Strosstrupp 1917 is essentially a 107 minute artillery barrage along various sectors of the Western Front; from Champagne to Cambrai via Flanders. It paints a vivid and sobering picture of the ebb and flow of trench warfare in an eerily cratered and water-logged landscape, bereft of everything but the detritus of war.
Standing knee-deep for days on end in claustrophobic bunkers. Waiting for an imminent French assault while deprived of food and water. Gas and collapsing shelters.
The realism depicted here is made palpable by the use of actual munitions and explosive charges in great number. The randomly heaving and cascading earth, and the rain of mud and debris would have presented very real dangers to the on-screen participants (SA and Wehrmacht extras as well as a handful of professional actors) and production crew alike, such is the proximity of the camera to the action.
While the enemy are portrayed with a genuine dignity the English and Scots in particular - there is one amusing scene which ensues when the German battalion at one stage finds itself surrounded. Two men volunteer to make the perilous trek across French lines in an effort to deliver a vital message to the Regimental HQ. While successful, they are however captured on the return journey and interrogated. A good dose of Gallic bile follows "Bavarian swine!" then the obligatory spit, followed by the gullible acceptance of obviously fanciful "intelligence' delivered by our Strosstupp heroes. And then as luck would have it, they manage to escape.
This lifting of tension is however all too fleeting.
There is one critical piece of dialogue - delivered quite late in the film, which gives it the political clout one would expect. A dying German soldier is being comforted by a comrade:
"Please be honest. Tell me, is this a swindle?"
"A swindle? The war? Oh no, how could you think it's a swindle? We're doing it for our people back home, for your wife and your children, to keep our country from being devastated like Flanders.
Your meadows and your fields if we weren't here your homeland would look like this."
But it is upon reading the dead soldier's last letter from home that this concept of a "swindle" is brutally hammered home. Her revelations from the home-front elicit this reaction from the readers:
"An MG-42 should fire into the lot of them something's going on back home, and we're putting our head on the block for that society. They're not really worth it."
"We'll have to clean our house when we get home, but we'll have to start at the top, the swindle must be coming from there, otherwise, ordinary people wouldn't talk like that."
"I'll be right beside you!"
The November treason the Diktat. Plans to avenge the stab in the back are forming already in the heart of the common man and as the movie concludes, so the viewing audience is exhorted to remember this betrayal. Directed by Hans Zöberlein and based on his own published front-line experiences, Strosstrup 17 was designed to counter the pacifist message of Erich Maria Remarque's All Quiet on the Western Front, and Adolf Hitler even penned a brief introduction to the text.
According to the movie's liner notes, Zöberlein himself was a member of the 1923 Munich Putsch and went on to become a Werewolf leader at war's end. He was sentenced to death for the murder of Penzburg's socialist mayor on April 28, 1945, but that sentence was commuted, and he served a prison term until 1958.
He died in 1964.
The importance of this movie is derived more from its authenticity and visual power than from its obvious propaganda message. Worthwhile.
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