Completed in early 1943, soon after the German advance was halted in the Battle of Stalingrad, the Nazi super-spectacles Münchhausen and Titanic seem less exercises in mind control than hubristic cinema follies.
Josef von Báky’s lavishly Agfacolor and oddly self-reflexive Münchhausen—made to celebrate the 25th anniversary of the German film studio UFA, written by an otherwise banned writer, and starring the popular Hans Albers as the 18th-century baron—is an impressive, if joyless, f/xtravaganza with an underlying imperial vision. Münchhausen conquers Catherine the Great and the Turkish sultan, occupies Venice (used as a location), and lands on the moon. Titanic was intended as an attack on British arrogance and greed—the ocean liner’s British owner ignores the advice of his German [sic] officer and, striving to maximize his profits, effectively sinks his ship.
A rarer item than Münchhausen, which for all its forced gaiety has achieved classic status in Germany, Titanic not only evokes a catastrophe but was one. The initial director, Herbert Selpin, was heard complaining about the German army and arrested midway through the production. Then, given its newly relevant and inescapably demoralizing scenes of mass panic, the movie was extensively cut and soon banned. Both DVDs are restored: Titanic includes the anti-British material that was deleted after the war while Münchhausen‘s colors have been rehabilitated—like the film itself.
This article from the Village Voice Archive was posted on July 27, 2004