The Postwar Film


GERMANY’S movies trouble the public an well as the producers. They seem to be vegetating in a morass of mediocrity, unable to regain the momentum that established their world-nude reputation between the two wars. Why is this so? Italy, likewise starting afresh after Fascism and defeat, has created a brilliant neo-realism. What is holding Germany back?

For the first few years after the debacle, our film industry was supervised by the four occupying powers, each with its own approach, In the Soviet zone, the Russians permitted only one company, the state-run DEFA, which was under strict orders to produce films solely for political and informational ends.

The Americans, British, and French, in their zones, were intent on preventing the revival of the large, monopolistic enterprises which once had dominated the market. They licensed about two hundred small companies, which soon found themselves so beset by creditors that they had to concentrate on films promising rapid returns. Only appeals to the lowest level of mass taste appeared commercially safe.

Some of the early films, however, showed promise and a certain artistic ambition. There was Fritz Fortner’s The Call, dealing with the return of a Jewish professor to a changed Germany; Käutners In Those Days, examining life under the Nazis; or the experimental Morituri, depicting a concentration camp. Outstanding among the East zone films were Marriage in the Shadows, the story of an actor couple persecuted by the Nazis, and an expressionistic version of Buchner’s classic, Wozzeck.

But deterioration soon set in. West German producers turned to operettas and insufferably sentimental “local color.”Only a rare picture saved the intelligent movie-goer from constant embarrassment. In the East zone there were biographies of Communist heroes, such as Thälmann, a Fighter for His Class; Advice of the Gods, an expose of capitalism; and The Lost Village, which showed Americans mistreating a West German community.

Fortunately, the acting was seldom as poor as the scripts. Among the stars whose performances have attracted attention abroad are Maria Schell, 0.E. Hasse, Curd Jürgens, 0. W. Fischer, Marianne Koch, and Hildegarde Neff, who got her start in the East zone in The Murderers Are Among Us. Directors who have shown they can do good work if given the chance are Helmuth Käutner, Eugen York, Von Baky, and Erich Engel.

Of late some improvement of quality has become noticeable. Foreign films, many with German sound tracks, are widely distributed and their superior interest is having its effect; the German public is beginning to demand a better product from its own industry. Käutner, particularly, is turning out pictures which could compete in the international market, such as Sky Without Stars, which dramatizes the partition of Germany; The Captain of Köpenick, a satire on militarism adapted from a Carl Zuckmayer play; and Canaris, the life story of the chief of Nazi espionage.