promised a big bonus if they reach New York in record time.  As time goes on and the warnings get more frequent, Petersen has no luck convincing the Captain or Ismay to slow the ship down.  Ismay desperately wants to break the record in crossing since the stock price has continued its slide.  It turns out that John Astor, another passenger on the ship, is driving the price down.  Astor plans on buying the shares back when the price is low enough for him to purchase a controlling interest in the company.  With Ismay near bankruptcy due to the loans he's taken out to buy stock, he pushes the captain even harder to break the record.

This is obviously a propaganda film, and like all good propaganda movies it isn't too heavy handed about the message.  The fact that the English are only interested in money is a prominent part of the film, but they have also worked in a little drama with the other passengers.  1st Officer Petersen is an the efficient German who recognized the dangers and was more interested in saving human lives than making money.  He was tall and handsome and never lost his cool.  This is a stark contrast to Ismay who begs for a seat on a lifeboat, and the other aristocrats who try to bribe their way onto a lifeboat without any luck.  The most blatant propaganda piece is the very end when a title card is displayed that reads:  "The deaths of 1,500 people remain unatoned for, an eternal condemnation on the English quest for profit."

As for the quality of the movie, it is pretty enjoyable.  There isn't a lot of character development, everyone is fairly two dimensional, but they spend enough time with certain characters so you start to wonder if they'll survive.  The sets were excellent, with lavish staterooms, an elegant ballroom, and a dirty hot engine room.  The some of the sets were very large and that helped give the viewer an idea of the scale of the Titanic.  The direction and camera work were also surprisingly good.
The main problem with this movie is that it is a disaster film, and they all start to feel the same after a while.  You are introduced to a large cast, get to know each of them a bit, and then something horrible happens and you find out who lives and who dies.  There really isn't a lot you can do with that premise to make it really interesting.  In any case, I did enjoy this movie more than the 1953 Hollywood version, but found it not as strong as A Night to Remember.

The DVD:


This film was presented with a two-channel soundtrack in the original German.  Optional English subtitles were available.  I wasn't that impressed with the audio portion of this DVD.  The sound was tinny and harsh.  It appears that they did a little too much digital restoration on the soundtrack because the film has a metallic sound to it.  There are also a good deal of crackles and hiss through the film.  In addition in the background there is a slight 'bubbling brook' sound that is an artifact of applying too much digital noise reduction.   The dialog is easy to make out, but it had a strong edge to it that shouldn't have been there.  The disc wasn't so bad that it was bothersome to view the movie, I got used to the quality after a few minutes, but it didn't sound as good as I was expecting.


The full frame black and white video quality was not too bad for a film of this age.  There were some problems, as you would expect, but they didn't ruin my enjoyment of the film.  The contrast was about average, with some details being lost in shadows and in dark scenes, but overall it was fine.  In some sections a second print appears to have been used, and in these parts highlights tend to be washed out.  This is especially true at the beginning of the film, but it quickly changes to a superior print after a few minutes.   There were some digital defects, some light aliasing and the shimmering of closely placed parallel lines, but these were minor.  Overall it was a decent print, but not an outstanding one.

The Extras:

Kino has included some interesting extras with DVD.  In addition to a fairly standard photo gallery, there is also a reproduction of the press kit that was released to promote the movie.  The text is translated into English.

The most interesting extras are the two video featurettes.  The first is a 10-minute newsreel from 1912 that was hastily put together after the disaster.  It shows Captain Smith on board the Titanic (though some shots are of her sister ship the Olympic,) the ship sailing out of port, and there is some footage of the Carpathia, the ship that picked up the survivors.

The other featurette is a 16-minute promotional film that White Star Lines (the builders of the Titanic) made:  Aboard the Olympic.  This short has some good footage of the Olympic, the Titanic's sister ship nearly identical twin.  It gives the viewer a tour of the ship and lets them know what shipboard activities are available.  This silent film gives an interesting look at what sea travel was like 90 years ago.

There is also a trailer.

Final Thoughts:

It was intriguing to see this movie made in Nazi Germany as a means of propaganda.  The message wasn't heavy handed, and the acting and direction was actually very good.  The only problem that this film has, as do other disaster movies, is that there isn't a lot you can do with the plot.  It was still an enjoyable film.  Even with the audio problems it is definitely worth a look.  Recommended.

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