Hitler's Irish Movies
Two of the oddest Nazi propaganda films were set in Ireland. The director, Max Kimmich, was born in Bavaria and recruited in the 1920s by Carl Laemmle to join Universal Studios in California. Relegated to working on comedy shorts starring Arthur Lake, a disillusioned Kimmich returned to Germany in hopes of directing features. With Hitler in power, the director found himself blacklisted by Filmwelt because of his associations with Hollywood’s Jewish producers. In 1938 his fortunes dramatically changed when he married Josef Goebbels’ sister. Now brother-in-law of the Nazi Propaganda Minister, Kimmich received the official green light for his movies.
In 1940 he directed The Fox of Glenarvon, a film about Irish patriots fighting the British for independence. Unlike the Hollywood image of the charming Emerald Isle, Kimmich’s Ireland, characterized by dark mists, treacherous bogs, and grim torch-bearing peasants, more resembles the Transylvania of a Thirties Dracula movie. Besides the irony of the Nazis making a film about an ethnic minority resisting foreign occupation, Kimmich’s work contains curious anachronisms. Interior sets include 1940s furnishings, electric lamps, and telephones. In contrast, exterior scenes appear to take place in the nineteenth century, with characters riding on horseback and the British transporting prisoners in a horse-drawn van. The film’s climax showing peasants singing about freedom prompted an SS memo declaring Kimmich’s effort as “totally unfit, even dangerous for the Polish population.”
A year later, Kimmich wrote and directed a more pointed attack on the British called My Life for Ireland depicting the IRA battling the English during the Anglo-Irish War in 1921. Aimed at the youth market, the film included a number of young stars playing Irish students rebelling against their English schoolmasters. At the outbreak of fighting in Dublin, the pupils toss their school papers into a bonfire (eerily recreating a Nazi book burning) and join the uprising.
The realism of the final battle sequence came at a high price. The technician hired to plan the special effects was recalled to the front and left before completing a diagram showing where he had placed explosive charges. When the director called action, scores of extras ran onto the set and were blown up. Unaware of the disaster unfolding before them, the cameramen kept filming. Several extras were killed and others seriously injured, creating some of the war’s most ironic casualties – Germans dying in British uniforms making an anti-British motion picture.
Reading Level: Adult
Release Date: May 31st 2012
Size: 267 pages
The Irish Republican Army (IRA) has for decades pursued the goal of unifying its homeland into a single sovereign nation, ending British rule in Northern Ireland. On film, the IRA has appeared in mainstream motion pictures such as The Quiet Man, action films like Blown Away, political dramas, dark comedies, and even a spaghetti Western, A Fistful of Dynamite. The IRA has been explored by major directors from three countries, including John Ford (The Informer), John Frankenheimer (Ronin), Carol Reed (Odd Man Out), David Lean (Ryan’s Daughter), Neil Jordan (Michael Collins), and Jim Sheridan (In the Name of the Father). IRA characters have been portrayed by international stars, such as Victor McLaglen, James Cagney, Anthony Hopkins, James Mason, Richard Gere, and Brad Pitt. Films about the Irish Republican Army range from realistic docudramas like Paul Greengrass’ Bloody Sunday, shot with handheld cameras and natural lighting to create the sensation of watching 1972 newsreel footage, to Joseph Merhi’s action farce Riot in which a British superhero battles IRA bikers in the streets of Los Angeles during a race riot.
Whether portrayed as a heroic patriot, ruthless terrorist, or troubled anti-hero, the Irish rebel has emerged as a universally recognized cinematic archetype. Over eighty motion pictures include IRA references, and IRA characters have appeared in iconic American television series such as Hawaii Five-O, Columbo, and Law and Order.
This illustrated history analyzes film depictions of the IRA from the 1916 Easter Rising to the peace process of the 1990s. Topics include America’s role in creating both the IRA and its cinematic image, the organization’s brief association with the Nazis, the changing depiction of women in IRA films, and critical reception of IRA films in Ireland, Britain, and the United States.
Born in Philadelphia, Mark Connelly completed a masters degree in Creative Writing from the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee, where he received a Ph.D in English. His books include The Diminished Self: Orwell and the Loss of Freedom, Orwell and Gissing, Deadly Closets: The Fiction of Charles Jackson, and several college textbooks. He currently teaches literature and film in Milwaukee, where he is the Vice-President of the Irish Cultural and Heritage Center of Wisconsin. His latest book is The IRA on Film and Television.