German Cinema: Nazi Control Reshapes the Industry

German Cinema: 1930-1945


German cinema during the Nazi regime was bold, innovative and powerful yet constricting, filled with propaganda and ideologically single minded. The time between 1930 and 1945 showed itself to be, cinematically, a stumble backwards with several strides forward. It was an interesting period and one that would show the fighting force of film on levels it had never been before.

The Goebbels Experiment
The Goebbels Experiment

This documentary shows Goebbels life, his passion for movies and how they intertwined within the Nazi movement.

 

The Nazi Regime Loved Movies


It is an odd truth, but both Hitler and Dr. Josef Goebbels (the minister or propaganda) loved movies like fan-girls, so much so they made it a point to develop strong relationships with directors, actors and producers within the industry.

Hitler often screened movies at parties, which was a very expensive activity for that time period. Goebbels was known to watch a movie every day if not more.It is no wonder that the pair would use film and the film industry within the Nazi regime so effectively.

The trailer (shown below) for The Goebbels Experiment (Hachmeister, 2005) shows, briefly, the mind process of the man in charge of Nazi propaganda. The movie goes into detail about his life, but shows how much the media and film play in role of the Nazi regime.

Trailer for The Goebbels Experiment

The Mass Exodus


In 1933, the Nazi party removed all Jews from every aspect Germany’s film industry from the director to the actor all the way to the person picking up the phone in the distribution office. This led to the mass exodus of many great directors such as:

  • Max Ophüls (Lola Montès, 1955) Trailer for Lola Montès below
  • Billy Wilder (The Seven Year Itch, 1955)
  • Robert Siodmak (The Killers, 1946)

Interesting enough, Goebbels wanted Fritz Lang (M, 1931)to take a leading position in the industry. I guess Goebbels didn’t know Lang was part Jewish and opted to leave when it was clear that things were becoming too dangerous in Germany.

Trailer for Lola Montes

Not Everyone Escaped


Just a few of the famous actors that vacated during this period were Peter Lorre (M, 1931), who was Jewish and left for Hollywood only weeks after the release of M.

Conrad Veidt (Cabinet of Dr. Caligari, 1920) also went to Hollywood, but only after putting “Jew” on his paperwork, a requirement for the film industry. He was an Aryan. Ironically, he would find great success in propaganda films for England (The Spy in Black, 1939) and as villainous Nazis in Hollywood (Casablanca, 1942).

Many in the industry saw the writing on the wall, but not all got out. Kurt Gerron, who played the Kiepert, the Magician in The Blue Angel (1930) and directed over twenty films stayed in Germany and succumbed to the same fate as many other Jews in hat time and place: he died in the Auschwitz Concentration Camp at the age of 47.

The Blue Angel starring Marlene Dietrich and Emil Jannings


In 1934, Goebbels gained control of censorship and personally reviewed every film, short and newsreel that was shown in Germany during the Nazi regime. Interestingly, although he hated communism, he respected Sergi Eisenstein’s The Battleship Potemkin (1925) for its imagery and use of propaganda. He would direct those in the film industry to take the same approach, using montage to promote the regime's anti-Semitic ideals.


In fact, Goebbels would go so far as to re-screen every film before 1933 and ban any that didn’t live up to the new “Nuremberg laws”, which included any film that could be considered anti-Nazi, pro-diversity and anything questionable. The movie M fell under this rule and was banned in 1934.

Nationalizing Germany's Film Industry


During this period, Germany still depended on importing and exporting films, but found it difficult with their own strict rules and other countries no longer wanting to deal with them. To deal with this, the Nazis turned to nationalizing the film industry by secretly purchasing controlling interesting in all of the major companies including Ufa, Tobis and Bavaria. The take over began in 1937 and was completed by 1942. The end result was Ufi, which combined all the film industries in Germany as well as Austria and Czechoslovakia, which had been seized by this time.


Oddly enough, even with control of such a huge film industry, the Nazis were unable to keep up the movie supply since there was such a large demand. Things became even more strained when World War II officially began in 1939 and imports from the extremely popular Hollywood went from a trickle to a halt. The Nazis couldn’t control the world’s film market, but they did control what happened within their own borders.

It is interesting that though Tarantino’s Inglorious Basterds was an over the top, completely fake story, there are moments of honesty and truth there.


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9 comments

stephaniedas profile image

stephaniedas 5 years ago from Miami, US

This is really fascinating. You could design a college course on the topic!


vmartinezwilson profile image

vmartinezwilson 5 years ago from Vancouver, WA Author

Thanks! I don't have my masters quite yet, but I do love the era and find it fascinating. I'm a huge fan of German Expressionism, so the leap from that to Nazi propaganda film is interesting to me.

Thank you so much!


stephaniedas profile image

stephaniedas 5 years ago from Miami, US

I took a class on testimonial literature in undergrad and one of the things we talked about was propaganda film. We watched videos from Nazi Germany and the USSR that were promoting concentration camps and prisons. It was quite interesting-- they talked about how wonderful these places were, but all of the people they filmed working looked miserable. They were on youtube, but I can't remember what they were called. If I find the link I'll send it to you.


vmartinezwilson profile image

vmartinezwilson 5 years ago from Vancouver, WA Author

Everytime I watch propaganda films from Axis, I get surprised at what I see. It's fascinating, sad and at times genious, especially when considering the works of Leni Reifenstahl.

Have you ever watched English propaganda films? They are really well made films. Look up Michael Powell if you ever get a chance. He and Emeric Pressburger were genious at interweaving propaganda and beauty.

Thanks!


Stevennix2001 profile image

Stevennix2001 5 years ago

Thanks Vmartinezwilson for writing this, as I always find myself learning something new whenever i read one of your hubs. You're definitely a gifted writer, and I concur with Stephaniedas that you can probably teach a college course on this topic someday, as you do seem very knowledgeable. Anyway, thanks for writing this, as I enjoyed reading this.


vmartinezwilson profile image

vmartinezwilson 5 years ago from Vancouver, WA Author

You are very welcome. I have a passion for film and I am so grateful for the opportunities I have to not only study it, but this spot at Hubpages to share.

Thank you so much Stevennix!


NateB11 profile image

NateB11 3 years ago from California, United States of America

I find this subject fascinating; Nazi Germany, Hitler and his leading followers, and their use of film. Hitler and the Nazi Party were very dramatic and, might call it, flamboyant; fortunately or unfortunately, such characteristics lend themselves to good cinema. It, of course, is interesting how they used film as another way of pushing their agenda, in their characteristic domineering way. I'd say these things are important to learn about and understand. Thanks for sharing.


vmartinezwilson profile image

vmartinezwilson 3 years ago from Vancouver, WA Author

Thank you NateB. I am also fascinated by propaganda films from World War II, especially those revolving around the Nazis. Leni Reifenstahl was wonderful at combining power and beauty and damn it if she wasn't for the other side!

I've been watching a lot of Powell and Pressburger lately, so it's nice to see the English's own propaganda machine at work, which is equally as beautiful and even more intelligent in approach.


stephaniedas profile image

stephaniedas 3 years ago from Miami, US

Michael Powell...I'll watch his work! Thanks!

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