Neither the first nor the best film telling the story of the doomed ocean liner, the 1943 German version is nonetheless fascinating– mainly because of the ways the story and imagery compares to John Cameron’s 1997 blockbuster, and as a study in overt propaganda. There’s the obligatory love story, poor immigrants dance below deck, and the band keeps playing “Nearer My God to Thee,” but the real thrust of this version is an accusation of the ruthless capitalists who caused the catastrophe.
Usually, the tale of the RMS Titanic serves as an object lesson in hubris, but in the Nazi-version, the sin that causes the death of over 1,500 passengers is greed: Sir Ismay, the owner of the White Star line played by Ernst Fritz Fürbinger, wants to break all records to drive stock prices up while John Jacob Astor (Karl Schönböck) is trying to thwart him so he can take over the company. The epilogue makes clear that there is no justice for the death caused by the speculating Englishman and his American nemesis. The sympathetic characters display more “German” virtues that must have seemed useful to the Nazis in 1943: honor, duty, obedience.
Nonetheless, Goebbels wasn’t happy with the film. From Wikipedia:
Titanic was the most expensive German production up until that time and endured many production difficulties, including a clash of egos, massive creative differences and general war-time frustrations. All of this resulted in Joseph Goebbels arresting the film’s director, Herbert Selpin, for treason and ordering him to be hanged in his cell the very next day. The unfinished film, the production of which spiraled wildly out control, was in the end completed by Werner Klingler.
The premiere was supposed to be in early 1943, but the theatre that housed the answer print was bombed the night before the big event. The film went on to have a lacklustre premiere in Paris around Christmas of that same year, but in the end, Goebbels banned it altogether, stating that the German people, at that point going through almost nightly Allied bombing raids, were less than enthusiastic about seeing a film that portrayed mass death and panic.
Titanic. Herbert Selpin and Werner Klingler, 1943. ***