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HINDENBURG, THE (director: Robert Wise; screenwriters: Nelson Gidding/William Link/Richard Levinson/from the book by Michael M. Mooney; cinematographer: Robert Surtees; editor: Donn Cambern; music: David Shire; cast: George C. Scott (Colonel Franz Ritter), Anne Bancroft (Ursula, The Countess), William Atherton (Boerth), Roy Thinnes (Martin Vogel), Gig Young (Edward Douglas), Burgess Meredith (Emilio Pajetta), Charles Durning (Captain Pruss), Richard A. Dysart ( Captain Lehman), Rene Auberjonois (Major Napier), Robert Clary (Joe Spahn), Alan Oppenheimer (Albert Breslau), Lisa Pera (Freda Halle), Peter Donat (Reed Channing), Katherine Helmond (Mrs. Mildred Breslau); Runtime: 125; Universal; 1975)
“Nothing could save either the Hindenburg or the film from disaster.”

Reviewed by Dennis Schwartz

Robert Wise directs this leaden disaster film that simulates a Charlie Chan mystery story. It assumes that the pride of the Nazi government, the airship Hindenburg, exploded and burst into flames before landing because of sabotage on its flight from Frankfurt, Germany, to Lakehurst, New Jersey, on May 6, 1937. As a result of the disaster, 62 survived and 35 died. The script claims the disaster was the result of a bomb placed aboard the airship by the resistance anti-Nazi movement in Germany. But in real-life, Hitler said it was an act of God. If you believe this film, then it was certainly an act of sabotage.

Intelligence officer Colonel Franz Ritter (Scott) is assigned by the minister of propaganda to be aboard the flight as a security officer after receiving reports about possible sabotage. Other passengers include Gestapo agent Martin Vogel (Thinnes) and Captain Lehman (Dysart), he built the airship and has anti-Nazi feelings but has been ordered to go to Washington to secure helium. A wealthy countess widow, Ursula (Bancroft), who is visiting her deaf daughter attending a special school in Boston is upset that she’s not treated with the respect she’s accustomed to. The Nazis have confiscated her house and some of her land and she’s planning to secretly escape to the States. She also knows Franz through her late Air Force officer husband and unsuccessfully tries to lure the married man into a romance. Edward Douglas (Young) is a nervous businessman suspected of being a spy because he sends cablegrams in code. Emilio (Meredith) and his partner Major Napier (Auberjonois) are card hustlers and unsavory characters capable of spying. Joe Spahn (Clary) is a circus clown antagonistic to the Nazis, who has drawings of the airship in his room. Albert Breslau (Alan Oppenheimer) is an American citizen who emigrated from Germany and is hiding that he is part Jewish. Reed Channing (Donat) is a concert pianist with anti-Nazi sentiments. Boerth (Atherton) is a worker on the airship, who helps fix a broken flap. His girlfriend Freda Halle is suspected of being a leftist. The captain of the blimp is Pruss (Durning), a Nazi sympathizer.

The film in a formulaic manner builds tension that leads to Franz discovering there’s a bomb planted aboard the airship and when the airship hovers over Lakehurst the explosion occurs. The formula also included those usual shots of the suspects, and it regularly cuts away from the airship to show activity in the States of the FBI tracking down the letter writers who warn of a disaster and it then cuts to Germany to tell of the Nazi reaction to the threats. It shows the suspicious passengers as they are eliminated one by one as suspects, until it focuses in on the person placing the bomb. The film began with real B&W newsreel footage and ends with footage of the disaster.

The special effects were fine, as was the created atmosphere aboard the luxury airship. But the actors were wooden and the plot was dull. Nothing could save either the Hindenburg or the film from disaster.


Dennis Schwartz: “Ozus’ World Movie Reviews”