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Titanic (1943)
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Titanic (1943)

Some movies are more famous for their troubled production histories than for anything that actually reaches the screen. But few, if any, pictures have as depressing a back-story as Titanic (1943), a German re-imagining of the British maritime disaster that was actually produced by the Nazi party. In fact, Nazi propaganda minister Joseph Goebbels grew so disgruntled with original director Herbert Selpin's political opinions, he had him arrested and murdered during filming! Although it was intended as one of the crown jewels of German cinema, this altogether twisted film came to stand as a metaphor for the crumbling of Hitler's brutal regime.

Forget everything James Cameron ever told you- there's not much of a love story here. Instead, we're treated to a steady stream of increasingly absurd anti-British propaganda. The screenplay contends that the real reason the luxury liner crashed into an iceberg ­ resulting in more than 1,500 passenger deaths - was that the company that owned it was trying to set a speed record in order to drive up the price of its stocks. All the British characters are portrayed as greedy incompetents, if not outright pigs, and the ship's solitary German crew member is the only hero. Leave it to the Nazis, of all people, to assert that Britain cared little for the sanctity of human life.

During filming, Selpin, who co-wrote the script with Walter Zerlett-Olfenius, unwisely made some negative remarks about the German Navy around the rest of the crew. Someone informed the Gestapo, and Selpin was promptly thrown into Prinz-Albrecht-Palais prison in Berlin. He was later found hanged in his cell, the result of a not particularly believable "suicide." (The rest of the picture was shot by Werner Klingler, who, one can reasonably assume, kept his opinions about Hitler's war machine to himself.)

When Titanic was finished, the building where its debut print was stored was leveled in an air raid (luckily, the film negative was housed in a different location). Then Goebbels began to worry that its scenes of mass panic would disturb German audiences that were experiencing their own terror during Allied air raids. The release was postponed, and the movie was finally shown, in highly edited form, only in Nazi-occupied Paris. Goebbels also barred one of the film's lead actresses, Jolly Bohnert, from appearing in any more movies for reasons which were never made clear.

Most Germans never saw the film until it was finally released, to little fanfare, in 1949. The only good that came out of the entire production was that the rescue sequences were eventually used in A Night to Remember (1958), so the British got the last laugh by incorporating Goebbel's best footage into their own movie.

Even the ship that was used during the filming of Titanic ended up in a hellish tragedy. Called the Cap Arcona, the vessel was commissioned to transport liberated prisoners from the brutal Nazi camp, Neuengamme. During what should have been a voyage to freedom, Allied forces accidentally fired at the Cap Arcona and sank it. The vast majority of the prisoners who didn't die as it went under were shot and killed by nearby Nazi forces. Such horror casts a sinister shadow across what little dramatic impact the film itself generates.

Directors: Herbert Selpin, Werner Klingler
Screenplay: Herbert Selpin, Walter Zerlett-Olfenius
Principal Cast: Sybille Schmitz (Sigrid Olinsky), Hans Nielsen (1st Officer Peterson), Kirsten Heiberg (Gloria), Ernst Fritz Furbringer (Sir Bruce Ismay), Karl Schonbock (John Jacob Astor), Charlotte Thiele (Lady Astor), Otto Wernicke (Capt. Edward J. Smith).

by Paul Tatara



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