Wednesday, May 9, 2018
DISASTER MOVIES MONTH: The Hindenburg (1975)
The Hindenburg” is based on the most famous zeppelin-related tragedy in history. The film was fairly successful in theaters but critics absolutely lambasted it. I guess they expected more from a filmmaker of Wise's status and a recently Oscar-winning leading man. The film remains largely overlooked.
The year is 1937. Nazi Germany is consolidating its power in Europe, the outbreak of World War II drawing closer. Part of the Nazi's propaganda machine is the Hindenburg, the largest airship in the world. In America, a quack psychic claims the blimp will explode. In Germany, the Nazi government suspects saboteurs might try to destroy the zeppelin. Luftwaffe Colonel Franz Ritter is deployed to keep on an eye on the airship. Aboard, he discovers a long list of potential suspects. As the Hindenburg crosses the Atlantic, Ritter tries to uncover the truth before time runs out.
“The Hindenburg” is not just a disaster movie. In fact, for most of its run time, it's more concerned with espionage and wartime tension. A professional clown on the train performs a pantomime critical of Hitler, which amuses Scott but displeases his bosses. The film's hero is unable to trust anyone. Everywhere he turns, he sees uncertain alliances. As a spy thriller, “The Hindenburg” works in stops and fits. For every compelling scene of Scott arguing with another agent or confronting a potential saboteur, there's a dull scene of him chasing dead leads or looking around for trivial details. Of course, the historical inevitably of the film's conclusion robs the production of some suspense. We already know the blimp is going to blow up.
the famous recording of the real thing. The scenes of destruction are rather harrowing. Innocent people are tossed around, falling through windows. Some are crushed by falling, blazing debris. One man seemingly survives the crash, only to collapse dead afterwards from his burns. Its visceral and convincingly pulled off. Hammering home this documentary approach is a concluding voiceover narration that tallies up the living and the dead. (Though, because this is still a disaster flick, one particular life is spared: The adorable dog.)
Director Robert Wise did a lot of research before making “The Hindenburg.” That attention to detail is evident in the final film. The set design is excellent, looking authentic and lived-in. There are many impressive shots of characters climbing through the passageways and railing inside the blimp. The Hindenburg, as presented here, feels like a naturally busy craft. There's an air of sophistication to the film's execution. The miniature special effects are not super realistic looking. Yet there's something I like about it, of the shots of the blimp floating over glaciers or glowing with St. Elmo's Fire. I guess I wasn't the only one impressed. The film would receive two Academy Award nominees, for Sound Editing and Production Design.
[THE DISASTER MOVIE CHECKLIST: 7 outta 10]
[X] Awards Bait Ballad
[X] Corrupt or Incompetent Authority Figures*
 Destruction of Famous Landmarks
[X] Grim Predictions
[X] Group In-Fighting
 Heroic Sacrifices
[X] Massive Collateral Damage or Explosions
[X] Pets or Kids are Imperiled but Survive
 Romantic Couple Resolves Problems
[X] Star-Studded Cast
*Most of the authority figures are Nazis and, therefore, corrupt by default