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The Spanish Civil War in Film – A summary from a 1974 retrospective seminar in Berlin

 

A 1974 publication of the Friends of the Deutsche Kinemathek in Berlin was published as a guide to a three day seminar about the films of the Spanish Civil War. Some of these films were to be shown during the seminar.

The guide lists films made as early as 1932 (Les Herdes, Dir. Luis Buneul, Spain) and as recent as 1974 (Les deux Memoires, Dir. Jorge Semprun, France.)

As the two motion picture production centres in Spain were located in Madrid and Barcelona –– both occupied by Popular Front forces of the Republicans and their Soviet ally – they could put out propaganda film shorts and features throughout the war years until defeat. The Popular Front/Red forces also could rely on Hollywood, Soviet Russia, Britain, France, and other friendly film countries to churn out anti-Franco propaganda during these years as well.

The Franco forces, on the other hand, had no major motion picture studios or labs available in their Spanish zone and had to rely on foreign countries such as Germany and Italy for film assistance. Even getting weekly newsreel footage processed outside of the country and distributed required long delays.

It is telling that the 1974 publication lists, all up, the following tally of films about the War:

 

Popular Front/Republicans & Communists:

15 feature films (including Luis Buneul, Alain Resnais, Andre Malraux, and Hemingway’s pro–Red  For Whom the Bell Tolls),  

9 short documentary films, 

20 (Soviet) newsreels

 

Pro-Franco:

3 feature films (those Directed by Edgar Neville, Augusto Genina, Harald Riehn respectively.)

2 documentary films (Helden in Spanien, Im Kampf gegen den Weltfeind.) 

 9 (German) newsreels. 

1 feature film (Dir. Karl Ritter, Legion Condor, unfinished.)

 

There were also two German feature films with the Spanish Civil War being treated positively within a much larger story-line: Wunschkonzert and Kameraden auf See.

The 1974 Deutsche Kinemathek guide is not complete. It for instance does not include feature films produced by Franco Spain such as  ¡A mi la Legion!, Esquadrilla, Rojo y Negro, or Boda en el Infierno.  But it mirrors the abundance of pro–Red films available and the virtual absence of pro–Franco films. Edgar Neville's  Frente de Madrid/In der Rotem Hölle was only re–discovered in 2008 and released in 2018 on DVD, and Ritter's In Battle Against the World Enemy /Im Kampf gegen den Weltfeind was finally also released on DVD two years earlier, in 2016. Both available from International Historic Films in Chicago, USA with English subtitles, and the latter film also with optional Spanish subtitles. The Augusto Genina film and the Harald Riehn films have been available on commercial DVDs in Italian and German soundtrack versions respectively, for some years now, as well.

 

The important role that Karl Ritter's two Spanish films played ---  the full–length documentary film In Battle Against the World Enemy /Im Kampf gegen den Weltfeind and his planned feature film Legion Condor ––  should be seen in the context of the very few pro–Franco films made.

A more recent study by a Spanish film historian noted the current day inventory of Spanish Civil War films found in the Spanish National Film Archives thusly:

In Spain, the Civil War has been one of the events that has generated the most ink and audiovisual materials. However, a paradoxical phenomenon has occurred. Of the more than 600 titles preserved in the Spanish Film Archive, 460 correspond to the Republican side and only 126 to the one that won the war.