Scen.: Vincent Sheean. F., M.: Alexander Hackenschmied (Alexander Hammid). Mus.: H.W. Susskind, Jaroslav Harvan. Int.: Leif Erickson (voce narrante). Prod.: Herbert Kline DCP. D.: 70’. Bn.
Released in 1939, Crisis: A Film of the Nazi Way was the first documentary report on the approaching catastrophe in Europe by filmmakers Herbert Kline and Alexander Hackenschmied (the second, centered on the invasion of Poland in 1940, was Lights Out in Europe, restored by MoMA and screened at Il Cinema Ritrovato in 2018). Affiliated with the leftist Film and Photo League in the US, Kline hoped to use the power of non-fiction cinema to enlist American sympathies on behalf of the small republic that had struggled to stand up to German aggression, but ultimately failed when the Munich Agreement effectively delivered the Sudetenland to Hitler on September 29, 1938.
Kline’s film builds up to that moment of betrayal by Czechoslovakia’s democratic allies by interspersing scenes from daily life – captured over the 12-month period the filmmakers spent in Czechoslovakia – with graphics illustrating the rise of German belligerence and Nazi appeals to the German-speaking residents of the country’s western district. Included are scenes filmed at a summer camp for refugee children, two extended performances by the politically engaged cabaret performers Voskovec and Werich, and rallies staged by the fascist Sudeten German Party.
“Kline has achieved, in brief, a concise, complete, obviously authentic and extraordinarily graphic record of a significant and tragic event – all of which is excellent from a documentary point of view. But he has also – and this is of equal importance – created a dramatic, beautifully photographed and highly interesting motion picture. Its plot, of course, is absurd: how could any dictator tell England and France where to head in and take over a free country?” (Frank S. Nugent, “The New York Times”, March 13, 1939).