Made with seemingly no limit on the budget, the 1943 German version of the Titanic tragedy was pure and simply propaganda, made during the Second World War at the behest of the German minister of propaganda,Joseph Goebbels.
So , if there was a hero of the fatal maiden voyage of the Belfast built Titanic, this film introduces an entirely fictitious German first officer who appears to be the only official on board who knows the ship has to slow down to avoid icebergs.
Aside from the fact that the film takes place on board the famous ship, most of the story centres on the machinations of the stockholders of the White Star Line which built the Titanic. Led by J. Bruce Ismay, chairman of the White Star, he and his fellow directors plan to manipulate the stock value.
John Jacob Astor is portrayed as a rival who will also stop at nothing to beat Ismay.
Everything is contingent on the Titanic reaching New York in a new record time. So Ismay pressures the ship’s captain to proceed at full speed, despite the pleadings of the selfless First Officer Peterson.
Sybille Schmitz was very moving as one of the passengers . The whole cast and production were impressive , but the film is best viewed for what it is and not for the history of the Titanic.
Peterson stands up to Ismay who is desperate to get on one of the lifeboats. (Peterson is saved only because he rescues a small child who appears to have been left in a cabin by her callous parents!)
The British enquiry into the disaster is only touched on , and we only hear from First Officer Peterson condemning the Captain and ship’s owners. The judgement is speedily given, blaming Captain Smith for speeding , and absolving J. Bruce Ismay.
The film’s final shot :
“The deaths of 1500 were due to the British endless quest for profit.”
Ironically, one of the most expensive films of the time was never shown in Germany till 1950. Apparently , by the time of its completion, it was felt the scenes of chaos and death would weaken German morale.
But it was shown in the occupied countries including France, having a premiere in Paris in November 1943.
After the war, the film was screened in East Berlin in 1950, but the UK government objected to it being shown in West Germany.
The Director of Titanic, Herbert Selpin, was arrested before the end of filming, accused of speaking out against the Nazi regime. One day after his arrest, he was found hanged in his cell.
The film was completed by Werner Klingler.
With no expense being spared, scenes were filmed on board the SS Cap Ancona in the Baltic Sea and hundreds of German soldiers were used as extras.
Tragically, in 1945, the Cap Ancona was sunk by the RAF. Unknown to the British military, on board were concentration camp prisoners who were being moved by the Nazis.
Of 5000 souls on board the Cap Ancona, only 350 survived.
There’s still another Titanic story to be filmed and that’s the critical American enquiry into the sinking. There is a book which contains details of the entire proceedings in New York and it would make a powerful drama.
The factual reasons for the Titanic disaster are many ,and they reflect seamanship of the time. For example, the British enquiry stated that it was common practice for ships to maintain speed in icy waters.
It was also common practice for these liners not to have sufficient life boat places for everyone on board, in the belief that other ships in the busy shipping lanes would come to the rescue of any ship in distress.
After the collision and in the two hours forty minutes it took for the Titanic to sink, many more lives could have been saved if there had been lifeboat drills. One lifeboat , which could take forty,left with twelve people aboard.
There was no public address system, stewards had to go from door to door advising passengers to get to the boat deck.
The Titanic wreck, found by Robert Ballard in 1985.
Kino Video restored this rare film and I have the special edition from 2005. Kino Lorber have issued it on blu Ray in 2017.