A discursive look at Napoleonic & ECW wargaming, plus a load of old Hooptedoodle on this & that

Thursday, 28 July 2011

"Kolberg" (1945)

Last night I watched a bit of a DVD I've obtained from the US - "Kolberg", dating from 1945, about the Napoleonic Wars in Germany. I am astounded that I have never heard of this film before. It was a pet project of Goebbels - intended to fire up the German people late in WW2 so they would rush to join the Volksturm. Decidedly strange in places - some of the dialogue is lifted from Goebbels' own speeches - Gneisenau is portrayed as a rather unhinged zealot, who constantly berates the stammering (and very short) King of Prussia about the need to mobilise the citizens to defend the Reich. The main plot surrounds the brave defence of Kolberg against the French by the Prussian people's army - to be honest, I haven't got very far into the main film yet, and I'm not even sure which campaign is depicted.

Thus far, I have mostly watched the introductory feature, describing the circumstances in which it was made - all sorts of sub-plots about Goebbels objecting to individual performances etc. At a time when Berlin and the other chief cities were being bombed into ruin and the German regular army was very short of men and everything else, he was granted vast numbers of soldiers, many hundreds of horses and anything else he needed to make a propaganda film. No expense spared. The initial version depicted what the director considered realistic battle scenes - Goebbels apparently was very upset, accused the director of presenting warfare in an insufficiently glorious light, and they had to cut a huge amount of the film. Of course, the war ended before they ever got to show it to anyone. The version I have is (I think) restored to the director's original.

I'll watch it properly at the weekend - I think it is going to be of academic interest rather than true entertainment, but I'll certainly give it a go. Being a geeky person, I note that we seem to have Prussians in shakos fighting French in bicorns - hence my uncertainty about the period depicted - but it's a fantastically ambitious production - full colour, the works - and the restoration looks pretty good.


  1. Maybe they were showing 1806 for the Catastrophe when you saw the bicornes, and the scene of Gneisenau with the king would be the winter after 1812 going into spring 1813.

    As to being astounded for not ever hearing of it, there are also some films about Frederick the Great, made a little earlier in the Nazi time, but for the reasons of our own sides' propaganda they are not considered at all politically correct then or now, and I suspect even more so now.

    Just look at the criticisms out there. The critics fall all over themselves to condemn very benign little thing, and point out how every slightest nuance is extremely horrible propaganda.

    They actually make some good points too, but few films have undergone such minute scrutiny in such a hostile way. I read some last year and it was eye-opening, not necessarily as the authors intended either.

    None of the actual characters ever dreamed of being Nazis in either the Frederician nor the War of Liberation times, and in fact the whole thing with Gneisenau and the King is about letting the ordinary people get involved--hence the Landwehr.

    Over on Joy and Forgetfulness the Brunswickers of 1815, as British Allies were seen as 'not the baddies', but Goebbels is seen as a baddie by the society, including university film critics.

    Thus these films are all but inaccessible, but your local library may actually have more about them than you realize, in the section where the neo-Marxists are attacking Nazi films for their dissertations.

    I may read it again, like I said they make some good and insightful points in places, and it's almost as good as watching the film itself to hear the critics describing every little scene , even if only to rip it apart and call it names etc.

  2. You're right - the defence of Koberg was 1807 or so, and the interview between Gneisenau and the King in the film is 1813, but the uniforms are a bit iffy throughout. Not a problem in itself.

    Apparently Goebbels had a big problem with a character in Kolberg named Klaus, who is a violinist and obvious flake - not a solid patriot at all - and comes to a suitably sticky end. I can't think of any ideology which would object to the demise of Klaus, though of course I would be very nervous of accidentally agreeing with Herr Goebbels.

    I've been looking at film of some of Goebbels' speeches. Holy smoke. There should be no restriction on this stuff - I think it is important that people should get a chance to see a maniac in action - maybe puts Nazism in its true light.

  3. Hi
    The film can be seen on youtube:
    Luckily, at least for me!, the filem is French subtitled. My knowledge of German language is virtually inexistent!
    Best regards