Following the rise of Nazis in Germany in 1933, the movie industry also fell under the sway of Hitler. One way that the party could spread their virulent and disgusting beliefs throughout the country was through movies with the subtlety of a cement mixer in several cases. Munchhausen, commissioned for UFA’s 25th anniversary, is remarkably free of the propaganda that marked many of the German films of the time. Previously released on DVD by Kino, the label has revisited the title and given it a Blu-ray release.
The Production: 3/5
In modern era Germany, Baron Munchhausen (Hans Albers) regales his guests with stories about the famous Baron Munchhausen and his exploits during the 18th Century. He tells them of the Baron’s time in Russia, Turkey, Venice and even the Moon, all adventures that boggle and defy the imagination. The guests are skeptical of the claims, but the Baron has a secret to reveal that makes sense of the madness…
Despite being made by Nazi Germany, Munchhausen is still a light fantasy that belies it origins in production. The movie was the first and still only film version filmed of the famed Rudolf Raspe & Gottfried Burger character to be made in its native Germany and the first to be made in color; the Agfacolor process in which the film was made was supposed to be Germany’s answer to Technicolor and have the film stand toe to toe with other fantasy movies like The Wizard of Oz (1939) and The Thief of Bagdad (1940). Director Josef von Baky spared no expense in bring the lavish adventures to life, ranging from shooting on location in Venice to the Russian palace sequence utilizing real gold and silver tableware on loan from museums for the dinner scene; Konstantin Irmen-Tschet brought the unique special effects to life here – such as the talking head on the Moon being a notable example – with the same zest he brought to special effects sequences in Fritz Lang’s Metropolis (1927) and The Woman in the Moon (1929). While it’s light in terms of substance, Munchhausen is still entertaining enough to have found an audience over the years and probably the best example of German filmmaking that was relatively free from the propaganda that was being spread across the country at the time.
Hans Albers, the most popular actor in Germany at the time, does a solid job as the Baron; he managed to continue his acting career in Germany after WWII without facing any repercussions from the international film community (he wisely stayed away from endorsing the views of the ruling party during their reign). Ilse Werner is a luminous Italian princess the Count manages to rescue; her career stalled for a few years following WWII due to blacklisting, but managed to resume work in film and theatre while also dubbing American films into German. A frequent favorite of UFA for playing supporting parts, Hermann Speelmans makes for an amiable companion to the Baron; like Albers, he also managed to survive following the fall of the Nazi regime, continuing to make films before his death from a heart attack (oddly mirroring the fate his character suffers in the film) in 1960. Other notable appearances here include Leo Slezak (father of character actor Walter) as the Sultan of the Ottoman Empire, Andrews Engelmann as Prince Potemkin, who engages the Baron in a cuckoo duel in Russia, Brigitte Horney as Catherine the Great, Ferdinand Marian as the sorcerer Cagliostro, Werner Scharf as the Italian prince humiliated by the Baron in an absurd duel, Kathe Haack as the Baroness, and Walter Lieck as the speedy runner fetching some Tokay wine to settle a bet between the Baron and the Sultan.
3D Rating: NA
The film is presented in its original 1:37:1 aspect ratio, taken from a 2017 restoration of the reconstructed 117 minute version. Film grain is organic, with fine details and the Agfacolor palette rendered faithfully; dirt and scratches are present, but that’s to be expected for a film whose original negative was likely destroyed during WWII. Overall, this is likely the best the movie will ever look on home video and an improvement over the previous Kino DVD.
The film’s original mono soundtrack is presented on a DTS-HD Master Audio track for this release. Dialogue is strong and clear, with legible English subtitles and a sound mix and music score that given both ambiance and fidelity. There’s some instances of issues like popping and crackling, but they’re fairly minor at best; overall, this track is an improvement over the previous Kino DVD and likely the best the movie will ever sound on home video.
Special Features: 3/5
Commentary by film historian Samm Deighan – This commentary track has Deighan talking about the movie and the various nuances between the Munchausen character as well as German filmmaking of the time without going too much into the political atmosphere.
Munchhausen: An Introduction (17:39) – In this featurette, Friedemann Beyer talks about the movie’s production as well as the restoration.
Hans Held animated short (7:05) – This 1944 cartoon shows Baron Munchhausen and a few of his exploits.
Agfacolor restoration samples (5:01) – A few before and after examples of the Agfacolor restoration, taken from the first movie filmed in that format, Women Are Better Diplomats (1941).
Theatrical Trailer (3:56)
Over the years, Munchhausen has found an audience over the world for its lighthearted adventures, despite its origins during the era of Nazi rule. Kino has surpassed their previous DVD with a great transfer and a solid slate of special features going into the production of the film. Worthy of an upgrade and highly recommended.https://www.amazon.com/MUNCHHAUSEN-Blu-ray-Hans-Albers/dp/B082JQB38T/ref=sr_1_3?crid=2Q6RG4PV2U2TJ&keywords=munchhausen+blu+ray&qid=1582572109&s=movies-tv&sprefix=mun%2Caps%2C233&sr=1-3