Triumph of the Will

Released:  1935

Cast:  Adolf Hitler, Heinrich Himmler, Viktor Lutze

SUMMARY:  This film is a propaganda film documenting the 1934 Nazi Party rally in Nuremberg.  At the beginning, Adolf Hitler arrives by plane at the Nuremberg airport, where he is met by a huge welcoming crowd.  He then gets into an open-topped Mercedes and is driven into town; most of the population seems to be standing along the parade route, cheering and waving flags.  On the second day of the rally, the most important Party members arrive and officially open the Reich Party Congress.  Many of them give speeches, short excerpts of which are shown in the film:  these include Rudolf Hess, Joseph Goebbels, Alfred Rosenberg, Hans Frank, and Julius Streicher.  Hitler then inspects the Labor Service, which consists of thousands of men who are preparing to build the autobahn.  During a “roll call”, it is shown that the men come from all over Germany.  That evening, the SA holds a torch-lit parade.  The third day is highlighted by a Hitler Youth rally, which resembles the Labor Service assembly of the day before.  Hitler delivers another speech, telling the boys how they are the future of Germany, but must sacrifice and work  to get there.  A military review is conducted, followed by another evening event in which the Nazis celebrate the first year of their rule.  On the fourth and final day, the SA and SS assemble in front of the World War I Memorial.  They stand at attention as Hitler, Himmler and Viktor Lutze walk up the center aisle to lay a wreath on the memorial.  Hitler makes another speech, this time discussing (in veiled terms) the Night of the Long Knives, and his forgiveness of the SA.  He then “sanctifies” new flags by touching them with the flag from the Beer Hall Putsch.  A final parade is held, and Hitler makes his last speech.  This time, he discusses the nobility and importance of the Nazi Party in Germany; the crowd then sings the Horst Wessel Song as the film ends.

MY TAKE:  This is probably the most famous propaganda film of all time, and while I can see why, hindsight has also skewed my viewing.  For the people of Germany in 1935, and for pretty much the rest of the world, it’s easy to see how this could be a really impressive film.  Germany had been in the toilet economically, and here are thousands of men and boys, in uniform and ready to work, happily devoted to Hitler.  The sheer size of the various organizations is impressive, especially when director Leni Riefenstahl shoots from up above so that you can see the whole scope of the assembly.  Obviously though, most people (myself included) watching this film with no personal knowledge of what Germany was like before Hitler.  We don’t know/remember the early years of Hitler’s Germany, when they seemed to come back from the brink of disaster.  For me at least, the knowledge of what Hitler would perpetrate made me very skeptical of the events shown in the film.  For example, when the various young men are calling out where they’re from, what I thought of was the fact that in a few years most of them would be dead.  When the crowds were going nuts for Hitler, I thought about how they were so devoted that they followed him to ruin.  The various Nazi figures seemed more sinister than they were probably supposed to be, because I knew what they would go on to do.  Maybe I’m still reflecting this prejudice, but I find it a little hard to believe that nobody was at least a little alarmed at what is shown in the film:  the total devotion to Hitler, the obvious buildup of the military, etc.  It’s an intriguing experience.

RATING:  Scary.

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