by Bob Herzberg
Jefferson, NC: McFarland, 2016. Pp. viii, 204.
Illus., notes, biblio., index. $39.95 paper. ISBN: 1476664269
Cinema and the Third Reich
Although books about Nazis and film are not rare, comedian Herzberg, a film historian of some note, with books on subjects such as the image of Native Americans in motion pictures and cinematic depictions of the Mexican Revolution, gives us a thoughtful, occasionally subversive look how the Nazi regime portrayed itself and was portrayed by others from the rise of the in the movement in the 1920s, through its domination Germany, the Second World War, and thence down to the present.
Herzberg divides the subject chronologically, grouping films into eight chapters, each covering a particular period (e.g., 1929-1937, 1938-1941, 1942-1945, etc., to 1981-2015). For each period, he discusses the state of film in Germany and elsewhere and the nature of the films made, which cover all genres, from romantic comedies and propaganda pitches to spy stories and war pictures. He uses numerous examples, and includes plot summaries, director and actor profiles, as well as commentary on the political and other influences on the films.
Herzberg offers some surprises. For example, he notes that Goebbels, who was a surprisingly perceptive critic, challenging his film makers to do something as good as Mrs. Miniver, insisted on damping down overtly ideological content in favor subtler approaches (something also found in American and British wartime films, such as the “Loose Lips Sink Ships” poster that might decorate a wall in a comedy that otherwise barely mentions the war). He also reminds us that during the 1930s, and virtually right down to Pearl Harbor, American producers worried about giving the Nazis a bad image, fearing the loss of the German market, which by late 1941 encompassed much of Europe.
Herzberg stresses several trends affecting film related to the Third Reich. Perhaps the most important was the long reluctance to address Nazi anti-Semitism and the Holocaust, not only during the pre-war period, but even afterwards. There’s also the post-war appearance of the “good German” in many films, perhaps culminating in the 2008 Valkyrie, and the surprising frequency in which Nazis appear in science fiction and horror films.
Herzberg also throws in a lot of sardonic comments, and often remarks on the fact in American films Nazis usually have British accents. He also gives us a look at some curious battles with America’s censors, and adds some surprises, such as the Soviet use of several Nazi films as anti-western propaganda during the Cold war.
This is a good book for the film student or anyone interested in the social and cultural influences of World War II.
Note: The Third Reich on Screen is also available as an e-pub, ISBN 978-1-4766-2697-0