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Thursday, October 2, 2008

First Nazisploitation Movie?

In 1958 Germany was still recovering from WWII when a German author by the name of Will Berthold wrote a book that shook Germany on its foundation at that time: "Lebensborn E.V.". In this book he tells the story of Lebensborn (= Fountain of Life) a Nazi organization set up by SS leader Heinrich Himmler, which provided maternity homes and financial assistance to the wives of SS members and to unmarried mothers, and which also ran orphanages and relocation programmes for children. Initially it was set up in Germany in 1935 but Lebensborn expanded into occupied countries in western and northern Europe during WWII. In line with the racial and eugenic policies of Nazi Germany, the Lebensborn programme was restricted to individuals who were deemed to be "biologically fit" and "racially pure" "Aryans", and to SS members. After WWII it was falsely reported that Lebenborn was a breeding programme. This was not true because individuals were not forced to have sex with selected partners. However, the programme did aim to promote the growth of "superior" Aryan populations through providing excellent health care, by restricting access to the programme with medical selections that applied eugenic and "race" criteria and by creating a meeting place of men and women who were the perfect specimen of the Aryan type. Germany in the 50's and 60's became obsessed with their Nazi-history and the book became a huge bestseller. Everybody wanted to know the history of this programme. So it wasn't long that a German production company "Alfa Film" saw money in this story and made this book into a movie in 1961 with Maria Perschy and Joachim Hansen as the main characters. Another plus for this movie was the fact that the author wrote the screenplay based on his novel. What he didn't know was the fact that he probably created a whole new movie genre in the exploitation realm: the Nazisploitation movie.

The movie was a big succes in Europe, even in not German speaking countries. Marisa Mell, fresh from drama school and with a few movies under her belt, was cast in this movie as Erika Meuring, one of the loyal women ready to participate in the programme for the glory of Nazi-Germany and especially Hitler. Her part is still a minor one but bigger than her previous roles. With years gone by the movie got lost in the trenches of film history and the subject was forgotten although the book was kept in print for decades. Then in the mid 70's a little exploitation film from Canada made headlines all over Europe! Like the book and film a decade earlier it shook Europe on its foundation. The movie: "Ilsa, she-wolf of the SS". The movie and especially the movie poster triggered the fantasy and often fetish desires of an audience ready to see this kind of movie. It made the principle actress Dyanne Thorne a star untill this day and ruined at the same time her career.

The success of the movie was unbelievable and it was followed quickly by two official follow ups. One country especially was more than interested in this kind of movies: Italy. Why? Simply because a) it had had herself a dictator like Hitler during WWII in the person of Benito Mussolini and b) it was a way to escape her repressed feelings put upon by the Catholic believe system. The gates of Hell were opened and dozens of similar Nazi-films entered the exploitation market to cash in on the new genre craze like SS Experiment Camp, The Beast in Heat, Gestapo's Last Orgy, Love Camp 7 and Deported Women of the SS Special Section. The list goes on and on and on. Due to the success of these movies it wasn't strange that other producers tried to cash in on this cash cow and were looking if they could find the same kind of movies or movies with a Nazi theme that they could exploite in their back movie catalogue. And so after more than a decade the movie "Lebensborn" saw the light of day again under a new title "Ordered To Love". Although the movie had nothing to do with the Italian kind of Nazi movies that didn't retain the producers and distributors to market the movie as a real Nazisploitation movie as the movie poster shows! While were at it why not make it as fetish as possible: a semi-naked women probably raped, black boots, a German soldier and especially a Nazi flag! The only thing that is missing is a whip but that did they probably forgot! The tag line is the best of all: "Suppressed Until Now!". While the movie was always readily available there was no suppressing at all but it triggers the curiosity of the audience. After viewing this movie most of the viewers are disappointed in this film not being a real Nazisploitation movie but what can you expect when this movie has no gore, horror or attrocities like these movies. Nevertheless the movie made film history at its time for being brave enough to spotlight a period in German history that officials rather would have kept in the dark.

1 comment:

Keith said...

Great post. I've watched my share of Nazisploitation movies over the years. I've always been interested in the whole history of Nazism and Fascism for that matter. I had never seen this movie before though. To be honest, I had never even heard of it before. I see that it got marketed later on to try to cash in on the slew of Nazisploitation movies that came out in Ilsa's wake. Probably not the first time a movie was marketed in such a way to attract a certain audience. That still happens today.