Fritz Lang Tells the Riveting Story of the Day He Met Joseph Goebbels and Then High-Tailed It Out of Germany

The more World War II history you read, the more you understand not just the evil of the Nazis, but their incompetence. Sometimes you hear variations on the observation that “in Nazi Germany, at least the trains ran on time,” but even that has gone up for debate. It seems more and more that the Holocaust-perpetrating political party got by primarily on their way with propaganda — and in that, they did have a truly formidable apparatus.

Much of the dubious credit there goes to Hitler’s close associate Joseph Goebbels, Reich Minister of Propaganda and an anti-semite even by Nazi standards. “Power based on guns may be a good thing,” he said in a 1934 Nuremberg Party Convention speech. “It is, however, better and more gratifying to win the heart of a people and keep it.” He understood the power of film in pursuit of this end, providing not only essential assistance for productions like Leni Riefenstahl’s Triumph of the Will, but also attempting to recruit no less a leading light of German cinema than Fritz Lang, director of three Doctor Mabuse pictures, the proto-noir M, and the expressionist epic Metropolis.

Goebbels loved Metropolis, but had rather less appreciation for The Testament of Dr. Mabuse, going so far as to ban it for its supposed potential to instill in its viewers a distrust of their leaders. And so, on one fateful day in 1933 when Goebbels called Lang to his office, the filmmaker wondered if he might find a way to get the ban lifted. But Goebbels preferred to talk, at great length, about another proposal: Lang’s employment in artistic service of the Nazi cause.

“The Fuhrer and I have seen your films,” Lang quotes Goebbels as saying, “and the Fuhrer made clear that ‘this is the man who will give us the national socialist film.'” Feeling no choice but to thank Goebbels for the honor and ostensibly accept the offered (or perhaps insisted-upon) position as the head of state film production, Lang went home and immediately told his servant to prepare luggage “for a one- or two-week trip to Paris,” leaving Germany that same evening, never to return until the late 1950s. You can hear Lang tell this story in German in the clip at the top of the post, and again in English, and in more detail, in the 1974 interview with William Friedkin above.

But did it it really happen as he says? In his Film Quarterly article “Fritz Lang and Goebbels: Myth and Facts,” Gösta Werner casts doubt, noting that “even though it is highly probable that Goebbels did offer Lang the post as head of the entire German film production, there is not a word about it in Goebbels’s usually meticulous diary for the year 1933. Lang is not mentioned there at all.” For Lang’s part, his passport’s “foreign currency stamps from Berlin testify, as do the various entry and exit stamps, that between the journeys abroad in the summer of 1933 Lang returned to Berlin, which city he left finally only on 31 July 1933 — four months after his legendary meeting with Goebbels and supposed dramatic escape.”

But then, you expect a certain amount of drama from a storyteller of Lang’s caliber, onscreen as well as off. And despite holding the views of, in Werner’s words, a “fierce nationalist,” Lang clearly made the right choice in reality by not getting caught up in the offices of the Third Reich, whenever and however he made that choice. To this day, cinephiles respect and admire the power of Lang’s filmmaking — a power that we can only feel relieved didn’t fall into the wrong hands.

via Biblioklept/Dangerous Minds

Related Content:

Watch Lambeth Walk—Nazi Style: The Early Propaganda Mash Up That Enraged Joseph Goebbels

Metropolis: Watch a Restored Version of Fritz Lang’s Masterpiece (1927)

Fritz Lang’s M: The Restored Version of the Classic 1931 Film

Fritz Lang’s “Licentious, Profane, Obscure” Noir Film, Scarlet Street (1945)

Titanic: The Nazis Create a Mega-Budget Propaganda Film About the Ill-Fated Ship … and Then Banned It (1943)

Colin Marshall writes on cities, language, Asia, and men’s style. He’s at work on a book about Los Angeles, A Los Angeles Primer, and the video series The City in CinemaFollow him on Twitter at @colinmarshall or on Facebook.

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  • Marko says:

    Well, you know, the Nazis are seen as incompetent in hindsight because they lost the war, but apart all Allied errors themselves, considering that if there been no Eastern Front, the Germans would have in hand against the Anglo-Americans, about 80% of their soldiers who were killed in that war, apart of those made prisoners by Soviets plus other human and material resources (without mentioning of their allies – Italians, Hungarians, Romanians, etc.); and remembering how slow was the allied advance in North Africa and Italy, and how painful were the victories as eg. in Normandy (largely credited to the Allied air superiority) against German troops of the 2nd line, despite of Allied numerical superiority in land and air in these Fronts at West; is hard to believe that only the Western Allies had had power alone to nip until the bud the evil of Nazism. So, beyond their fatal error focusing on Russia with extermination purposes, when we also remember the pathetic decision of not to invade a fragilized UK in 1940, trying to force its defeat “only” by air terror, as well as all the resources and efforts wasted in the industrial mass murder of millions of innocent civilians;
    instead of speaking in incompetence, it may be more accurate to speak in fanaticism for ideological blindness as the main guilty for their deserved defeat.

  • William says:

    They apparently did not know how to make a bomb. Berlin would have been nuked in 1945, and so would the rest of Germany. They were going to lose, but it might have looked as though they were going to win for a lot longer.

  • John Conolley says:

    The expression was, “At least Mussolini made the trains run on time.” Fascist Italy, not Nazi Germany.

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