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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