Enter a cast of thousands. Schiller as a prototype for Der Fuehrer. The indomitable Heinrich George as a stand-in for the Old Guard. Hearty laughs and happy endings.
This film, which I viewed first in the 1960's, surprised me with its high production values for a 1940 effort not made in Hollywood. My initial reaction to it was disbelief that the Nazi censors allowed the words of the poet to reflect individual courage in the face of oppression. It was only later I learned from primary witnesses that Germany in 1940 was so much at the top of its game that it did not matter so much what people said or did about classic artists like Schiller, as long as it did not border on sedition against the Third Reich directly or bear the stain of Jewish corruption. Oppression as a fact of everyday life for the man in the street was still in its infancy while German armies were rolling successfully across Europe. The enemy was no longer within, but without.
As in the United States today (2004), virtue could be portrayed as vice and vice versa by ideologues in high places. Words ceased to have any real meaning in and of themselves, and were instead regarded as mere tools of propaganda for subverting human rights. Thus the noble strains of Schiller's poetry extolling individual and romantic ideals were made to seem reflective not of freedom, but of iconic values and symbols of the state itself as embodied in its triumphant leader.
Heinrich George as a blustering old fool steals the show. When the curiously girlish young poet as played by Horst Caspar stands up to him in court and speaks about what his heart feels, George explodes and sends him packing. Some fun is made of the local accents and women who fall in a faint at the sight of the brave young poet, all in the guise of good fun.
A harmless little film in hindsight, made grim by wondering whatever happened to all those great costumes and sets when they were reduced to rubble a mere four or five years later. Is there a lesson for us here?
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