Our Flags Lead Us Forward (1933)
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Definitely one of the better movies I've ever seen in my life, and even for a propaganda movie this one is just star quality! No matter if you're a neo-nationalsocialist, a communist, a democrat a republican or anarchist this movie is great and you'll without a doubt enjoy it.
Rob from England pointed out, that from today's point of view, the Communists in the film with their "beer, food and sex" would seem far more better deal today. Probably so. But that only shows, how the world has declined since the cultural revolution of the late 60-s. Values like moral purity, patriotism and courage must be held high by all. They are the essence of survival for any nation, whatever ideology they may have.
I also think German government should have considerably more trust in their citizens and should lift the ban off of films like this, so they could become available on DVD, and not only in P2P networks, as it is today.
I was expecting a lot of overt, outrageous political content. I'm told there is some in the dialogue, but I didn't catch it. Rather its strategy seems to be to avoid hectoring directly, and instead to project an idealized vision of a Germany guided by a paternal National Socialist party. Hence the message is conveyed through idyllic campground scenes, for example. This is the goal that young Quex is willing to defend.
One film "Quex" reminded me of somewhat was "Boys Town" (1938) with Mickey Rooney, but, if I really had to draw a comparison, surprisingly enough it would be to Frank Capra's "Mr. Smith Goes to Washington" (1939). There is a scene of our enterprising Hitler Youths organizing themselves -- a little like Mickey and Judy putting on a show -- to turn out a propaganda newspaper in support of their political dreams and aspirations. Do you recall the scene in "Mr. Smith" where Jimmy Stewart's struggle -- Sein Kampf -- against a corrupt and antiquated political system is vindicated through a grassroots campaign organized by a bunch of boys with wagons and a cheap printing press? We know from the later "Why We Fight" series that Frank Capra was intimately familiar with his Nazi cinema. You are free to draw whatever conclusions you'd like.
1. Utter bewilderment at its propaganda value; the Communists seem to modern eyes to have far the best deal, with beer, food and sex high on their agenda, yet the young Heini - and presumably the 12-year-olds in the audience - are won over totally by the promise of shiny shoes, cups of tea, boy scout uniforms, cold morning dips and strident community singing. Beats me. 2. No comedy or light relief in any way: no town drunk, sly spiv, amusing slapstick with planks, etc. Was 1930s Berlin really that humourless? 3. What a rabble the Nazi youth seemed - gawky and indisciplined, far from the ruthlessly efficient robots of our imagination. 4. The only two decent actors in the whole thing are the two Commie blokes. Heini's dad turns in a convincing performance as the drunken old bully who personifies the Red Menace. 5. Getting short trousers to fit evidently beyond scope of even the well-organised Hitlerjugend. Every pair two sizes too small. 6. Chilling role played by gas. As a film "it's pants", as modern 12-year-olds might say (possibly echoing point 5). But as a grim piece of political history it is indeed quiet fascinating - and mystifying, as well as enlightening.
The film is only the Herbert Norkus story indirectly. A novel that was required reading for the Hitler Youth was the basis for the film and said novel was written K.A. Schenzinger. I'm sure it was quite the potboiler. Of course that allowed the Nazis to take quite a bit of poetic license with the truth and they never passed up an opportunity to do that.
Jurgen Ohlssen plays Heinie Volker who is being apprenticed to the trade of printer and he comes from parents who are Communist in their political sympathies. In the year of 1932 with Germany in the midst of the Depression many competing groups and ideologies were battling to rule the Reich. The neighborhood that the Volkers live in is a working class area that the Communists are dominant.
Heinrich George is Heinie's father who is on relief and is idle, way too idle. He beats on his wife and rags his son to join the Young Communist League. But the kid is attracted to those clean cut, fresh scrubbed teens in their uniforms with their marching songs. They all look quite middle class and he wants to be one of them. If you remember in The Young Lions, Marlon Brando's character discusses how Hitler has promised to do away with the class system so prevalent in Europe. Young Ohlssen is exhibit number one for Brando's contention.
The film is interesting on a number of levels. Other than Henie's long suffering mother played by Berta Drews the only female role of any consequence is that Rotraut Richter who plays Gerda, a teenage temptress who works as a Communist agent, luring the Hitler Youth away from their duty. There is a conspicuous lack of the female gender in the Hitler Youth at least at these gatherings. When the Nazi state was established the Hitler Youth did have a woman's auxiliary of sorts where the girls were taught to be good breeders and mothers to make and raise plenty of good Aryan youth for the Fatherland. Nazi Germany was one of the most patriarchal societies ever created on Earth.
Other Nazi targets most prominently Jews get not a mention in Our Flags Lead Us Forward. The film strictly concerned with the Communist menace. All the Communists in contrast to the Hitler Youth are these plug ugly proletarian types who smoke cheap cigars and get stinking drunk when they're not infecting our workers with Bolshevist ideas. The father Heinrich George is such a man although later in a good scene, George is talking to Ohlssen about how all he wants is the best for his son and society has to change in order for that to happen. A more complex character than you would think would appear in a film that is strictly labeled propaganda. But then again it's what makes it more affective.
The bleakness of Depression Era Berlin plays like one of our noir films and the kids are shown as the hope for Germany's future. As it turned out these kids who were the extras in the film probably 90% of them died during World War II. A truly lost generation.
Our Flags Lead Us Forward is a slick piece of propaganda designed to recruit the impressionable young German minds who did not want to think of themselves as a beaten country from World War I. Viewed with a critical eye about its purposes, it holds up very well for examination today.
There's not much location shooting here; apart from the scene where Heini (Quex, the eponymous character) encounters the Hitler Youth encampment after straying away from a late night Communist soiree (filmed on the Baltic coast). Much of the filming is studio shot..and it shows. The film is saved by the performances of Weimar film veteran Heinrich George and accomplished actor Hermann Speelmans (as a nasty Communist).
Sixteen year old Jurgen Ohlsen played the ill fated central character Heini 'Quex' Volker. It was his first of three screen appearances; Alle Machen Mit (a short information film) and the aviation film Wunder Des Fliegens were to follow before he disappeared back into comparative obscurity. Ohlsen is quite well cast here though; blonde, good looking and innocent he's archetypal 'martyr' material and he ends up dying after being knifed by Communists at a local fairground.
Historically valuable but cinematically mundane for a Nazi propaganda film, it's totally eclipsed by the film Hans Westmar which was based on another 'martyr for the cause', Horst Wessel