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  • Writer's pictureHenry K. Miller

Wednesday 22 March

A meeting of the General Council of the Cinematograph Exhibitors’ Association overturns the five-year ban on German films which the same body had imposed in 1918.

This was a long-running controversy within the trade. Britain was not alone in banning German films, and there was still a body of opinion that foresaw audience protests. But by 1922 German films had been shown elsewhere without undue disruption, and some cinema owners saw them as worth showing. At the end of 1921 the CEA had asked local branches to vote on the question, and the results had come in through the first months of the new year. Most branches were in favour of rescinding, and the March meeting confirmed the consensus view.

One of the loudest voices in favour of rescinding was Ernest Fredman, editor of the Film Renter, who had visited Germany in late 1921 and written up his experiences not only in his own paper but also in The Times’s special supplement. ‘I had heard for months past the same parrot cry repeated ad nauseam that if German films were shown in British theatres there would be a riot’, he wrote in Film Renter in January 1922. ‘Personally, I think such talk to-day is the veriest rubbish.’

Fritz Lang's Der Müde Tod aka Destiny (1921)

Fredman was impressed by ‘the craze they have for big and lavishly staged productions’, such as Ernst Lubitsch’s Madame DuBarry and Anna Boleyn, both of which had been imported to the US by Goldwyn and turned into hits, as Passion and Deception respectively. Fredman felt that these, as well as the horror films The Cabinet of Dr Caligari and The Golem, which had likewise been shown with success in the US, ‘will undoubtedly interest cinema-goers in this country’. Most German films, however, he felt were unsuitable for British audiences, and ‘their comedies are literally appalling’.

Der Müde Tod

‘An exceptionally artistic film which is marred by the usual morbidity which is a feature of German photo-plays has recently been completed by the Decla Bioscope Company,’ Fredman wrote in The Times. ‘Entitled Death Grows Weary, it is a production remarkably similar to the Swedish film Thy Soul Shall Bear Witness’. (Victor Sjöström’s film had been released in Britain at the start of January 1922.) Death Grows Weary, originally titled Der Müde Tod, was eventually released in Britain as Destiny. Directed by Fritz Lang, it was one of the few German films Hitchcock ever praised by name, but he acknowledged the general influence of others.

Strong candidates include Caligari, which had opened in Paris in March 1922, two years after its debut in Germany; F. W. Murnau’s vampire film Nosferatu, first shown in Berlin in March 1922; and Lang’s political thriller Dr Mabuse: The Gambler, the first part of which debuted in Berlin in April. None of these, however, would be seen in Britain for some time: Mabuse had its first public screening in 1923, Caligari and Destiny in 1924, and Nosferatu not for a long time afterwards, since Bram Stoker’s estate objected to its unauthorized borrowings from Dracula and attempted to suppress it. The end of the ban did not lead to a flood of German films on to British screens.


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