National Socialism divides family and friends as fun-loving German youth are made to conform to the Hitlerian ideal. [Dir: Thomas Carter/ Robert Sean Leonard, Christian Bale, Frank Whaley/ 114 min/ Drama/ Individualism & Independence, Anti-Socialism]
“In the late 1930s, there was a new movement on the rise among the teenagers of Hamburg, Germany. Its followers refused to join the Nazi youth organization, the Hitler Jugend—known as the HJ. They wore their hair long and were obsessed by American movies, British fashion, and Swing music. They called themselves Swing Kids.” So begins this film about Nazi repression of Anglo-American music and dance and youthful resistance to that repression.
The three Swing Kids portrayed here are a happy, carefree lot, who seem to think that the storm of Nazism is something that will just pass. They spend their free time learning American slang and going to dances. But the coming storm ultimately divides them.
In particular, the central character, whose father died in a Nazi forced labor camp, wants nothing to do with the Nazis. Nonetheless, he’s forced to join the HJ. He’s horrified at the things he’s made to do and wants to get out. Meanwhile, his best friend is seduced by the HJ propaganda and camaraderie; once a part of the HJ, he wants to stay in. The third in their trio, a handicapped kid, is so harassed by the Nazis that he commits suicide.
All this makes for an effective portrayal of the types of pressures young people must have faced as the threat of state-sponsored force entered their relationships, some choosing to go with the flow and others continuing to resist. It’s also interesting to note that Anglo-American culture—which is simply what has developed when people were free to choose—has been feared by dictators for so long. Freedom must really be insidious.
On the downside, the central characters are not always likeable as people, giving the film a gratuitously bleak and sometimes soap-operatic aspect. Even so, it’s worth watching, especially if you enjoy 1930s dance numbers. This would be a good film pick for teenagers.