Fakultäten » Philosophische Fakultät » Filmwissenschaft, Seminar für » Prof. Dr. Margrit Tröhler » Kuhn

Current research project

Title / Titel Between Frontiers – Anglo-American War Films of the 1950s/1960s and Their View of Germany in the World War II
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Original title / Originaltitel Between Frontiers – Anglo-amerikanische Kriegsfilme der 1950er/60er Jahre und ihr Blick auf Deutschland im 2. Weltkrieg
Summary / Zusammenfassung This thesis project proposes to discuss Anglo-American films of the 1950s/1960s on World War II with a focus on German protagonists. The project will explore the position of these films within the transnational exchanges between the Federal Republic of Germany (FRG) and the former occupying powers, Great Britain and the United States of America, in terms of (film) history. The contexts of production, distribution and reception will be considered as well as aesthetic and narrative aspects of the genre.

The mid-1950s brought an actual surge of war pictures in the FRG's budding film industry. These films, while very popular, gave rise to vehement discussion and controversy in the press because of the way they represented the past. The debate focused not only on FRG productions but also on Anglo-American war pictures. In the 1950s, the Federal Republic of Germany's film market was barely regulated in terms of import quotas, so productions from former occupying powers like Great Britain and especially the USA continued to play an important part. With domestic revenues going down, the burgeoning FRG market became an increasingly important new sales territory that Anglo-American production companies wanted to target specifically. It is interesting to note that this ‹wave› of war pictures, which began in 1955, paralleled (inter-)national political developments such as the intensification of the Cold War, the remilitarization of the FRG and its accession to NATO.

A large part of the war pictures from this period discuss Germany's National Socialist past and address – or, conversely, avoid – the question of guilt and responsibility on behalf of the German public. As a result, these films are part of a culture of ‹selective› remembrance, in which the recent past is renegotiated in the context of the present at the time. While the FRG pictures frequently portray the German soldier as a defenceless victim or prefer to foreground famous members of the resistance, there are many Anglo-American productions with German protagonists that offer a more ambivalent portrayal of these characters. Some significant differences between British and American films appear to emerge: While the former tend to ignore war crimes almost entirely, thereby partly contributing to the elaboration of the myth of an ‹innocent› Wehrmacht, the latter sometimes focus explicitly on the crimes committed by the National Socialists – a novelty for FRG audiences. Given the environment of transnational political and economic tensions, such films frequently got caught in the middle between their country of origin and the FRG – many met with resistance from reviewers and were ignored by the public while others became both critical and box-office successes.

The thesis project, then, proposes to examine the ways in which Anglo-American films discuss World War II from a German point of view, and how they may be situated between Germany's National Socialist past and the Cold War present within transnational discourse. In order to find answers to this research, the contexts of production, distribution and reception within the FRG framework need to be taken into consideration as much as the corresponding discourses in Great Britain and the USA. This transnational perspective will permit an examination of the Anglo-American films in terms of aesthetic and narrative aspects and in relation to the FRG war pictures. If these films are regarded in the context of the international evolution of the genre, it emerges – that much is already obvious – that the corpus under investigation is part of a cycle of war pictures portraying German World War II protagonists in different periods – a cycle that began in the 1940s and continues to this day.
Weitere Informationen
Project leadership and contacts /
Projektleitung und Kontakte
M.A. Marius Kuhn (Project Leader)
Other links to external web pages
Funding source(s) /
Unterstützt durch
Universität Zürich (position pursuing an academic career)
Duration of Project / Projektdauer Oct 2015 to Dec 2020