Karl Ritter

T it : La squadriglia degli eroi Scen : Fred Hildenbrand, Karl Ritter F : Günther Anders, Heinz von Jaworsky M : Gottfried Ritter Scgf : Walter Röhrig Mus : Herbert Windt Su : Werner Pohl Int : Paul Hartmann (capitano Prank), Herbert A E Böhme (tenente Gerdes), Albert Hehn (sottotenente Paul Fabian), Paul Otto (maggiore Wissmann), Fritz Kampers (vice u ciale Fritz Moebius), Josef Dahmen (sergente Josef Zuschlag), Willi Rose (caporale Krause), Carsta Löck (Gerda), Fitti Topp (Isabel) Prod : Karl Ritter per Universum Film AG (Ufa) Pri pro : 22 dicembre 1938 35mm D : 122’ Bn

T. it.: Italian title. T. int.: International title. T. alt.: Alternative title. Sog.: Story. Scen.: Screenplay. F.: Cinematography. M.: Editing. Scgf.: Set Design. Mus.: Music. Int.: Cast. Prod.: Production Company. L.: Length. D.: Running Time. f/s: Frames per second. Bn.: Black e White. Col.: Color. Da: Print source

Film Notes

If most of our interrogation into 1938-39 is about anticipation, here comes a film that does not leave any margin for error: the war will come with 100% certainty. No spineless negotiations: the future belongs to these iron men. They belong to the Richthofen Squadron (meaning that Karl Ritter’s film is also an homage to the then boss of German military aviation, Hermann Göring). The film is about the men whose deeds earned them the distinction ‘Pour le Mérite’. It’s all about rearmament, and as the film covers the years from 1918-1933 (or 1935 when the Luftwaffe has been recreated in all its ominous power) it’s a period when rearmament was supposed to be illegal. (It is thus a film about dishonesty, or perhaps as the filmmaker would see it, about honesty in the deepest sense: “Posterity will remember us not by the greatness of our victory but by the measure of our sacrifice!”)
Pour le mérite is a true prestige film, with 102 actors, headed by Paul Hartmann and among them the young Wolfgang Staudte – the future radical director. Karl Ritter, who directed eight aviation films in all (the most incredible of them, Stukas, came later), was well equipped for ight sequences (although the film does not resemble other examples of the genre, whether by Wellman, Hawks, Fleming or, in other realms, Julij Rajzman). Yet Ritter’s greatest virtue was probably his conviction. If we can call persons close to Hitler ‘friends’, Ritter was one of them; an exceptional confidence was palpable. As the leaders had not been too enthusiastic about the first bunch of Nazi films (which were rare in a pure form, but meaning lms like Hitlerjunge Quex and Hans Westmar), they were all the more elated about the ‘artistic’ synthesis Ritter was after: ‘culture’ more than brute force, an understanding of ‘the real German’ as well as a balance of faith, idealism and hatred (against the wretched evils of Weimar democracy, the Jews, communism, etc.). It was all about the militarized life of cold efficiency (and for our eyes, full of harrowing observations of people entrapped in a system that overwhelmed everything at the expense of individuals). In the words of Commandant Prank (Hartmann): “We must restore the Germany that represents the ideals of the soldiers who died at the front. I consider that to be my life’s work. And I shall go about it as a soldier would”. The Führer himself was at the premiere and declared Pour le mérite to be “the best film about modern history to date”. His contemporaries were also deeply impressed and felt that “the spirit of the dead came alive again”. Soon it would be the other way around.

Peter von Bagh

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