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The downfall of Germanys "Iron Chancellor" Bismarck (Emil Jannings), who had to resign from his position just two years after Wilhelm II. (then just 29 years old) became Emperor of the Reich. The film depicts the clash between the unexperienced and notoriously narcissistic Wilhelm II. and Bismarck, who basically had ruled the country all by himself since 1871, while Wilhelm's grandfather, Wilhelm I., had basically been a merely symbolical figure in the background.
Despite of what has often been written about this film, there is just a few National-Socialist propaganda in it - at least in the DVD-version I was able to see, which may have been cut. In one scene Bismarck explains to Wilhelm that the social problems of the country can only be solved by a "socialism from above", a "socialism" which at the same time must be "national". Another scene shows Bismarck confronting the Social Democrats at the Reichstag, among them his arch-adversary August Bebel. Bebel was Jewish, and another Jewish social-democratic member of the Reichstag (Paul Singer) makes a brief and decidedly unappealing appearance. Otherwise the film does not stress the Jewishness of the Social Democrats, at least not in the possibly edited version available.
Apart from that the film is basically a patriotic epic in the vein of D.W. Griffith's ABRAHAM LINCOLN. As usual in historical biopics, actions are simplified, condensed and dramatized, but overall DIE ENTLASSUNG is historically pretty accurate - and surprisingly complex for a nationalistic film shot within the system of the Third Reich. Some liberties have been taken, but they don't change the historical connection of the events much. There are many little details that only those with a good knowledge of Bismarck's life and the feud between him and Wilhelm will recognize. It is not true what another commentator wrote, that Wilhelm is presented with both of his arms intact. Note how he always keeps his left arm hidden in the coat or behind the back.
To non-German commentators the main significance of the story may be lost: the tragedy is not only about the fall of Bismarck and the futility of his lifework but also of the Second Reich which was his creation. The arrogance and ignorance of the young Kaiser and the manipulations of the intriguers (great: Werner Krauss) at the court prevent the renewal of a friendship pact between Germany and Russia, a centerpiece of Bismarck's diplomacy. The film is absolutely historically correct here. This failure proved to be fatal, as Russia found new allies in England and France which lead to the constellation of 1914, exactly the two-front-war that Bismarck tried to avoid. Thus the ending of the film is not "bizarre" at all - but in order to make it less fatalistic as it could have been, the bad guy Krauss gets a deserved bashing by Bismarck, after which a dissolve switches the scenery to the famous Bismarck monument build in 1906 in Hamburg. Being a war-time film under a nationalist regime the film needed some appeal to heroism in the end, covering up the more darker and pessimistic implications of the story.
Typical for the quality films of the Third Reich, DIE ENTLASSUNG relies on set-pieces and excellent acting rather than on cutting and camera work. The screenplay is by the Austrian writer Alexander Lernet-Holenia, who in fact was a conservative opponent to the Nazis. Jannings and Krauss give great performances, which make THE ENTLASSUNG indeed a far better film than its prequel BISMARCK.
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