Hitler’s Hollywood

Studio: Kino Lorber

Jul 16, 2018 Web Exclusive Bookmark and Share

Around 1,000 feature films were produced in Germany during the Third Reich. Although several premiere talents such as Fritz Lang and Marlene Dietrich fled to Hollywood during Hitler’s rise, many stayed behind and made movies for the new regime. The Nazis understood the power of film, and invested resources into the industry. Under the oversight of Joseph Goebbels, “Hitler’s Hollywood” became the Third Reich’s most powerful propaganda tool.

Narrated by Udo Kier, Rüdiger Suchsland’s (From Caligari to Hitler) new documentary presents a chronological study of German films made under the Nazi regime, noting their running themes and what they reveal about the people and the period. The most famous Nazi films – Riefenstahl’s Olympia and Triumph of the Will – are of course covered, but a much greater amount of time is dedicated to the propaganda films that feature little to no outward anti-Semitism or Nazi imagery at all. Fascinatingly, the German films under Goebbels’ reign spread their message in much more subversive, hidden ways, celebrating unity, self-sacrifice, and patriotism often in non-contemporary periods, or settings unrelated to the War.

A near-constant stream of rare film clips, Hitler’s Hollywood is a surreal journey through a notorious stretch of history. As Europe was on the brink of war, the Third Reich was producing tacky musicals, clichéd sports films, rom-coms and even screwball comedies. (The film includes clips from a 1936 German remake of It Happened One Night!) Also included are works by filmmakers and actors who would eventually flee to the United States after several years in Hitler’s film industry, including movies by Douglas Sirk and G.W. Pabst, and an early starring role for icon Ingrid Bergman.

The presentation is occasionally dry and perhaps too academic; at times, it feels like Kier is simple reading aloud a cinema studies term paper on the subject. (Sections are led with quotes by theorists like Hannah Arendt and Susan Sontag.) The curation of visual materials, though, and their arrangement makes this documentary a fascinating viewing experience, especially for fans of Golden Age cinema. With its abundance of clips from films so rarely seen stateside, it’s an enlightening glimpse into an unseen facet of modern history’s darkest era. 



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