27 April 2019

Photo by Bavaria Filmkunst

100 years ago Bavaria Film in Munich was founded. The German studio is still one of Europe's largest film production companies, with some 30 subsidiaries. Many famous, international films were made here, including Alfred Hitchcock's film debut. For this post, we focus on the Nazi period, when 'Bavaria Filmkunst' became one of the four major film companies of Germany.

Ursula Grabley, Georg Bauer
German card. Photo: Bavaria. Publicity still for IA in Oberbayern/1A in Upper Bavaria (1937, Frans Seitz). Caption: "Ein lustiger Zeitvertreib für Ursula Grabley und Georg Bauer in dem film IA in Oberbayern". (A fun pastime for Ursula Grabley and Georg Bauer in the film IA in Oberbayern/1A in Upper Bavaria).

Heli Finkenzeller
Heli Finkenzeller. German postcard by Film-Foto-Verlag, no. G 125, Photo: Bavaria Filmkunst.

Gusti Huber
Gusti Huber. German postcard by Ross-Verlag, no. A 2235/1, 1939-1940. Photo: Bavaria Filmkunst.

Hans Moser in Anton, der Letzte (1939)
Hans Moser. German postcard by Ross Verlag, no. A 2713/1, 1939-1940. Photo: Bavaria Filmkunst / Wien Film. Publicity still for Anton, der Letzte/Anthony the Last (E.W. Emo, 1939).

Ruth Hellberg
Ruth Hellberg. German postcard by Ross Verlag, no. A 2971/1, 1939-1940. Photo: Bavaria Film-Kunst.

Alfred Hitchcock's film debut

The Bavaria Film studios were founded as Münchener Lichtspielkunst GmbH in 1919. Then Munich-raised film producer Peter Ostermayr converted the private film company he had started in 1907, Münchener Lichtspielkunst GmbH, to the public company Münchener Lichtspielkunst AG (Emelka).

He acquired a large area (ca. 356.000 m²) for the studios in Geiselgasteig, a district of Munich's southern suburb Grünwald. He built a glass studio there. The company was a direct competitor to Ufa, which had started in Berlin in 1917, and it quickly absorbed several other film industry companies in the region. The first film shot in Geiselgasteig was Der Ochsenkrieg/The Ox War (Franz Osten, 1920).

Many well-known silent films were made in the studios, including the costume film Monna Vanna (Richard Eichberg, 1922), starring Paul Wegener and Lee Parry, the Indo-European co-production Prem Sanyas/The Light of Asia (Franz Osten, Himanshu Rai, 1925) about the origin of the Buddha, and also British director Alfred Hitchcock made here his first film, The Pleasure Garden (1925).

The last large-scale production Waterloo (Karl Grune, 1928), starring Otto Gebühr, ushered in the bankruptcy of the Emelka and the transition to Bavaria. From 24 September 1930, Emelka produced in addition to the films also a weekly newsreel, the 'Tönende Emelka-Wochenschau'. Director Max Ophüls made his musical comedy Die verkaufte Braut/The Bartered Bride (Max Ophüls, 1932) starring Jarmila Novotná. When Bavaria's theatre chain financially did not survive the conversion to sound film, Emelka had to declare bankruptcy in November 1932.

Willy Birgel
Willy Birgel. German postcard by Ross Verlag, no. A 2991/1, 1939-1940. Photo: Bavaria Filmkunst.

Brigitte Horney
Brigitte Horney. German postcard by Ross-Verlag, no. 3378/1, 1941-1944. Photo: Binz / Bavaria Filmkunst.

Hans Holt
Hans Holt. German postcard by Film-Foto-Verlag, no. A 3499/1, 1941-1944. Photo: Hämmerer / Wien-Film / Bavaria Filmkunst.

Josef Eichheim
Josef Eichheim. German postcard by Film-Foto-Verlag, no. A 3528/1, 1941-1944. Photo: Bavaria Filmkunst.

Johannes Heesters
Johannes Heesters. German postcard by Film-Foto-Verlag, no. A 3570/1, 1941-1944. Photo: Binz/Bavaria Filmkunst. Collection: Egbert Barten.

Suddenly We're in Powell and Pressburger Territory

In 1930, investor Wilhelm Kraus and a consortium of banks bought a major shareholding in the company, and on 21 September 1932 the group took control of the company and renamed it Bavaria Film AG. After the National Socialists seizure of power in January 1933, a number of longtime Bavaria employees left the country, including the directors Ewald André Dupont, Karl Grune, Max Ophüls, the cinematographer Franz Planner and the actors Therese Giehse and Fritz Kortner.

Director Kurt Bernhardt (also known as Curtis Bernhardt) directed the French-German science fiction film Der Tunnel/The Tunnel (Kurt Bernhardt, 1933) starring Paul Hartmann and Attila Hörbiger. It is an adaptation of Bernhard Kellermann's 1913 novel 'Der Tunnel' about the construction of a vast tunnel under the Atlantic Ocean connecting Europe and America.A separate French version was also produced. In 1935 the film was remade in Britain as The Tunnel/Transatlantic Tunnel (Maurice Elvey, 1935). The British film was released in the United States.

In 1934, the drama Peer Gynt (Fritz Wendhausen, 1934) was made at the Bavaria studios. Peer Gynt starred Hans Albers, Lucie Höflich and Marieluise Claudius, and it is based on the play 'Peer Gynt' by Henrik Ibsen. It was one of the most expensive productions made by Bavaria Film and involved location shooting in Norway. The film's sets were designed by the art directors Karl Vollbrecht and Hermann Warm.

After the Bavaria got into difficulties in 1936 and had to stop its payments in the spring of 1937, Bavaria Film was nationalised. The Bavaria Filmkunst GmbH was founded on 11 February 1938 with political support from Berlin. Shareholders were the notorious firm Cautio Treuhand and the General Film Trust (AFT), a wealthy company that held their shares in trust for the Cautio.

In 1939, Hans Albers starred in the Western Wasser für Canitoga/Water for Canitoga (Herbert Selpin, 1939) with Charlotte Susa and Josef Sieber. The film is in fact a 'Northern', set in Canada in 1905 where an engineer is working to construct a new water supply system despite repeated attempts at sabotage. The film's sets were designed by the art directors Wilhelm Depenau, Ludwig Reiber and Arthur Schwarz.

On 19 February 1941, however, Bavaria was relinquished to the Berlin Film Finance Company. The production facilities remained in Munich, but the company was now controlled from Berlin. On 10 January 1942, the Cautio also withdrew its Bavaria shares, and Film Finanz, which now owned all shares in Bavaria Filmkunst, was simultaneously transformed into the Ufa film (UFI). In the state-owned monopoly group UFI Bavaria had from 1942 on only formal independence.

Managing Director and Production Manager of the Bavaria were Hans Schweikart from 1938 to 1942, Erich Walter Herbell, Helmut Schreiber and Helmut Keil. Production group leaders were Hans Abich, Fred Lyssa, Oskar Marion, Ottmar Ostermayr, Ernst Rechenmacher and Gerhard Staab.

Popular were the comedies with Hans Moser and Theo Lingen, like Sieben Jahre Glück/Seven Years Luck (Ernst Marischka, 1942), in which they co-starred with Wolf Albach-Retty and Hannelore Schroth. But also romantic comedies such as Reise in die Vergangenheit/Trip to the past (Hans H. Zerlett, 1943), starring Olga Tschechowa and Ferdinand Marian,  Es lebe die Liebe (Erich Engel, 1944), with Lizzi Waldmüller and the Dutch tenor Johannes Heesters, or Ich brauche dich (1944), starring Marianne Hoppe and Willy Birgel.

Famous director G.W. Pabst made the interesting Paracelsus (1943) with Werner Krauss at Bavaria. It is a celebratory film about the 'revolutionary' 16th century German philosopher/doctor known as Paracelsus (Werner Krauss). Reviewer MAK-4 at IMDb: "Though Pabst's sound films never achieved the prominence of his silent work, this is a well produced biopic with real surprises, especially when Paracelsus gives credit to Gypsy (!) folk remedies or when an Expressionist dance number symbolizes the entry of the plague (St. Vitus' Dance) into the closed town. Suddenly we're in Powell/Pressburger territory."

Other Bavaria films made during the final years of the Third Reich were the crime films  Der Täter ist unter uns/The culprit is among us (Herbert B. Fredersdorf, 1944) with Paul Dahlke and Margot Hielscher, and Orient-Express (Viktor Tourjansky, 1944), starring Siegfried Breuer and Gusti Wolf. Popular was also the drama Das Lied der Nachtigall (Theo Lingen, 1944) with Elfie Mayerhofer, Johannes Riemann, and Paul Kemp.

René Deltgen
René Deltgen. German postcard by Film-Foto-Verlag, no. A 3578/1, 1941-1944. Photo: Binz / Bavaria Filmkunst.

Charlotte Dalys
Charlotte Dalys. German Postcard by Film-Foto-Verlag, no. A 3596/1, 1941-1944. Photo: Bavaria Filmkunst.

Siegfried Breuer
Siegfried Breuer. German postcard by Film-Foto-Verlag, no. A 3597/1, 1941-1944. Photo: Bavaria Filmkunst.

Ferdinand Marian
Ferdinand Marian. German postcard by Film-Foto-Verlag, no. A 3602/1, 1941-1944. Photo: Haenchen / Bavaria Filmkunst. Collection: Geoffrey Donaldson Institute.

Hannelore Schroth
Hannelore Schroth. German postcard by Film-Foto-Verlag, no. A 3606/2, 1941-1944. Photo: Haenchen / Bavaria Filmkunst.

The Sound of Music

The studios of the Bavaria Film remained undamaged in the war. On 10 May 1945, they were subordinated to the American army, which initially forbade Bavaria Filmkunst any production activity of its own. Only the film lab, which also set up a colour department in 1952, and the dubbing studio were allowed to continue to operate and soon resumed their work. In addition, a rental company - General Film Distribution, AFI for short - was founded on the premises.

After 1945, Bavaria was lead by the managing directors Helmut Jedele and Günter Rohrbach. Later CEOs were Thilo Kleine, Dieter Frank and Matthias Esche. The American military government allowed Bavaria to rent its studios to other production companies.

During the 1950s, the Bavaria studios have been used by numerous famous directors, such as Elia Kazan for Man on a Tightrope (1952), Max Ophüls for Lola Montès (1954), Stanley Kubrick for Paths of Glory (1957), Richard Fleischer for The Vikings (1958), John Huston for Freud: The Secret Passion (1960) and Robert Siodmak for L'Affaire Nina B (1960). Bavaria Film was privatised again in 1956.

During the 1960s the studio was again for such international productions as One, Two, Three (Billy Wilder, 1961) with James Cagney, The Great Escape (John Sturges, 1963) with Steve McQueen, The Sound of Music (Robert Wise, 1965) starring Julie Andrews, The Deep (Orson Welles, 1967), and Deep End (Jerzy Skolimowski, 1970).

The Studios in Geiselgasteig are the reason why Munich has become a famous site of crime in TV fiction (in opposite to real life), with Krimi-series like Derrick, Der Alte/The Old Fox, and Der Kommissar.

Also Monty Python worked in Geiselgasteig in 1971 and 1972 for Monty Python's Fliegender Zirkus (Mont Python's Flying Circus), two specials for German and Austrian television. In addition to recreating classic sketches as 'The Lumberjack Song', several new sketches were written specifically for this show, such as 'Little Red Riding Hood', 'William Tell' and a herd of cows doing 'Merchant of Venice'.

In these years, again many top directors worked in the Bavaria Studios: Bob Fosse directed Cabaret (1972), Wim Wenders made the two TV films Ein Haus für uns/A House for Us (1974), Ingmar Bergman directed The Serpent's Egg (1977), Billy Wilder returned to make Fedora (1978) and Rainer Werner Fassbinder created here his legendary TV series Berlin Alexanderplatz (1980).

Later followed Wolfgang Petersen with Das Boot (1981) and Enemy Mine (1985), Claude Chabrol with La demoiselle d'honneur/The Bridesmaid (2004) with Laura Smet, and Oliver Stone with Snowden/The Snowden Files (2015) with Joseph Gordon-Levitt.

Other production companies have produced films in the Bavaria studios, including Constantin Film, for example The Neverending Story (Wolfgang Petersen, 1984), Der Untergang/Downfall (Oliver Hirschbiegel, 2004) with Bruno Ganz, and Perfume: The Story of a Murderer (Tom Tykwer, 2006) with Ben Whishaw and Dustin Hoffman.

Today, the company is managed by Christian Franckenstein (CEO) and Achim Rohnke. Twelve modern film and TV studios are located on the 30-acre site. Bavaria Filmstadt is an attraction offered for tourists. Visitors taking the tour see sets and props from The Neverending StoryDas Boot, and many more.

Theo Lingen
Theo Lingen. German postcard by Film-Foto-Verlag, no. A 3624/1, 1941-1944. Photo: Binz / Bavaria Filmkunst.

Leny Marenbach
Leny Marenbach. German postcard, no. A 3643/1, 1941-1944. Photo: Bavaria Filmkunst.

Paul Kemp
Paul Kemp. German postcard by Film-Foto-Verlag, no. 3864/1, 1941-1944. Photo: Binz / Bavaria Filmkunst.

Mathias Wieman
Mathias Wieman. German postcard by Film-Foto-Verlag, no. A 3723/2, 1941-1944. Photo: Binz / Bavaria Filmkunst.

Olga Tschechowa
Olga Tschechowa. German postcard by Ross Verlag, no. A 3956/1, 1941-1944. Photo: Binz / Bavaria Filmkunst.

Sources: Bavaria Film, Wikipedia (English and German) and IMDb.

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