KARL RITTER’S UNFINISHED FEATURE FILM LEGION CONDOR (1939).
The long believed lost film script found after 80 years !
"You did not find the film script -- it
After the huge box office success and critical acclaim for his 86 minute long documentary film Im Kampf gegen den Weltfeind (In Battle against World Enemy Nr. 1) Karl Ritter wrote a film script for a feature film on the Spanish Civil War. It was meant to be an actual sequel to his 1938 smash hit, Pour le Mérite, starring Paul Hartmann, Fritz Kampers, Albert Hehn, Carsta Löck, and a cast of over one hundred actors. Many of these same leading actors were thus contracted to appear in Legion Condor. The set construction at the Ufa Babelsberg studios was completed by early August. The first scenes were filmed there with a cast of over 200 extras appearing as victorious soldiers fighting for Franco. Filming started on 8 August and ran for fifteen days. But on 25 August, Ritter was told to halt all further filming. “World political events” were mentioned to him confidentially by the government. The von Ribbentrop-Stalin Pact had been signed and no anti-Bolshevist film such as Legion Condor was possible during the life of the infamous Pact. Ritter’s other anti–Russian film, Kadetten, which had been scheduled to have its world premiere at that year’s Nürnberg Party Day Rally, was also cancelled; as was the Rally itself once the Polish campaign started that week.
There are no production shots of the film, and there is a single behind-the-scenes photograph of cameraman Günther Anders at work on the Ufa set that August. The film was actually announced in the 1939/1940 Ufa season preview book for cinema owners. The German poster design was shown in the preview book; which we published in full colour in our KARL RITTER book.
The catalogues of the German federal film archives, the Berlin Kinemathek-Film Museum, the nation-wide German library portal, and those associated with leading university collections all fail to show a copy of this film script in their respective collections.
In July 2018 we purchased from a used bookstore in Germany the original Ufa film script for Legion Condor, shown above. This was an extraordinary discovery. As one of our closest German film historians commented when he heard of our purchase, "You did not find the film script -- it found you!" Indeed, after researching and publishing two books devoted to Karl Ritter in terms of the first biography on him published, and the only book to deal with his forbidden war film, Besatzung Dora (1943), we believed that we had exhausted any possibility of delving back into this area of research again. Now we are drawn to this Project as a unique opportunity to learn and publish much more about this never-completed, politically unwanted film caught up at the time of the beginning and duration of the von Ribbentrop-Stalin Pact.
We are gathering scattered information and have found a few more references to the film in our extensive German film library of original books,marketing, promotional materials and newspapers. This effort, in late northern Summer/Fall 2018 during a research trip to Europe, has allowed us to gather all known newspaper articles, background information, and scans of twelve press photos , to commence work on a monograph on Legion Condor.
We shall use this webpage on the film to present further research, as possible.
There is so little material about the film extant that film historians as early as the 1960s were making errors in discussing it. Typical were the dates of filming given as from „early August“ to 1 September. We know from Karl Ritter's diaries that it was just a 15 day film shoot before the production was pulled — that is, from 8 to 25 August.
The English-language Wikipedia erroneously gives Legion Condor a "Release date: June 15, 1939" and "the film was pulled from Distribution in August 1939 to avoid offeding the Soviets who had supported the other side in Spain and who were negatively portrayed in the film." This mix-up with Ritter's Im Kampf gegen den Weltfeind is inexcusable. That Weltfeind had a Release date of June 16th (not the 15th) and that it was indeed pulled from cinemas in August that year proves that the two film titles have been confused by Wikipedia contributors. (We have submitted a correction to this Wiki page, so hopefully the Facts will prevail.)
There has never been a plot summary longer than one or two sentences for the film, which is that of a heroic hymn to the German Legion Condor men who supported Franco. Now we have the full script to tell the full story.
Wikipedia entries on the film have stated that the cancellation of the film cost RM5,500,000-; which is an enormous sum. To put this in context, the sumptuous, hugely expensive Agfacolor classic Münchhausen, full of incredible special effects and top-paid actors, cost RM 6,475,000- . So a B/W military film run on a Ritter tight budget, for which he was famous, was far less expensive. The budget was RM 916,000- and the Ufa studio Board minutes of 22 August 1939, three days before the production was stopped, reported that it had cost RM400,000- up to that day. A late 1939 report to Dr. Goebbels from Dr. Max Winkler about film productions cancelled or forbidden because of the war, politics etc lists gives the loss attributed to Legion Condor at RM550,000.- (that is 1/10th of the loss stated in Wikipedia......)
Another example of poor information: ImdB has only five actors named with their military ranks in the flm, but not the actual character names. So "Paul Hartmann, Commander of the Jagdflieger." We know him now as Major Paul Hagen, Commander of the Jagdflieger. Our research will provide more information about this film than has ever been known since 1940; just as our book on Besatzung Dora told it‘s story in full for the first time.
Onwards and upwards!
The film plot, as told for the first time since the film was abandoned in August 1939:
1. Opening credits —A Legion Condor flag waving in the breeze, with Falangist Anthem playing. Music fades out with credits.
2. Daytime, a Madrid street. The Communist „Internationale“ anthem playing. A car with four men pulls up to an apartment building, they storm up the stairs, push their way violently into the apartment and shoot a man sitting at his desk.
3. A large meeting room in a Madrid. „Internationale“ continues playing. A Communist speaker declares to a jubilant crowd that the fascist Calvo Saleto is no more, and that the international proletariat knows how to fend off its enemies. Crowd cheers.
4. Madrid street scene. „Internationale“ continues on soundtrack. Panicked crowds run through the streets, fighting breaking out, store windows smashed, chaos.
5. Madrid church interior. „Internationale“ continues playing. Huddled church goers in the church interior shadows. A smiling Madonna with child statue on the wall over the crowd. Suddenly a shot rings out and blasts the arm of the Madonna off, a second shot rips the smile off her face.
6. Montana Caserne, The „Internationale“ continues playing. Ten Falangists are put up against the wall and executed by Red soldiers. (“Internationale“ fades out.)
7. Walled window in the Tetuan District of Madrid. Twenty Spanish Nationalist officers repeat Franco‘s words in unison: „We are ready to die for Spain.“ An officer says to them: „Men, be ready to do so, too!“
8. Ground in front of a Spanish city. A Red machine gun nest and defensive position. Grenades explode, machine gun fire from left to right, a Nationalist battery fires into the area and city.
9. German officers‘ quarters of Fighter pilots, in Germany. Officer looking at a wall map, one says: „My word! That looks horrible. Half of Spain lost!“. This scene is the first in which the Squadron Commander, Luftwaffe Major Paul Hagen, appears; as portrayed by actor Paul Hartmann.
10. An airfield in Germany. (Men told to go to their aircraft to fight for Franco.)
All these scenes are each only one or two pages of film script in length. Most end with a „Harte Schnitt“ or hard cut away. Tight editing and camera work. Typical Karl Ritter fast–paced action as per other „Zeitfilme“ such as GPU. The first 8 scenes are covered in just the first 15 pages. The script is 283 pages long.
TO BE CONTINUED.....
in our forthcoming monograph, to be published by German Films Dot Net in Autumn 2019. The monograph has a working title of LEGION CONDOR ---Karl Ritter's lost 1939 feature film. As a pre-publication, it has been issued ISBN #978-0-980816-6-6.