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POUR LE MERITE – DVD
The Nazi film industry produced many impressive World War 1 pictures, but most of them were set in the trenches, not the war in the skies. One of the very few that did was Ufa’s top-notch Pour le Mérite (Germany’s coveted military decoration, signifying the highest order of merit), co-written and directed by the best man for the job Karl Ritter (Über Alles in der Welt, Stukas), who had been a decorated pilot in the war. He based his script on his own experiences as a defeated, demoralized soldier returning to a Germany writhing in the throes of Communist insurrection and despair. Ritter specialized in action-adventure, morale-building, propaganda films, and this idealized depiction of war remains one of his finest efforts, packed throughout with spectacular aerial battle footage and boasting a first-rate cast of over one hundred roles. But then, in quick succession, armistice and collapse. The picture traces the fate of the returning pilots from the last, bitter days of the war through their disillusionment and sense of betrayal by the inflation-ridden, debauched Weimar democracy, the rise of Hitler’s Reich, Germany’s resurrection, and the triumphant rebirth of Göring’s Luftwaffe. Joining Ritter for the film’s gala premiere at Berlin’s opulent Ufa-Palast am Zoo on 22 December 1938 were Adolf Hitler, Hermann Göring, and Heinrich Himmler. Pour le Mérite was one of the biggest box-office hits of the Third Reich. After the war, of course, the picture was banned, The Hollywood Quarterly calling it “the purest of all Nazi films” and according Karl Ritter notoriety as “the most irresponsible and dangerous filmmaker of the Third Reich.”
Directed by Karl Ritter. Music by Herbert Windt. Starring Paul Hartmann, Herbert A. E. Böhme, Albert Hehn, Fritz Kampers.
Germany, 1938, B&W, 120 mins. German dialogue, English subtitles. (Including song lyrics)