Most articles on this film tend to overlook the intrinsic qualities of the film as film, though of course these are connected with the propaganda aspect. The opening scenes (the board meeting and subsequent meeting) are strong and the key to the propaganda: in a very short time it is effectively made clear what the point of view of this film is and what follows is an entertaining and propaganda-effective film. From the moment we are on the ship until the collision the film is drama routine, but one of the better sort. Really exiting is the film from collision till sinking, i.e. when the real drama emerges and the splendid special effects do their jobs; not one aspect of the outlined drama is forgotten, it is fast-paced and very well directed.
Of the cast it is Sybille Schmitz who excels, while other members also do a very good job; they must have done so otherwise the whole propaganda aspect would not have come across. There is one exception here: it seems that Hans Neilsen (playing the German officer) is very good, but he is not. It is often said that he speaks his lines as a Wehrmacht officer on duty, but for me his machine gun like delivered lines sound more like the staccato of the regular commentator of the Deutsche Wochenschau (compare this, when you have the possibility).
Though this film is obviously anti-British, it is rather anti English capitalist establishment and their decadence than anti-British per se *; an anti-capitalism not so much based on (to generalize) theoretical arguments, but (as most of fascist ideas) on the petty bourgeois middle class mentality and jealousy towards others who are better off. The crux for this is in the strong opening: it is here when Ismay remarks that he cannot take into account the interests of the small investors, they must bend to his need and of course greed. As such the focus of the propaganda is established; on the ship we meet very wealthy people playing with money (e.g. the gamblers) and people preferring money above people (Lord Astor, well played by Schönbock), these being decorum for the propaganda and an elaboration of the already established focus. Money (large sums bidden for almost everything) plays the major part in this film (it should have received first credit). Lord Astor even worries about stolen jewelry while the ship is sinking: money makes decadent. Compare for instance the cynic way of life upper deck and the more natural and spontaneous life lower deck.
[* Noteworthy is that after its re-release in 1950 it was quickly banned again in the Western zones, while in the Soviet zone it was screened without a problem; the anti-capitalism might have done the trick.]
The pro-German aspect and the answer to everything is German officer Petersen. He not almost single handedly saves a part of the passengers, he also shows the right spirit when it comes to human feelings. Only when the Baltic countess says she has no money anymore, he gives room for his feelings towards her; what a fine chap, he is! And it is from that point on that she does her duty as a human being and starts helping out with the rescue: money makes cynic.
There is also a hint of Durchhaltefilm here. Take for instance that schematic and ideological German rural couple; not a couple of flesh and blood, they seem to have walked straight out of a Nazi rural painting. Men and women are separated for the rescue, but this couple stays together: in an almost religious shot they hold hands expressing that nothing can separate them. They are separated by force of the panic, but reconciled again in the end. No catastrophe can undermine the simple German life.
This Titanic has its influence on film history as well. It has been ripped off at least twice, first in 1958 for A Night to Remember (a story widely known) and recently by James Cameron who for his Titanic but boring endeavour stole quite some story ideas and complete scenes; check this when you have the opportunity.
It is often written that this film was not released in Germany cause of the death (suicide, murder?) of its first director Selpin. Wetzel & Hagemann in their survey of censorship in Nazi Germany (book, 1978) claim that this is not so. It had its unnoticed premiere in 1943 in unimportant cinemas, only to be banned in December 1944 for the well-known reason: the audience was not to be confronted with catastrophes.
Beware which version you see; as I understand it there are 2 versions. The longer one (the one I saw) includes a final scene in court; Petersen is the German J'accuse of Bruce Ismay, but there appears to be no British justice.
Action / Drama / History
Action / Drama / History
Building the Titanic has been a huge financial effort, and White Star Line president Ismay wants her maiden voyage to hit the headlines. He urges Captain Smith to make the fastest possible crossing to New York. When iceberg warnings come in, the captain must ask himself if he is willing to risk the safety of his ship just to please Ismay.
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