Karl Ritter was the most famous, and probably the most prolific, of all the directors who worked in Germany during the Nazi era. Nowadays he is remembered mainly for creating medium of the Zeitfilm, the "contemporary movie," meant to reflect, in a cinematic way, the moment the ordinary German was experiencing; but the fact is he tended to shoot all of his military-themed movies in very much the same manner. They were sharply written, technically complex, featured fractured narratives, and tried to drive home the National Socialist virtues as he saw them: courage, loyalty, love, and sacrifice for the community. "The Crew of the Dora," a military romance shot in 1942, was his penultimate film and witnessed both the high-water mark and the beginning of the end of his career as a director. This book, by William Gillespie, documents Ritter's struggle to get the film made, and then, after its completion, the ultimately unsuccessful battle he waged to get it into theaters. In a sense it serves as something of a warning to all those artists who willingly serve totalitarian states: not only is your art at the mercy of the censor, so too is your career.
THE MAKING OF is a remarkable piece of original research by Mr. Gillespie. He managed to track down the estate of the now-deceased Ritter, who repaired to Argentina after WW2, and there located, organized and translated the extensive diaries and press-clippings the director had accumulated over his career. These diary entries are the basis of the book, which presents them in chronological order with a certain amount of narrative context. They follow Ritter, who was flushed with success after such movies as UBER ALLES IN DER WELT and STUKAS, as he writes the script for AIR CREW DORA, struggles to get it approved by the Reich Chamber of Film, deals with casting issues (many of his actors were drafted during the production or recalled to military duty, and he had to secure exemptions for them), budget constraints, technical problems, and the nightmare of shooting a movie on location in occupied France, Fascist Italy, and the very active Russian Front. Indeed, the best passages in the book detail the long train ride the cast and crew took through the occupied Soviet hinterlands on the Leningrad front, and how many of them had to stand watch with submachine guns as the train plodded through partisan-infested territory! What fascinated me most about it, however, was the way I could relate to Ritter's woes and anxieties as he pushed and prodded the trouble-plagued production to its conclusion. I've lived and worked in Hollywood for a dozen years now, and I well know the difficulties of shooting a movie. Turns out they haven't changed between 1942 and 2018. Ritter worried about the weather, he worried about the light, he worried about the budget and the shooting schedule and the script, and he worried (and complained, at some length) about his actors. George Lucas once remarked that film-making is war, and in Ritter's case it was more or less literally true! [this review continues with another three long paragraphs –please go to the Amazon page to continue reading!]