The Sunday Intertitle (for some reason on Saturday): Under the Sea

AEGIR, billed as “A Festive Film,” is in fact a German propaganda effort from 1918, though it tries to be festive by taking a fantastical, mythological view of the war. Aegir, our protagonist, is sort of the Norse Neptune, though of lower rank. And the guy playing him here, one Wilhelm Diegelmann, looks a lot like the heavy-set, slo-mo beard guy who’s the most disappointing element of JASON AND THE ARGONAUTS. Curiously, his face is made up a nice dusky shade, but his torso is a gleaming white: nobody thought to powder his moobs.

(Diegelmann would go on to work for Lubitsch several times and appears in THE BLUE ANGEL.)

Aegir is having a great time because the U-boats are sinking lots of ships and sending their supplies to the bottom of the sea where he can enjoy them at his lavish aquatic banquets, served up by mermaids on wires.

Eventually he visits his benefactors, leading to the odd sight of a topless man with a trident standing on the deck of an actual for-realz Unterseeboot. He even sits down to a glass of “fine English whisky” (there’s no such thing) he’s had retrieved from  torpedoed wreck.

The movie resolves into a tour of inspection of the mighty German navy, month or maybe days before its total surrender. Aegir dons a flying jacket and boards a sea plane, his pallid, sinewy legs a pitiful spectacle as he tries to manoeuvre his unwieldy trident into the cockpit. There’s a sentence you don’t see every day.

There’s a visit to Berlin, then to a German destroyer. Everyone is pleased to see the mythical jötunn or demi-god. I expect he makes a nice break in the routine.

Aegir urges Germany, in the form of the movie camera observing him, to buy war bonds, “~ and let a happy peace be the reward for your steadfastness!”

Germany immediately surrenders.

4 Responses to “The Sunday Intertitle (for some reason on Saturday): Under the Sea”

  1. Something to run with “Nazi Titanic”.

    It’s fascinating to speculate on how much the filmmakers knew when they were making this. Were they optimistic that it would be seen at all, much less sell a lot of war bonds? And considering the privations I assume the German people were suffering at that point, is “Your sacrifice enables demigods to throw lavish parties” the best pitch, even in jest?

    One’s tempted to think they were under orders to carry on despite obvious realities, and just went goofy to see how much they could get away with (“Captain, you will now sit with Aegir as if he were a respected fellow officer”).

  2. I get the impression the armistice was still a shock to a lot of Germans who had been assured they’d win… crushing defeat is always a surprise, isn’t it?

    Richard Lester has said that when he was researching WWII footage for How I Won the War, he found that at a certain point, the Allies war footage suddenly went into colour, and at the same time the Germans switched to black and white…

  3. Occam’s Razor suggests a prosaic solution. Perhaps a major color film manufacturing / processing plant suddenly moved from Nazi to Allied hands; likely with the capture of a city.

  4. I seem to recall the Russians captured a bunch of Agfa stock, and that Eisenstein was given some of it for Ivan. So it is indeed likely the Germans were losing the ability to do colour. And with the Americans entering the war, suddenly you had William Wyler shooting in colour and that may have sparked more interest in the UK (as Memphis Belle was based there).

    A friend once dismissed Occam’s razor out of hand: “Where, in real life, do we EVER see the simplest explanation being true?”

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