MUNCHHAUSEN (ADVENTURES OF BARON MUNCHHAUSEN)
(director: Josef von Baky; screenwriters: Erich Kastner/Rudolph Erich Raspe/from the book by Gottfried August Burger; cinematographer: Werner Krien; editors: Milo Harbich/Walter Wischniewsky; music: Georg Haentzschel; cast: Hans Albers (Baron Munchhausen), Marina Von Ditmar (Sophie Von Riedesel), Hermann Speelmans (Christian Kuchenreutter), Wilhelm Bendow (Der Mondmann), Brigitte Horney (Zarin Katharina II). Michael Bohnen (Herzog Karl von Braunschweig), Ferdinand Marian (Graf Cagliostro), Hans Brausewetter (Freiherr von Hartenfeld); Runtime: 111; MPAA Rating: NR; producer: Eberhard Schmidt; Video City Productions; 1943-Germany-in German with English subtitles)
Reviewed by Dennis Schwartz
This adventure fantasy film was commissioned by Nazi director of propaganda Joseph Goebbels in order to celebrate the German studio UFA’s 25th anniversary and to show the world it can make tall tale films at least as well, if not better, than Hollywood’s “The Wizard of Oz” (1939) or Britain’s “The Thief of Bagdad” (1940). It’s unusual for a wartime Nazi film to have no propaganda or references to war, which is probably why this extravaganza film was one of the few Nazi films to survive.
Director Josef von Baky (“Hotel Adlon”/”Marili”/”Dreaming Lips”), of Hungarian origin, serves up a curio that’s efficiently made, stunningly photographed in Agfacolor and with breathtaking art work by Emil Hasler and Otto Gulstorff. The problem is that it’s emotionally sterile, too chatty and clunky in its execution. It’s based on an 18th century book by Gottfried August Burger and is updated to modern times by writers Erich Kastner (during the Nazi era, in 1933, his writings were banned and publicly burned due to his opposition to the regime and he had to publish in Switzerland but, despite this, Goebbels agreed to let Kastner write the screenplay under the pseudonym of “Bertold Burger”) and Rudolph Erich Raspe. The film cost a king’s ransom to produce and was three years in the making; it was released just as the Nazis suffered their first big loss at the Battle of Stalingrad.
The film opens at a costume ball in 1943, on the opulent family estate in Bodenwerder of the host Baron Munchhausen (Hans Albers). He pretends to be only a distant relative of the baron but in reality is the baron in the story as he was granted immortality through a bargain with Count Cagliostro, a magician who gave him the ability to make his wishes come true. The baron recounts the amazing story of his life to the attractive Sophie Von Riedesel (Marina Von Ditmar), who is engaged to another but has a crush on the ageless baron.
The adventures begin with the baron doing cavalry duty for Russia’s Catherine the Great, riding a cannonball into the battlefield and having an affair with the Empress herself; what follows is his capture by a Turkish sultan and then his attempt to rescue a beautiful young princess in Venice (filmed on location); and finally a visit to the moon. The baron is always accompanied by his faithful companion Christian Kuchenreutter (Hermann Speelmans).
The Karl Friedrich Hieronymus Freiherr von Munchhausen of the film was indeed a real-life historical figure, a member of the German landed gentry who served in Catherine the Great’s cavalry in Russia and fought against the Turks, but his life story is filled with fanciful embellishment.
Hans Albers (1891-1960), popularly known as “the Blond Hans,” was Germany’s most popular actor during his lifetime. His relationship with Goebbels and the Nazi regime was problematical, at best, because of his marriage to a Jewish woman who lived in Switzerland and, supposedly, because he had no love for the Nazi regime. But being a crowd favorite in Germany, allowed him to have the leading role.
REVIEWED ON 4/21/2008 GRADE: C+