Bridgework

I was confusing the little I knew about Helmut Kautner’s THE LAST BRIDGE with the little I knew about Bernhard Wicki’s THE BRIDGE, so Fiona got initially annoyed that this WASN’T a film about Nazi boy soldiers, but instead about a German nurse torn between her national and personal loyalties and the alliance she makes with Yugoslav partisans. But, after a restorative cup of coffee, she got well into it.

Maria Schell is bloody good in this. Her face displays exactly the sickened terror I would be experiencing if I were in a combat situation.

Perhaps surprisingly, Kautner, who started making films in Germany during wartime but was never popular with the regime, doesn’t seek to emphasise Nazi perfidy. What evidence we get of it is curiously indirect. The heroine’s lover announces he’s off on a “punishment mission.” When the partisans arrive at a town that’s always welcomed them, they find it destroyed and only a tiny child alive. But the audience is left to work out the possible connection and consider what this implies about the handsome leading man’s character.Bernhard WickiBernard

Fiona was most impressed by a brief flashback “narrated” by a deaf-mute partisan, the main opportunity Kautner has to engage his ludic, experimental side. First he pans to the wall of the cave where the tale is being told, where we can see the shadow of the silent narrator’s hands as he gesticulates, the lap dissolves through to the flashback, keeping both images onscreen. I really like HK’s eccentric side.

15 Responses to “Bridgework”

  1. ehrenstein47 Says:

    Marlon Brando, who Bernard Wicki directed in “Morituri” said Wicki “smoked the smelliest cigars of anyone I ever knew.”

  2. Maybe the same brand as the foul cheroots Eastwood affected as the Man with No Name? His perpetual sneer may be explained by the stench.

  3. “Kautner, who started making films in Germany during wartime but was never popular with the regime”
    Oh, but Goebbels thought very much of him …

  4. Oh, that’s interesting, and contradicts what I’ve been told.

    Kautner’s wartime films take place in an apparantly contemporaneous Germany with, however, no mention of the war. A bit like how Clouzot’s occupation films don’t mention the Occupation. I’d heard that Kautner’s work was generally viewed with some suspicion as being “defeatist” in tone, and those I’ve seen from that period do seem melancholic.

  5. Andreas Flohr Says:

    Goebbels adisliked Käutners “Große Freiheit Nr. 7” as “defeatist and too melancholy”. He changed the film’s original title “Große Freiheit”, which – he feared – could have been “misinterpreted” by the public.

  6. Thanks!

    I guess Kautner wouldn’t have continued working without some sort of support from the regime. Goebbels, who might have done well in Hollywood, felt that movies must entertain first, and any propagandistic content should be buried within the entertainment. Grosse Freiheit seemed to bury the wrong kind of message.

  7. Andreas Flohr Says:

    Interesting idea: G. in Hollywood – the german answer to David O. Selznik. As a highly talented man of propaganda, with his great affection to movies, his dubious casting decisions (think of Kristine Söderbaum) and interference in scripts — he couda been a great contender …..

  8. “French films,” declared Goebbels, “should be light, charming, frivolous, and, if possible, stupid.” He’d have made a fortune at MGM.

  9. Andreas, would you mind telling us your primary source for Goebbels dislike of the film? I am pretty sure you have none …

    Also you two are having a wildly misguided discussion about Goebbels where you both fall for his self-stylization as genius of subtle propaganda.

    I really can’t break everything down in the comment section but Käutner (the dots on the ä are not optional) naturally made films which were met with approval – it’s just that most people have rather weird ideas how films in Third Reich looked like, mostly because they know only a select handful. Käutner made elegant and classy films with an avantgardistic touch which Goebbels noted approvingly in his diary twice.

  10. Andreas Flohr Says:

    The film was forbidden by him. Obviously, Goebbels didnt like it.

  11. I can’t offer a primary source but Kautner’s difficulty with the regime was noted by Olaf Möller at his Bologna retrospective.

    Sorry about missing umlauts and accents here, I don’t have your skill at conjuring them up (Olaf, above, had to be copy-and-pasted.)

  12. You can transcribe them if you don’t want to do copy and paste, Käutner is Kaeutner, Möller=Moeller.

    No, Andreas, the film was only forbidden for showings in Germany. It premiered in Prague 1944. There is no primary source yet known citing the reasons for the ban and Goebbels absolutely doesn’t have to be the one demanding the ban. It could be complaints from another official and it could be the development of the war which maybe made the melancholical mood less undesirable. Goebbels appreciated Käutner’s first film, KITTY UND DIE WELTKONFERENZ, but banned it nevertheless when war with England broke out and the film’s positive British characters didn’t fit the time.

    If Möller really told that then it is regrettable and he might have uncritically retold some anecdotes. Käutner wouldn’t have made nine films within six years if he had difficulties with the regime and he wouldn’t have been targeted as the director of a political film for 1945 if Goebbels thought he was unreliable and difficult. At this point such people were pushed into the war effort.

  13. Thanks, I’ll try to remember about Kaeutner et al.

    Olaf is EXTREMELY knowledgable on this subject, and it’s far more likely that I’d make a mistake in memory than he in recounting the filmmaker’s history. He was adamant that Kaeutner never did anything to be ashamed of, and that his films did not always please the regime: two films being banned would seem to support this, even if the bans were partial and resulted in one case from a change of policy.

    It’d be great if you’d elaborate on Goebbels’ preferences being misunderstood. The line about French films I semi-quote is from memory, from a documentary. I understood that he disliked the full-on propaganda approach of Triumph of the Will (though Riefenstahl seems to have been trying to distance herself from him when she claimed this, and he refers to her positively in his diaries), and favoured lighter films with subtler propaganda. He did however approve some caricaturing of the Brits, and then there’s Jew Suss which is far from subtle, apart from being in period dress.

  14. I always did some parallel research about Käutner for my friend’s doctor thesis about him when I did my own extensive digs in archives for quite a few years. I know all German features from 1939-45, have read vast quantities on archival material on the era so I am pretty confident that I know and can evaluate pre45 Käutner better than Möller does.
    Käutner is essentially the good German director this goes back to the very first publications on Third Reich films where e.g. Erwin Leiser states in the 60s that Käutners films were a quiet rebellion against the time. This is pure claptrap. Käutner’s films perfectly fit into the era’s film output but as I said most people have no clue about Third Reich films and think of propaganda. But a film can be perfectly in sync with the regime’s demands and appeal greatly to modern audiences.
    As for doing something to be ashamed of – well Käutner started in 1939 with four scripts, one of which was one of Goebbels’ pet projects, one had a subtly anti-French undertone and the third had a long visual sequence denouncing the Weimar Republis as a place of chaos and corruption. And I would think that Möller if he isn’t aware of these films at least at some point must have talked about elephant in the room that is, Auf Wiedersehn, Franziska.
    Don’t get me wrong, he was no Nazi sympathizer. But the story is a bit more complicated than some people tell it.

    As for Goebbels you already nailed the problem yourself. Goebbels was babbling about subtle propaganda and he didn’t deliver any for six years until Hitler sharply attacked him and demanded propaganda films – which he got for two years before Goebbels pulled the plug. Goebbels grandiose self-stylization as master of subtle propaganda which worms his way into your heart is again just claptrap. He never knew how to do that, he just wanted to look smarter than the ordinary SA brute who read Der Stürmer. Ironically many film historians fall hook, line and sinker for this self-portrait.

    A good Third Reich Film retrospective where you could discuss more in depth what I’m just sketching in here would be maybe of some use in the UK. There are beyond any educational value quite a few masterpieces from this era which are barely known

  15. That’s an interesting suggestion. I’d be grateful for a list of what you think of as the best or most interesting movies of the period.

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