Wednesday, April 29, 2015

ENEMY OF WOMEN (1944)


If a weasly, clubfooted tutor ever puts the moves on you, it’s best to give him a tumble. Otherwise, he’ll hold a grudge by becoming one of the most despicable people in history.

That seems to be the moral of Enemy of Women, the World War II-era biography/expose of Dr. Paul Joseph Goebbels. As Nazi Germany’s Minister of Propaganda and Public Enlightenment, he had total control over radio, movies, theater, art, newspapers and even psychics -- a position to be held by David Brock when Hillary Clinton is elected president. (I kid, I kid!)

An independent production released by Monogram Pictures, Enemy of Women is far more serious than its gaudy yet shabby posters would suggest. Too, its budget is better than your average Monogram release, and its running time longer. It almost looks like a movie from one of the majors, only with a relatively unknown cast,  which actually works in its favor.

Maria and Dr. Traeger engage in foreplay,
1945-style.
Perhaps knowing that wartime audiences might not be all that interested in a straight-ahead docudrama about Hitler's right-hand SOB, Enemy of Women's creators thread the picture with a love story involving aspiring actress Maria Brandt (the woman Goebbels desires but can never have) and Dr. Hans Traeger. They could have titled it Love in the Time of Swastika.

Maria had rejected Goebbels advances during his tutoring days. Once he becomes the head of all things artistic, Goebbels pulls strings to make Maria the biggest movie star in Germany, whether audiences liked it or not. In other words, they're a lot like Harvey Weinstein and Gwyneth Paltrow. But when Maria rejects Goebbels yet again, her career is finished and, for good measure, her father murdered. You'd think putting her on suspension would've been enough.

"Oh, Joey, tell me again about
the censorship laws!"
It's difficult to understand why Goebbels is obsessed with scoring with Maria, since he has a date with a different woman every night. Either these dames are attracted to power, or clubfeet must be a real turn-on for them. In fact, Goebbels seems to have hitched himself to Hitler's wagon just to score with the ladies; world domination is gravy. But as he tells Maria after her marriage to Hans, "You are the one open account in the ledger of my life." What a Romeo.

The look of love (for Hitler)
Rather than portraying him as an evil swine right off the bat, Paul Andor (born Wolfgang Zilzer) plays the pre-Nazi Goebbels as a metaphor for post-World-War I Germany -- a weak, pathetic cripple -- finding self-respect (and power) only when attending his first Hitler rally in 1928. The movie suggests that it was there Goebbels dreamed up the whole "Heil Hitler" routine. Quite an addition for one's résumé. (Most of the Nazis in Enemy of Women are either former wimps or full-time bullies.)

"Round up all the Jews, kill all the newspaper editors --
and, oh yeah, make sure there's toner in the copying
machine."
Once in power, Goebbels becomes the ultimate mid-level manager, forever grousing to subordinates ("I am not at all happy with our anti-Catholic campaign") while taking advantage of his position (see "score with the ladies" above). Despite the fictional storyline, there's a vague realism to Andor's performance that a major star would have lacked.  As with many independent movies of its time, Enemy of Women winds up being better than it should be because of its budgetary limitations. And the climactic forced separation between Maria and Hans -- arranged by Goebbels, naturally -- still works as an authentically heartbreaking moment.

For reasons unknown but entirely welcome, YouTube's print of Enemy of Women is in excellent shape for a "orphaned" movie. Despite being slightly washed-out from time to time, there are moments when it looks startlingly new, giving us the rare chance to see a Monogram movie the way it looked in its original theatrical release. Equally satisfying, there's nothing to mock, no over-the-top dialogue or hammy acting -- it's actually quite involving, with an excellent book-ending device involving an Allied air raid over Berlin. It's no Casablanca -- but sometimes a good burger is better than a steak. 

However, I still don't have permission to hang up the poster in my living room.

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