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S.O.S. Iceberg

S.O.S. Iceberg(1933)

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The working title for this film was Iceland. This film's opening stated that it was produced "under the auspices of the Danish government and under the protectorate of the renowned polar explorer Knud Rasmussen." Variety reported that the film was "conceived and started by Germans and turned over to Universal when the originators were unable to carry it through." In a pre-title acknowledgment, Carl Laemmle thanks the directorial staff, "who devoted a year to this picture," the cameramen, "who risked their lives in the Arctic so that a new star, Nature, might be presented to the public," the "courageous leaders who guided the expedition past mountainous glaciers where the slightest mis-step meant instant death," and the artists "who bravely faced incomparable hardship in the polar outposts of the world." This film was shot in Umanak, on the west coast of Greenland, and in Iceland. According to a modern source, some scenes were shot in the Bernina Alps, on the border between Italy and Switzerland. A Film Daily news item on May 2, 1932 reported that Arnold Fanck had announced his engagement to Berliner Elizabeth Kind, who would act as "script girl" on the production. The couple, along with Paul Kohner, Zoltan Kegl, Werner Klinger and Gibson Gowland, sailed for Greenland on May 4, 1932. Technical experts Dr. Fritz Loewe and Dr. Ernst Sorge are also billed as "members of Wegener Expedition." Ernst Udet is referred to in reviews as a "famous flier." According to a May 1938 New York Times article, it was too cold in Greenland for director Tay Garnett to use the sound-camera equipment. Many reviews mention the scene in which a glacier explodes, creating thousands of gigantic icebergs, which as Hollywood Reporter states, the crew was "lucky enough" to film while on location. The interiors for this film were shot in a studio in Berlin, which a modern source has identified as the SOFA Studio. According to Variety, only the finished negative went to Hollywood. The Variety review comments on the film's complete authenticity and lack of miniatures: "No papier mache ice here. It's the real article." A modern source, however, states that an artificial iceberg was constructed in the European Alps to minimize danger to the actors.
       The preview length for the film was 121 minutes. As reported in a Hollywood Reporter news item, the Berlin Symphony Orchestra recorded Paul Dessau's score for this film. A modern source credits Ernst Udet as "movie pilot" and lists the aircraft used in the film as a Moth and Klemm biplane. Modern sources claim that none of the film's actors had doubles and no lives were lost in the making of this film-remarkable for the time considering that, according to modern sources, just prior to this film's expedition, an American director who had gone to Greenland with a 120-member crew to shoot a film had returned with only nineteen survivors. A cablegram from Fanck to Laemmle quoted in a modern source states that Udet nearly lost his life when his plane's engine lost power and crashed at the base of an iceberg. Udet was rescued by Eskimos, but minutes later, the iceberg which was supporting some of the crew crumbled to bits, casting men and equipment into the water below. The production unit ship anchored nearby was so shaken by the event that it nearly capsized, throwing people on board the deck into the water. All were rescued, but considerable sound equipment was destroyed.
       This was Leni Riefenstahl's first American film. According to a modern source, Fanck had wanted Elly Beihorn, a German pilot, to play the part of Ellen, but Universal wanted Riefenstahl in order to take advantage of the success of her 1929 film Die weisse Hlle vom Piz Pal (The White Hell of Piz Pal) in the United States. In an interview quoted in a modern source, Riefenstahl states, "When Dr. Fanck agreed to do the film, he couldn't find anyone who could handle the role because it required great physical effort. This was the last film in which I was only an actress." This was the last film Riefenstahl made before she started to direct films exclusively for the German government under Adolf Hitler. The German version of this film, which was made simultaneously with the American version, was titled S.O.S. Eisberg. Modern sources list the German credits as follows: Dr. Arnold Fanck (Director), Hans Heinrich (Dialogue director), Ernst Udet and Frank Schrieck (Aerial photography), Werner Klinger (Editor), Fritz Maurischat, Dr. Ernst Petersen and Arno Richter (Art directors) and, along with Tom Reed and Edwin H. Knopf, who wrote the script for the American version, Fanck, Dr. Fritz Loewe, Dr. Ernst Sorge, Hans Heinrich and F. Wolf (Screenplay). Cast credits correspond to the English version except that Gustav Diessl played the part of Dr. Karl Lawrence, and Leni Riefenstahl's character was called "Hella Lorenz." A modern source lists the date of the premiere of the German version in Berlin as August 30, 1933, and the length as 71 minutes. According to a modern source, in 1951, Castle Films, United World Films, Inc., released a shortened version of S.O.S. Iceberg.