The German-born husband of an American woman is taken in by Nazi propaganda while the couple are visiting relatives in Germany just before World War II. [Dir: Irving Pichel/ Joan Bennett, Francis Lederer, Lloyd Nolan/ 77 min/ Drama/ Power Worship, Propaganda, Anti-Socialism]
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This is a film about power worship. At the center of it is an American woman and her German-born husband, who together visit Germany in the late 1930s. The husband is much impressed with the “new Germany.” It flatters him that his country of birth has become a great military power, and he eagerly reads and believes the pro-Nazi propaganda. His involvement in National Socialism gradually grows, and by the end he has become so swept up in all the macho excitement that his admiration of Nazi pomp and military might overshadows even his love for his family.
The process by which he is taken in—a combination of indoctrination, naiveté, and his own desire for secondhand glory—is both an object lesson in the dangers of power worship and an explanation for why so many Germans became enthusiastic Nazis.
At the same time, through the eyes of his less gullible American wife, the viewer is introduced to the truth about National Socialism—oppression, shortages, people afraid to speak, persecution of minorities, and wholesale government lies.
This is one of the earliest cinematic portrayals of this (soon to be common) socialist scenario in twentieth century Europe. For a film that is itself propagandistic (albeit of the anti-Nazi variety and all true), it has only a few preachy spots. Most of its antiauthoritarian content just comes out in the course of events or is implied in dialogue. For instance, at one point the wife asks how it’s possible that the Nazis can make a car for just four hundred dollars, referring to a glowing newspaper article on the subject. The husband replies, “If the government says you have to make it at that price, industry has to make it, that’s all.” “Is [the car] any good?” she asks. “Well,” he replies, “they haven’t produced any yet.” Subtle, but effective.
This is a short film but it’s well written and has some very good acting. Joan Bennett is delightful as the wife, a sharp New Yorker who won’t be pushed around, even by the Third Reich. Many lesser parts are also well played. Best of all it has a surprise, very justified ending.