Monday, November 16, 2009

Biopic of Goebbles paints him as an 'Enemy of Women'

Enemy of Women (aka "The Mad Lover") (1944)
Starring: Paul Andor, Claudia Drake, Donald Woods, H.B. Warner, Robert Barrat Gloria Stuart and Crane Whitely
Director: Alfred Zeisler
Rating: Seven of Ten Stars

Failed playwright and chief Nazi propagandist Dr. Paul Joseph Goebbles (Andor) uses his power to first build then destroy the career of an actress he has desired since they first met (Drake).

"Enemy of Women" traces both the rise of the Nazi regime and one of its cheif image-makers, Joseph Goebbles. The film mixes facts--Goebbles failed literary ambitions; Goebbles spearheading the Nazi-grip on German media, culminating with the breaking of any outlet that didn't agree with Hitler and the Nazi philosophy; his power-struggles with Himmler (including the time when Goeblles himself almost fell victim to one of Himmler's purges) and snippits of speeches that Goebbles actually gave--with the fictional tale of a young actress who resists Goebbles romantic overtures. In the process, the film delivers a message about how the tyranny of dictatorial regimes and the destruction of indvidual freedoms allow unsavory characters to engage in the worst of excesses... excesses that will eventually doom the tyrant and everything he touches.

The film is well-written and decently acted, with Paul Andor giving an especially remarkable performance as Goebbles. There is absolutely nothing likable about the man--and this is also something that's based in historical fact... he was such a narssacistic egomaniac that he had his own children murdered as the Russians overran Berlin, because he couldn't stand them carrying on after he had failed--yet Andor still manages to bring some touches to his performance that make him human. A prime example of this comes in the film's closing moments when Goebbles' is sitting in the bombed-out wreckage of his home, everything he has strived for destroyed. The viewer still hates and is disgusted by him, but one also can't help but feel a little empathy for him--and sorrow for the lives we've just witnessed him destroy because of his monstrous ego.

And this is where one of the strengths of this film comes from. It treats its main subject fairly and with as much respect as someone like Goebbles deserves. He is not portrayed as a cartoonish ogre or bufoon--as is how many films portrayed the Nazi leades--but as a intelligent, manipulative and utterly evil man who like all of us had hopes and dreams.

The director was further insightful enough to eshew the put-on German accents that were so common in movies of this type. Instead, the actors speak as they normally would, with a few German words thrown into the dialogue for good measure. Only Andor speaks with a German accent, but that's because he did have a German accent. (Andor immigrated to the United States in 1933, just as the character he portrays in this film was rising to his perch of power.)

Finally, the film is beautifully shot. Cameraman John Alton really had a talent for framing a scene and for using shadows and light to emphasize mood. The film's final scenes onboard the train and in Goebbles' Berlin home would not have been as effective as they are if they hadn't been so expertly filmed.

Interestingly, while the film ends with the full story of Goebbles incomplete as it was produced and released while WW2 was still raging, there wouldn't have been much more to tell: This film was released in November of 1944, and in May of 1945, Goebbles would be dead and the Nazi regime ended for all time.

"Enemy of Women" may have been made as a wartime propaganda film, but it holds up nicely some 64 years later, thanks to an excellent cast and superior craftsmanship on the part of the director and cinematographer. It's also quick-paced and straight-to-the-point. Someone should send Oliver Stone a copy; maybe his next psuedo-biography film won't be a crushing bore if he takes some pointers from this one. (If someone still has to buy him a Christmas present, why not get him a copy of this movie? It costs less $8 at, and they'll even send it straight to his house and gift-wrapped if you ask them to.)