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Titanic (1943 film): Wikis


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Directed by Werner Klingler
Herbert Selpin
Produced by Willy Reiber
Written by Herbert Selpin
Walter Zerlett-Olfenius
Starring Sybille Schmitz
Hans Nielsen
Distributed by UFA
Release date(s) 10 November 1943
Running time 85 minutes
Language German

Titanic was a 1943 Nazi propaganda film made during World War II in Berlin by Tobis Productions for UFA. The film used the sinking of the RMS Titanic as a setting for an attempt to discredit British and American capitalist dealings and glorify the bravery and selflessness of Germanic men. The film is known for its extremely dark production history and, ironically, became the symbol of the corruption and "sinking" of the Third Reich itself.

Cult icon Sybille Schmitz, who would achieve everlasting fame twenty-seven years after her death when R. W. Fassbinder adapted her unhappy life into his famous film Die Sehnsucht der Veronika Voss, has her most widely accessible role for today's audience in this film.


History of the film

The film was shot on board the SS Cap Arcona, a passenger cruise ship which itself was sunk in the last weeks of World War II with a loss of life far heavier than that on the actual Titanic. The scenes with the lifeboats were filmed on the Baltic Sea and some of the interior scenes were shot in Tobis Studios.

Titanic was the most expensive German production up until that time and endured many production difficulties, including a clash of egos, massive creative differences and general war-time frustrations. The film's original director, Herbert Selpin was heard making unflattering comments about the Kriegsmarine officers, who were more concerned with fondling the actresses than doing their job as marine consultants of the film. His close friend and co-writer of the script, Walter Zerlett-Olfenius, reported him to the Gestapo and Selpin was promptly arrested and personally questioned by Joseph Goebbels, who was the driving force behind the Titanic project. Within twenty-four hours of his arrest, Herbert Selpin was found hanged in his jail cell. The cast and crew were angry and attempted to retaliate, but were quickly silenced with fear for their own safety. The unfinished film, the production of which spiraled wildly out control, was in the end completed by Werner Klingler.

The premiere was supposed to be in early 1943, but the theatre that housed the answer print was bombed the night before the big event. The film went on to have a lacklustre premiere in Paris around Christmas of that same year, but in the end, Goebbels banned it altogether, stating that the German people, at that point going through almost nightly Allied bombing raids, were less than enthusiastic about seeing a film that portrayed mass death and panic. Titanic was re-discovered in 1949, but was quickly banned in most western and capitalist countries. After the fifties, the film went back into obscurity, sometimes showing on German television. But in 1992, a censored, low quality VHS copy, was released in Germany. This version deleted the strongest propaganda scenes, which immensely watered down its controversial content. Finally, in 2005, Titanic was completely restored and, for the first time, the uncensored version was released in a special edition DVD by Kino Video.


The movie opens with a proclamation to the White Star stock holders that their stocks are currently falling. The president of White Star Line J. Bruce Ismay promises to reveal a secret during the maiden voyage of the Titanic that will change the fate of the stocks. He alone knows that the ship can break the world record in speed and that, he thinks, will raise the stock value. He and the board of the White Star plan to lower the stocks by selling even their own stocks in order to buy them back at a lower price. They plan to buy them back just before the news about the record speed of the ship will be published to the press.

The issue of capitalism and the stock market plays a dominant role throughout the movie. The hero of the film is fictional German First Officer Herr Petersen (played by Hans Nielsen) on the ill-fated voyage of the British ocean liner RMS Titanic in 1912. He begs the ship's rich and snobbish owners to slow down the ship's speed, but they refuse and the Titanic hits an iceberg and sinks. The rich are shown as sleazy cowards, while Officer Peterson and a handful of German passengers in steerage are shown as brave and kind. Peterson manages to rescue many passengers, convince his lover to get into a lifeboat (in a scene which was famously echoed in the 1997 film) and saves a young girl, who was obviously left to die in her cabin by an uncaring, callous British capitalist mother. The film ends with the British Inquiry into the disaster, where Peterson testifies against Bruce Ismay, condemning his actions, but Ismay is cleared of all charges and the blame is placed squarely on the deceased Captain Smith's shoulders. The epilogue states that the death of "1,500 people remains un-atoned, forever a testament of Britain's endless quest for profit."

Themes and propaganda context

Titanic makes the allegory of the liner's loss specifically about British avarice rather than, as most Titanic retellings do, about general human arrogance and presumption.

This film does include all the "classic" trappings of a Titanic film. The numerous subplots include greed, arrogance, star-crossed lovers, young love, old flames meeting again on the doomed ship and has an emotional scene where a wife refuses to leave her husband on the doomed liner. Ironically, the real-life couple on which this scene was based were Jewish, a fact which was not set forth in this 1943 German film.


Allegations about A Night to Remember

The 1943 film actually had very good special effects for the time, so much so that it was alleged that some of them were spliced into the 1958 film A Night to Remember. This "fact", however, is greatly overstated. The only shots used by the 1958 film are four brief inserts. Two shots are of the ship sailing in calm waters during the day—a very noticeable goof, since the model used in the 1943 version is very different from the one used in 1958. The other two shots were brief clips of a flooding walkway in the engine room. No shots of the actual sinking were used in A Night to Remember.

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