Hitler's Hollywood

Review by Willard Manus

Between 1933 and 1945, the Nazi film industry cranked out a thousand features, an astounding number for a country at war for much of that time. The state, as embodied by Josef Goebbels, subsidized every aspect of the industry for propaganda purposes. It was, as the documentary HITLER’S HOLLYWOOD shows, the most effective way for the Nazis to communicate with the masses, control their thinking, manipulate their emotions.

Written and directed by Rudiger Suchsland, narrated in English by Udo Kier, HITLER’S HOLLYWOOD is packed with excerpts from the documentaries, love stories, war films, musicals and comedies made by the Nazis during their twelve years in power and exhibited not only in Germany but in the fifteen countries they had conquered.
Goebbels had a hand in every film released by the UFA Studios, beginning with the script and finishing with casting and
directing. As Kier comments, “There were no auteurs in the Nazi film industry, only Goebbels.” The latter’s fanatical attention to detail had only one aim: “to allure people into accepting the Nazi ideal, making it impossible for them to escape it.”

The Nazis’ best-known filmmaker was Leni Riefenstahl, a former art student and dancer. After directing and acting in “The Blue Light,” a major hit in the German ‘mountain film genre,’ she was invited by Goebbels to film the Nazis’ 1934 political rally. Responding with dramatically lit, geometrically-framed tableaux of huge crowds surrounded by Nazi insignia and uniformly enthralled by Hitler (first seen in an airplane making a Godlike entrance through swirling clouds), she created “Triumph of the Will,” the ultimate in Fascist propaganda. She followed that with “Olympia,” a documentary account of the 1936 Olympic Games and a rhapsodic hymn to the Aryan ideals of athleticism and physical beauty. With shots of temples and statues implying a spiritual link between the ancient deities and the Third Reich, Riefenstahl glorified Nazi power, ambition and achievement.

But even in films that were not as overtly propagandistic–-the musicals, romances and melodramas–-there was a subtle Nazi message. Germans were always shown in an idealized way, the countryside as well. Happy people in a happy land.
In Nazi war films, the German army was always on the attack, always winning its battles. Should a German soldier be injured, he bled happily for his regiment. If he died, it was always with a smile on his face, blissful in the knowledge that he was giving his life for his country and his beloved Fuhrer.

Among the many revelations in HITLER’S HOLLYWOOD is the one involving a film dealing with the fate of the Jews in Nazi Germany. In “Jew Seuss” the Jews are shown to be filthy, contemptible creatures who will soon be exterminated by the regime. This promise, delivered in a voice-over, was contained in a feature film exhibited all over Germany. It proves that, contrary to what most Germans claim, just about everyone in the nation knew about the concentration camps and the Final Solution (and did little or nothing about it).

HITLER’S HOLLYWOOD (distributed in the USA by Kino Lorber) is must-see viewing for every film and history buff.