Der Stern von Afrika
|Der Stern von Afrika|
The Star of Africa
|Directed by||Alfred Weidenmann|
|Written by||Herbert Reinecker and Udo Wolter|
|Music by||Hans-Martin Majewski|
|13 August 1957|
Der Stern von Afrika (English: The Star of Africa) is a 1957 black-and-white German war film portraying the combat career of a World War II Luftwaffe fighter pilot Hans-Joachim Marseille. It stars Joachim Hansen and Marianne Koch and was directed by Alfred Weidenmann, whose film career began in the Nazi era.
The film was premièred on 13 August 1957 in Berlin and was successful at the German box office. The film was criticised for hewing closely to war-time propaganda in its portrayal of the German war effort and for avoiding an honest confrontation with the past.
The film begins shortly before the outbreak of World War II with Jochen Marseille (Joachim Hansen) attending a Luftwaffe (Air Force) school in Berlin. His squadron is transferred to the Africa Corps in North Africa. Marseille quickly becomes the most successful fighter pilot. His unit loses more and more pilots to the Desert Air Force, and Marseille begins to doubt the usefulness of his operations. He travels to Berlin to receive a high military decoration where he falls in love with a teacher, Brigitte (Marianne Koch). The couple go to Rome where Marseille is to receive a decoration. The distraught Brigitte tries to persuade him to defect, but he returns to North Africa. During a flight over Egypt, his aircraft suffers an engine failure and crashes. Marseille's body is later found in the desert. Brigitte receives the news of his death.
Writer Herbert Reinecker and director Alfred Weidenmann had started a productive streak of collaborations in 1941, when Reinecker had published a historical novel in a series of children's book edited by Weidenmann. Weidenmann had directed his first feature film for the Reichspropagandaleitung of the NSDAP, Hauptamt Film in 1942. As specialists for propaganda specifically targeting the German youth both teamed up as writer and director in 1944 to make Junge Adler (Young Eagles), one of the most successful and renowned Nazi propaganda movies. After the war Weidenmann helped Reinecker to reenter the film business. During the 1950s they did several movies of various genres together, among them documentaries, comedies and crime films, but also the spy movie Canaris (1954).
Reinecker based his script upon a "factual report" by journalist Udo Wolter in the magazine Revue. Several actors, who would later become well known stars of German cinema and television such as Hansjörg Felmy and Horst Frank, made their screen debut with Der Stern von Afrika. The Cuban Roberto Zerquera, who was cast by Weidenmann on the spot when they accidentally met on a plane, would later make a career in Germany as a singer under the stage name Roberto Blanco. The movie was edited by Carl Otto Bartning, who had worked on the Nazi aviation propaganda movies Feuertaufe and Kampfgeschwader Lützow with director Hans Bertram. In 1941 Bartning had also collaborated with effects cameraman Karl Ludwig Ruppel to make the semidocumentary Front am Himmel (Front in the Sky). Ruppel worked on Der Stern von Afrika. Here he used British traveling matte techniques to incorporate model airplanes. Mechanical effects and explosives were designed by Erwin Lange, who had also worked on Pour le mérite (1938), Stukas (1941), Quax the Crash Pilot (1941) and Kolberg (1943-44) and would continue to be involved in war movies like Paths of Glory (1957), Stalingrad: Dogs, Do You Want to Live Forever? (1958), Die Brücke (1959) as well as The Vikings (1957) and Cleopatra (1960-1962). Eduard Neumann, the former Geschwaderkommodore (wing commander) of Jagdgeschwader 27 (27th fighter wing) and Marseille's commanding officer, served as a technical advisor on the film.
The movie was produced by the Neue Münchner Lichtspielkunst GmbH - Neue Emelka. For financing the Neue Emelka applied to the Berliner Revisions- und Treuhand Aktiengesellschaft through which the Federal Republic of Germany granted loans for movie projects. To the Treuhand the Neue Emelka advertised its project as a kind of counter movie to Des Teufels General. Their movie, they claimed, would be indispensable to foster military preparedness. The application was turned down, however, because the German Ministry of the Interior and the Ministry of Defence admonished the script. The producers managed to raise the production cost of DM 1,3 million by themselves, not at least because they received support from Francoist Spain. The Spanish Air Force provided airplanes, pilots, personnel and any military material needed.
A first version of the movie was screened to representatives of the German Ministries of Defence and the Interior on 20 February 1957. The Ministry of Defence asked for several cuts, because it feared the movie would tend to romanticization and could provoke the impression that it followed Nazi German propaganda suggesting the invasion of Poland was somehow provoked by Polish attacks. It further asked that any reference to Hitler would be left out and that the movie would not end with a scene, in which Marseille's fiancé receives the message of his death while teaching a school class. It was perceived that this would lead the audience to conclude that the children of the 1940s were to become soldiers again in the present. But in general both Ministries now supported movie, which they considered to be an authentic portrayal of the spirit of German fighter pilots in 1942. They saw and acknowledged in it a general tendency to depict the hardships and problems of the war, while positively honoring the human value of soldierly achievements and comradeship.
With that endorsement, the Emelka applied for a final grant from the Treuhand. It was once again turned down, most likely because the Treuhand feared that the movie would be banned out of political concerns. In fact, in May 1957 the Freiwillige Selbstkontrolle der Filmwirtschaft (FSK) initially did not approve the film, because it perceived "national socialist tendencies" and, in particular, because it thought that the historical situation was inappropriately distorted. It is neither clear, how the FSK came to that conclusion, nor what made it change its mind, but the film was approved soon after. In June 1957 the Press and Information Agency of the Federal Government (Bundespresseamt) provided for the last DM 300,000 needed for post-production, but ensured that it would not be publicly involved by channeling the money through a private bank and another company.
The film distributor advertised the movie by claiming that "it had been about time, that a German production showed how splendid the German fighter pilots actually had been, the more so as we can present the absolute world record holder in this field, the Captain Hans-Joachim Marseille". The movie premiered on 13 August 1957 in Hannover with Marseille's mother attending.
The film was criticised by reviewers, however, who had hoped for a critical confrontation with the past. Critics pointed to the past collaborations of director Alfred Weidenmann and writer Herbert Reinecker and noted the similarities between Stern von Afrika and Young Eagles (Junge Adler). They spoke of the "teutonic glorification" of the film, likened it to the propaganda style under Goebbels and speculated that the movie would not have looked much different, should the Nazis have won the war. The Süddeutsche Zeitung commented that "now they're flying again, and they're falling again, they do it most discreetly and no blood flows". In the Berlin Tagesspiegel Karena Niehoff concluded, that the movie might not endorse the Nazis on war, but that it did not explicitly oppose neither. Weidenmann himself claimed in an interview that he was attempting an act of "spiritual cleansing", because "in history there are no completely new beginnings, only continuations." The Frankfurter Rundschau commented: "One leaves the movie theatre thinking, that it has been Marseille today, in two years it could be - if one is simply continuing - Sepp Dietrich." Critics unanimously agreed that Weidenmann's portrayal of history evoked dangerous continuities and was to clean up the past from National Socialism. The FSK was criticized for not restricting the movie to audiences under 18.
- Joachim Hansen as Jochen Marseille
- Marianne Koch as Brigitte
- Hansjörg Felmy as Robert Franke
- Horst Frank as Albin Droste
- Peer Schmidt as Answald Sommer
- Alexander Kerst as Major Niemeyer
- Gisela von Collande as Marseille's mother
- Arno Paulsen as Marseille's father
- Siegfried Schürenberg as the director of the school
- Christian Doermer as Unteroffizier Klein
- Hans Hermann Schaufuß
- Albert Hehn as Major Schliemann
- Erich Ponto as the French billiard player
- Carl Lange as Hauptmann Krusenberg
- Roberto Blanco (as Roberto Zerquera) as Mathias
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