“The Americans are so natural. Far superior to us,” Joseph Goebbels, the Nazi propaganda minister, confided to his diary in 1935, after seeing “It Happened One Night.” American films, including musicals, were popular in Germany; they had a relaxed, colloquial way about them that German filmmakers, who tended toward agonized expressionism in the nineteen-twenties and rigid didacticism during the Nazi period, couldn’t match. Goebbels’s wistful appreciation of American ease is one of the bizarre ironies of the story, since he was intent on purging the cinema of anything that didn’t comport with Nazi ideology. Among other things, he removed Jewish artists and workers from the German film industry and pushed out Jews who worked for the distribution arms of American studios. The Nazis saw every movie as a potential threat to their immaculacy. Urwand quotes some solemn colloquies among Nazi officials, including a mental-health expert. Would “King Kong” (giant ape with Nordic-looking blonde) offend the “healthy racial feelings” of the German people? How about “Tarzan” (shirtless jungle man with white woman)? “King Kong” was released, “Tarzan” banned.
more from David Denby at The New Yorker here.