Review Date: 9/12/15
Cast: Hans Albers
Lavish production values and top talent can't save this tedious and misogynistic film, which is my least favorite adaptation of Baron Münchhausen's outrageous adventures. The film begins with the impossibly youthful baron (Hans Albers) hosting a birthday party, and one of the young ladies in attendance falls madly in love with him. Her overly enthusiastic fiancé happens to be a Münchhausen scholar, and begs the baron to tell him tales of his ancestor's exploits, not knowing that he is in fact the true baron. He reluctantly agrees, and the rest of the story is told as a flashback of Münchhausen's early years, which he spent womanizing across the globe. He travels to Russia, Turkey, Venice, and the Moon, meeting friends, lovers, royalty, and magicians, and making quite a few enemies along the way. The highlights of the film are his famous cannonball ride, a deadly wager with a Turkish sultan, and his balloon flight to the Moon.
Made at the height of World War II, German Minister of Propaganda Joseph Goebbels spared no expense in making the film, which was the most expensive German film ever made and one of the first films to be shot in Agfacolor. Even more interesting is the fact that a banned Jewish writer wrote the screenplay, which Goebbels made a special exception for, although he is not credited anywhere in the film. The production is extravagant, with expansive sets, vivid colors, luscious costumes, and painstaking details. Many of the visual effects are quite good, while others fall awkwardly short. Hans Albers is a charismatic actor and handles the flamboyant role of Münchhausen with ease, while his lovely leading ladies swoon and fall at his feet. From a production standpoint, it's an extraordinary film, but where it falls apart is in its narrative tone and execution. It's a decidedly dark and adult film that mocks other cultures and treats women with disdain. Granted, it was a product of its time, but it still leaves a bad taste. It lacks the lighthearted humor and unbounded imagination of Karel Zeman's 1961 version, as well as the breathtaking whimsical fantasy of Terry Gilliam's 1988 version. It's a fascinating film from a cultural and historical perspective, but it's a chore to sit through and it's not particularly entertaining.