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"Enough sense, it's time to lose our heads.",
This review is from: Munchhausen  [DVD] (DVD)
Often hailed as the Third Reich's `finest fictional moment' and at times very noticeably inspired by Alexander Korda's lavish 1940 version of The Thief of Bagdad, Josef von Baky's 1943 spectacular Munchhausen is a fascinating mixture of the odd glorious moment and perhaps a few too many less successful ones, both playful and occasionally stodgy, with production design that at times totters on the brink of the grotesque. Even though Hans Albers' Baron may find himself riding through the air on a cannonball, fighting off rabid clothes or taking a trip to the Moon, overall there's more opulence than imagination, with the fantasy never allowed to dominate but rather lending the odd grace note to the proceedings. Instead it seems to be more about the male libido than fantasy - it's pretty easy to tell what part of his anatomy drives the immortal liar as he pursues every legendary female from Catherine the Great to the goddess Venus, and it's not one of the higher ones.
Despite being produced as a morale-booster at the time when the Second World War was starting to go badly for the Nazis, it really is primarily a lavish entertainment rather than a propaganda piece, an exercise in escapism celebrating the supremacy not of the German state but of German cinema. Goebbels may have insisted on casting SS men as servants to make sure the extras didn't steal the gold plates from the set, but beyond offering a German hero who weathers every obstacle it's hard to see any propaganda there. The only real propaganda value easily extracted from it is that the film exists solely due to the auspices of the Nazi state - it's more akin to sponsorship of TV shows where they hope by associating the brand with something people like, you'll buy what the sponsors are selling in the high street. Yet even as that, it's soiled goods, with Goebells hiring blacklisted Jewish writer Erich Kastner to work on the screenplay (under a suitably Aryan pseudonym that ended up being removed from the film's credits), allowing the scribe to appear to oblige the world's greatest liar with a film about his fictional counterpart while slipping in some very off-message dialogue. If anything it's a mystery how he got away with having the Baron admonish Cagliostro by telling him "You want to rule; I want to live. Adventure, war, foreign countries, women... I need all that. You abuse it." It even encourages anarchy as an ideal with lines like "Enough sense, it's time to lose our heads," while its hero ends the picture turning down immortality - his own thousand year Reich - after causing the premature death of his most faithful follower.
It's an intriguing film rather than a consistently entertaining one and at times it pales beside Terry Gilliam's differently spelled take on the character, but it's certainly worth a look. Sadly the film hasn't weathered the years as well as could be hoped - this DVD is neither the 133-minute roadshow version nor the 118-minute general release cut but a 114-minute partially restored version (the DVD runs 110-minutes on PAL but it is the 114-minute cut), but it's perhaps a miracle that the film survived the war years at all. Extras are limited to a stills gallery, restoration comparison, reissue trailer and an informative audio essay by R. Dixon Smith.