Veit Harlan, 1942
An Epic Film Biography of Frederick The Great… One of the Most Lavish & Popular Films of the Third Reich.
Starring Otto Gebühr, Kristina Söderbaum & Gustav Fröhlich
Filmed at the height of Nazi Germany’s triumph, in late 1940 and early 1941, The Great King was Germany’s most ambitious film to date. Both Goebbels and Hitler were fascinated by Frederick the Great, and had frequently invoked him in their propaganda as a proto-National Socialist hero, in terms calculated to enhance Hitler’s own prestige and authority. The Great King extended this myth-making onto the plane of grand movie spectacle. Amidst vividly realized battle scenes, Frederick is shown rallying his armies back from crushing defeat, leading Prussia’s way to brilliant triumph in the Seven Years War. His generals counsel capitulation, and his subjects succumb to despair. But Frederick soldiers on; his strength of will is Prussia’s safeguard and salvation. The film’s concluding montage underscores this message, showing an omniscient Frederick, his gigantic eyes looming over homeland and people, in an unmistakable reference to Germany’s own Führer. Yet what seems most striking about The Great King today are its frank depictions of popular war-weariness and complaint, served up by the everyday Prussians – miller’s daughters and foot soldiers – who foreground the film’s storyline. Otto Gebühr, who had long specialized in Frederick roles on screen and stage, plays the lead; director Harlan’s wife, the inimitable Kristina Söderbaum, the miller’s daughter. Directed by Veit Harlan; music by Hans-Otto Borgmann; featuring Otto Gebühr, Kristina Söderbaum, and Gustav Fröhlich.
Germany, 1942, B&W, 116 minutes. German dialogue. Switchable English subtitles.