'Schiller' no thriller; Casper's ghostly performance
During the Third Reich of 1933-1945, Germany's nationalised film industry produced more than 1,100 films. Surprisingly, only about 250 of these were blatantly Nazi propaganda: the vast majority were merely escapist entertainment. But the Nazi leaders who controlled the film industry were clever enough to realise that Hitler's cause could be furthered with movies which subtly advocated German ideals and nationalist causes ... without explicitly praising Hitler, nor showing swastikas or other Nazi symbolism.
'Friedrich Schiller' is a film which intentionally serves Nazi agenda without being explicitly pro-Nazi. This film purports to tell the story of Schiller, the 18th-century German playwright and blank-verse poet. A contemporary and friend of Goethe, Friedrich Schiller was an important poet in his own right: his 'Ode to Joy' was set to music as Beethoven's Ninth Symphony.
'Friedrich Schiller' was released in 1940 (shortly after Hitler's early military triumphs) with the subtitle 'Der Triumph eines Genies' (Triumph of a Genius). Movie audiences were clearly meant to see parallels between Schiller and Hitler.
In the title role, this film stars Horst Casper ... a pretty-boy actor whose looks surpass his acting ability. Rather than telling Schiller's entire life story, the film emphasises his early years when Schiller was a cadet in the Karlsschule (the military academy sponsored by the Duke of Württemberg) and his service in the Duke's regiment at Stuttgart. During this period, Schiller read law and medicine, and somehow also found time to write his first play!
The film depicts a real-life incident which occurred in 1781. Whilst Schiller was garrisoned with the Duke's regiment in Stuttgart, his first play ('The Robbers') was performed at a theatre in Mannheim. Schiller went AWOL from his regiment to attend a performance of his own play. In the movie, this leads to a stormy confrontation between Schiller and his patron. Heinrich George gives a splendid performance as the Duke, easily out-acting the dull Casper.
Unfortunately, this film tries too hard in its efforts to make 18th-century historical characters fit into Nazi agitprop. Schiller is meant to symbolise the idealistic visionary ubermensch: that rare individual who is innately superior to normal men.
The production design and the period detail in this film are impressive, and the photography (by the great Fritz Arno Wagner) is superb. The film editing is better than usual for German movies of this period. But it's all quite dull. I confess that I don't know enough about Schiller to judge the biographical accuracy of this movie, but there are several scenes in which the facts have clearly been bent to fit Nazi agenda. I'll rate this movie 4 points out of 10. It has quite a few good points in spite of its Nazi pedigree.
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