Directed by Werner Klingler
Herbert Selpin
Produced by Willy Reiber
Written by Herbert Selpin
Walter Zerlett-Olfenius
Starring Sybille Schmitz
Hans Nielsen
Distributed by Universum Film AG
Release date(s)
  • 10 November 1943 (1943-11-10)
Running time 85 minutes
Language German

Titanic is a 1943 German propaganda film made during World War II in Berlin by Tobis Productions for UFA. The film was commissioned by Nazi Propaganda Minister Joseph Goebbels and enjoyed a brief theatrical run in German occupied Europe starting in November 1943--but not in Germany proper by order of Goebbels himself who feared that it would weaken the German citizenry's morale instead of raising it. Goebbels later banned the playing of the film, and it did not have a second run. The film used the sinking of the RMS Titanic as a setting for an attempt to discredit British and American capitalist dealings and glorify the bravery and selflessness of German men.

Plot Edit

The film opens with a proclamation to the White Star stockholders that the value of their stocks are falling. The president of White Star Line J. Bruce Ismay promises to reveal a secret during the maiden voyage of the Titanic that will change the fate of the stocks. He alone knows that the ship can break the world record in speed and that, he thinks, will raise the stock value. ( In the movie Ismay claims that Titanic's maximum speed is 26 and a half knots, but this is not true in reality.) He and the board of the White Star plan to lower the stocks by selling even their own stocks in order to buy them back at a lower price. They plan to buy them back just before the news about the record speed of the ship will be published to the press. (In reality, this was impossible to have occurred, since at the time the real White Star Line was a wholly owned subsidiary of the International Mercantile Marine conglomerate and was not a publicly traded company.) The issue of capitalism and the stock market plays a dominant role throughout the movie. The hero of the film is fictional German First Officer Herr Petersen (played by Hans Nielsen) on the ill-fated voyage of the British ocean liner RMS Titanic in 1912. He begs the ship's rich, snobbish and sleazy owners to slow down the ship's speed, but they refuse and the Titanic hits an iceberg and sinks. The passengers in first class are shown to be sleazy cowards while Petersen, his lover Sigrid Olinsky (Sybille Schmitz) who is unlike other first class passengers, and other German passengers in steerage are shown as brave and kind. Peterson manages to rescue many passengers, convince Sigrid to get into a lifeboat, and saves a young girl, who was obviously left to die in her cabin by an uncaring, callous British capitalist mother. Petersen then seemingly jumps off the sinking ship with the little girl still in his arms, (this is proven as Petersen is seen swimming in the ocean.) He is then pulled aboard Sigrid's lifeboat and both he and Sigrid watch in horror as the ship sinks. The film ends with the British Inquiry into the disaster, where Peterson testifies against Bruce Ismay, condemning his actions, as the judges leave to another room for discussions, a female survivor is reunited with another male survivor who is believed by the press to have lost his memory, when the judges return, Ismay is cleared of all charges and the blame is placed squarely on the deceased Captain Smith's shoulders. The epilogue states that "the deaths of 1,500 people remains un-atoned, forever a testament of Britain's endless quest for profit."

History of the film Edit

The film was shot on board the SS Cap Arcona, a passenger cruise ship which itself was sunk a few days before the end of World War II by the Royal Air Force on May 3, 1945, with loss of life more than three times than that on the actual Titanic. The scenes with the lifeboats were filmed on the Baltic Sea and some of the interior scenes were shot in Tobis Studios.

Titanic was the most expensive German production as it cost more than US$100,000,000 in today's money up until that time and endured many production difficulties, including a clash of egos, massive creative differences and general war-time frustrations. After one week of troubled shooting on the Cap Arcona, Herbert Selpin called a crisis meeting where he made unflattering comments about the Kriegsmarine officers, who were more concerned with molesting the female cast members rather than doing their job as marine consultants of the film.[1] His close friend and co-writer of the script, Walter Zerlett-Olfenius, reported him to the Gestapo and Selpin was promptly arrested and personally questioned by Joseph Goebbels, who was the driving force behind the Titanic project. Selpin, however, did not retract his statement--something which infuriated Goebbels since the Propaganda Minister had placed his trust in Selpin to direct his Titanic project. Within twenty-four hours of his arrest, Herbert Selpin was found hanged in his jail cell, a development which was ruled a suicide.[2] However, in reality, Goebbels had arranged for Selpin to be hanged and his death to be misleadingly cast as a suicide.[3] The cast and crew were angry at the attempt to obfuscate Selpin's obvious murder and attempted to retaliate, but Goebbels countered them by issuing a proclamation stating that anyone who shunned Zerlett-Olfenius would answer to him personally.[4] The unfinished film, on which the production costs were spiraling wildly out control, was in the end completed by an uncredited Werner Klingler.

The premiere was supposed to occur in early 1943, but the theatre that housed the answer print was bombed by Royal Air Force planes the night before the big event. The film went on to have a respectable premiere in Paris in November 1943 "where it was surprisingly well-received by its audience."[5] and also played well in some other capital cities of Nazi occupied Europe such as Prague. But Goebbels banned its playing in Germany altogether, stating that the German people--who were by that point going through almost nightly Allied bombing raids--were less than enthusiastic about seeing a film that portrayed mass death and panic.[6]

Titanic was re-discovered in 1949, but was quickly banned in most western countries. After the fifties, the film went back into obscurity, sometimes showing on German television. But in 1992, a censored, low quality VHS copy, was released in Germany. This version deleted the strongest propaganda scenes, which immensely watered down its controversial content. Finally, in 2005, Titanic was completely restored and, for the first time, the uncensored version was released in a special edition DVD by Kino Video.

Themes and propaganda context Edit

Titanic makes the allegory of the liner's loss specifically about British avarice rather than, as most Titanic retellings do, about general human arrogance and presumption. This fit in with other works of anti-British propaganda of the time such as My life for Ireland and Der Fuchs von Glenarvon; however, the scenes of British and French panic and desperation undermined this effect, while scenes of steerage passengers separated by crew members and desperately searching for their loved ones through locked gates and a chain link fence bore an uncanny resemblance to what was happening in German concentration camps during that time, contributing to its ban by Goebbels.[6]

Cast Edit

  • Sybille Schmitz as Sigrid Olinsky
  • Hans Nielsen (actor) as 1st Officer Petersen
  • Kirsten Heiberg as Gloria
  • Ernst Fritz Fürbringer as Sir Bruce Ismay
  • Karl Schönböck as John Jacob Astor
  • Charlotte Thiele as Madeleine Talmage Force
  • Otto Wernicke as Captain Edward J. Smith
  • Franz Schafheitlin as Hunderson
  • Sepp Rist as Jan
  • Claude Farell as Maniküre Heidi
  • Jolly Bohnert as Marcia
  • Fritz Böttger as Lord Douglas
  • Hermann Brix as Head of Orchestra Gruber
  • Lieselott Klinger as Anne
  • Theodor Loos as Privy Councillor Bergmann
  • Karl Meixner as Hopkins

A Night to Remember Edit

Four clips from the film were recycled and used in the successful 1958 film A Night to Remember; two of the ship sailing in calm waters during the day, and two brief clips of a flooding walkway in the engine room. [7]


  1. "The Titanic on Film". A Life At The Movies. April 12, 2012. 
  2. Cinzia Romani, Tainted Goddesses: Female Film Stars of the Third Reich p71 ISBN 0-9627613-1-1
  3. Brian Hawkins, The Titanic's last victim: in 1942, a German film director put a uniquely Nazi take on the great ship's sinking. The reviews were deadly, The National Post, Thursday April 12, 2012, p.A10
  4. Hawkins, Ibid., p.A10
  5. Hawkins, Ibid., p.A10
  6. 6.0 6.1 Cinzia Romani, Tainted Goddesses: Female Film Stars of the Third Reich p69 ISBN 0-9627613-1-1
  7. "Matte Shot: a Tribute to Golden Era special fx". Retrieved 2011-05-26. 

External links Edit

  • Titanic at the Internet Movie Database
  • Article at Turner Classic Movies website
  • Review of Titanic and two other Nazi-era movies
  • Lengthy analysis

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