Der Grosse König / The Great King (1942)

Directed by: Veit Harlan
Written by: Veit Harlan
Gerhard Menzel
Hans Rehberg
Cinematography: Bruno Mondi
Edited by: Friedrich Karl von Puttkamer
Release date: 3 March 1942
Running time: 118 minutes
Country: The Third German Reich
Language: German


Otto Gebühr: Frederick II
Kristina Söderbaum: Luise Treskow
Gustav Fröhlich: Treskow
Hans Nielsen: Niehoff
Paul Wegener: General Czernitscheff
Paul Henckels: Grenadier Spiller
Elisabeth Flickenschildt: Spiller’s Wife
Kurt Meisel: Alfons
Hilde Körber: Elisabeth
Claus Clausen: Prince Heinrich the Elder
Klaus Detlef Sierck: Prince Heinrich the Younger
Herbert Hübner: Count Finkenstein
Franz Schafheitlin: Colonel Bernburg
Otto F. Henning: General von Finken
Reginald Pasch: General Manteufel


Filmed at the height of National-Socialist 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. 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.

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