Die grosse Liebe

Die grosse Liebe
For the 1931 film directed by Otto Preminger, see Die große Liebe.
Die grosse Liebe
Directed by Rolf Hansen
Produced by Walter Bolz for Universum Film AG
Written by Peter Groll, Rolf Hansen, based on an idea by Alexander Lernet-Holenia
Starring Zarah Leander
Viktor Staal
Music by Michael Jary
Cinematography Franz Weihmayr
Gerhard Huttula (special effects)
Editing by Anna Höllering
Distributed by Deutsche Filmvertriebs GmbH
Release date(s) 12 June 1942
Running time 100 minutes
Country Germany
Language German

Die grosse Liebe or Die große Liebe (The Great Love) is a German drama film of the National Socialist period, made by Rolf Hansen, starring Zarah Leander and Viktor Staal.[1] It premiered in Berlin in 1942 and went on to become the most commercially successful film in the history of the Third Reich.[2]



The attractive Oberleutnant Paul Wendlandt is stationed in North Africa as a fighter pilot. While in Berlin to deliver a report he is given a day's leave, and on the stage of the cabaret theatre "Skala" sees the popular Danish singer Hanna Holberg. For Paul it is love at first sight. When Hanna visits friends after the end of the performance, he follows her, and speaks to her in the U-Bahn. After the party in her friends' flat he accompanies her home, and chance throws them further together when an air raid warning forces them to take cover in the air raid shelter. Hanna reciprocates Paul's feelings, but after a night spent together Paul has to return immediately to the front.

There now follows a whole series of misunderstandings, and one missed opportunity after another. While Hanna waits in vain for some sign of life from Paul, he is flying on missions in North Africa. When he tries to visit her in her Berlin flat, she is giving a Christmas concert in Paris. Nevertheless their bond grows in strength and arouses the jealousy of the composer Rudnitzky, who is also in love with the singer. Paul asks Hanna in a letter to marry him. However, when he is finally able to visit her, he is called away again on the night before the wedding. Hanna, disappointed, leaves for Rome, where she has to make a guest appearance. Even when Paul manages to get three weeks' leave and follows Hanna to Rome, the wedding has still to be postponed: Paul feels so strongly that he is needed at the front that he goes back even though he has not been ordered to do so. Hanna does not understand this, and there is an argument, after which Paul thinks he has lost her for ever.

The war against the Soviet Union breaks out (1941) and Paul and his friend Etzdorf are sent to the Eastern Front. When Etzdorf is killed, Paul writes a farewell letter to Hanna, to make the dangers of his missions easier to bear. Only when he himself has been shot down and wounded and is sent to a military hospital in the mountains does he see Hanna again, who is still prepared to marry him. The last shots of the film show the happy couple, confident in the future, looking skywards where squadrons of German bombers fly past.

Musical numbers

  • Davon geht die Welt nicht unter ("It's Not the End of the World")
  • Blaue Husaren (Heut' kommen die blauen Husaren) ("Today the Blue Hussars Are Coming")
  • Ich weiß, es wird einmal ein Wunder gescheh'n ("I Know a Miracle Will Happen")
  • Mein Leben für die Liebe - Jawohl! ("My Life for Love - Jawohl!")

All the songs were composed by Michael Jary, with lyrics by Bruno Balz and sung by Zarah Leander. "Davon geht die Welt nicht unter" and "Ich weiß, es wird einmal ein Wunder gescheh'n" were two of the biggest hits of the National Socialist period, and because of their political subtexts were much approved of and promoted by the authorities. After 1942, as the military situation became more and more unfavourable to Germany, they became a staple element of the prevalent informal propaganda geared to "seeing it through". Nowadays, "Ich weiss, es wird einmal ein Wunder geschehen" and "Davon geht die Welt nicht unter" are idioms in German language.


The starring roles were played by Zarah Leander as Hanna Holberg and Viktor Staal as Paul Wendlandt.

Other parts were played as follows:

  • Grethe Weiser: Käthe, Hanna's dresser
  • Paul Hörbiger: Alexander Rudnitzky, composer
  • Wolfgang Preiss: Oberleutnant von Etzdorf
  • Hans Schwarz jr.: Alfred Vanloo, artist
  • Leopold von Ledebur: Herr von Westphal
  • Julia Serda: Jenny von Westphal
  • Victor Janson: Mocelli, theatre director
  • Agnes Windeck: Hann's mother
  • Paul Bildt: Head waiter
  • Erich Dunskus: man with dog
  • Olga Engl: old lady in block of flats
  • Karl Etlinger: man with admission tickets
  • Ilse Fürstenberg: air raid shelter attendant
  • Grete Reinwald: mother in air raid shelter
  • Ewald Wenck: Berlin taxi driver
  • Just Scheu: Alfred Vanloo's brother
  • Erna Sellmer: ticket collector

National Socialist propaganda

In its blend of entertainment and propaganda elements the film is paradigmatic for National Socialist cinema in much the same way as Wunschkonzert, after Die grosse Liebe the next most popular film of the National Socialist period.[2] While on the one hand the suspensefully presented love story, with its images of the North African desert, Paris and Rome, as well as the extravagant show numbers, constitutes an invitation to dream, yet on the other hand "Die grosse Liebe" urges adjustment to the realities of war at all levels. Not love, but war, is the real theme of the film. This is despite omitting any background for, or events in, the war.[3]

The film does not just contain original material from the "Die Deutsche Wochenschau" with pictures of German attacks on the English channel coast: the war determines the whole action of the film. The lesson that Hanna Holberg, and with her the entire public, has to absorb, is the insignificance of individual striving for happiness in times in which higher values - here, the military victory of Germany in World War II - come to the fore. The film does not gain its political impact by simply urging renunciation or "going without" in difficult times, but by setting off individual happiness against duties which go far beyond the requirements of ordinary military duties. Paul is not concerned about behaving with military correctness, but about his desire to make his contribution to Germany's military victory.[4] He renounces Hanna, not because of military orders recalling him to the front but in order to serve the national cause and if necessary to sacrifice his life for Germany. In the process Hanna learns that waiting and renunciation in war have not only to be accepted as fate, but constitute the really "great love".[4] She learns to bravely send him back to his squadron, singing, "The World's Not Going To End Because of This".[5]

The film owes by far the greatest part of its attractiveness to Zarah Leander's performance. When she was selected for the role she had already established a strong profile as an expressive portrayer of self-aware, mature, emotionally stable women, whose plans and lives were thrown into disarray by unexpected blows of fate. The director Rolf Hansen, working with her here for the second time, had the good idea of teaming her up with a weak and relatively insignificant male lead, who was scarcely capable of playing against the weight of her presence. The suffering laid upon Hanna Holberg by her unfulfilled love gained, by the fact that she was profoundly misunderstood, an important additional element that deeply impressed the public.

In order to impress also by its modernity, the film took the risk of making - for the time - an unprecedentedly realistic representation of day-to-day wartime life, and shows rationing of food, air raid warnings and hours spent waiting in air raid shelters. Admittedly it never shows these things without taking care always to point out how to maintain at all times care for others and good humour, however difficult the circumstances. All levels of society are depicted as pitching in together, with the heroine coming to know those of much lower social level in the course of the film.[4] Hanna learns thereby to overcome her snobbishness, manifested in her singing for wounded soldiers.[6]

The depiction of Zarah Leander was also unusual, in that in this film she wore ordinary day clothes, lived in a normal Berlin rented flat and even travelled on the U-Bahn.

Production and reception

The interior scenes for "Die grosse Liebe" were filmed from 23 September 1941 to early October 1941 in the Tobis-Sascha-Studio in Vienna - better known as the Rosenhügel Film Studios - and in the Carl Froelich sound studio in Berlin-Tempelhof. The exterior scenes had been filmed in Berlin and Rome by the middle of March 1942. The film was submitted to the Film Censor's Office on 10 June 1942 (Prüf-Nr. B. 57295) when it had a length of 2,738 metres or 100 minutes and was classified as suitable for minors and for public holiday viewing. It was distributed by the UFA-owned Deutsche Filmvertriebs GmbH (DFV). On 18 April 1944 it was re-submitted, now with a length of 2,732 metres (B. 60163), and was re-classified as before.

The premiere took place on 12 June 1942 in Berlin, in the Germania-Palast cinema on the Frankfurter Allee and the UFA-Palast am Zoo cinema. Die grosse Liebe became the greatest commercial film success of the Third Reich. It was seen by 27 million spectators and took 8 million Reichsmarks, having cost 3 million to produce. The Film Censor's Office pronounced it "politically valuable", '"artistically valuable" and "valuable for the people" - a combination of accolades also granted, for example, to Gerhard Lamprecht's nationalist hero biography "Diesel" (also 1942).

After the end of World War II the Allied Control Commission forbade the film to be screened.[7] In 1963 however it was submitted to the FSK, who approved its re-release subject to cuts,[7] which were however disregarded by the distributors: the film was shown with a preliminary warning but with no cuts. Further cuts were made in 1980. "Die grosse Liebe" is commercially available as a video and DVD in a German only 90-minute version. Distribution rights are now the property of Transit-Film GmbH.


  1. ^ "New York Times: Die Grosse Liebe (1942)". NY Times. http://movies.nytimes.com/movie/139915/Die-Grosse-Liebe/overview. Retrieved 2010-10-31. 
  2. ^ a b Erwin Leiser, Nazi Cinema p61 ISBN 0-02-570230-0
  3. ^ Richard Grunberger, The 12-Year Reich, p 387, ISBN 03-076435-1
  4. ^ a b c Erwin Leiser, Nazi Cinema p63 ISBN 0-02-570230-0
  5. ^ Richard Overy, The Dictators: Hitler's Germany, Stalin's Russia, p259 ISBN 0-393-02030-4
  6. ^ Cinzia Romani, Tainted Goddesses: Female Film Stars of the Third Reich p74 ISBN 0-9627613-1-1
  7. ^ a b Cinzia Romani, Tainted Goddesses: Female Film Stars of the Third Reich p82 ISBN 0-9627613-1-1
  • Helmut Regel, Zur Topographie des NS-Films in Filmkritik, 1966, 10 (Jan.), pp. 5–18
  • Jens Thiele, Fred Ritzel, Politische Botschaft und Unterhaltung – die Realität im NS-Film. Die große Liebe (1942) in Werner Faulstich, Helmut Korte, Fischer Filmgeschichte: 2: Der Film als gesellschaftliche Kraft 1925-1944, Frankfurt/M. (Fischer) 1991
  • Stephen Lowry, Pathos und Politik. Ideologie in Spielfilmen des Nationalsozialismus, Tübingen (Niemeyer) 1991
  • Barbara Schrödl: Mode und Krieg. Der Kleidkörper in nationalsozialistischen Filmen der späten 1930er und frühen 1940er Jahre in Petersen, Christine [ed.]: Zeichen des Krieges in Film, Literatur und den Medien. Kiel 2004, pp. 231–255.

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