Original Title: Kreuzer Emden. War drama 1932; 89 min.; Director: Louis Ralph; Cast: Louis Ralph, Renée Stobrawa, Hans Schlenck, Werner Fuetterer, Fritz Greiner, Will Dohm, Willy Kaiser-Heyl; Emelka-Tobis-Klangfilm.
In Tsingtau, surprised by the outbreak of war, the “Emden” was tasked with conducting independent warfare, sinking enemy merchant and warships. Eventually, it was confronted by a stronger Australian cruiser near Keeling Island, shot to pieces, and left as a wreck. However, its crew was received with all military honors.
At the outbreak of World War I, Mertens, a former seaman who now works as a clerk at the German Electricity Company and is engaged to the stenographer Grete, receives his draft notice. They decide to have a civil marriage due to the circumstances.
However, their wedding celebrations at the hotel are disrupted by Petzold, a drunken sailor from the cruiser “Emden,” who recognizes his former bride in Grete. Despite the tension, no serious confrontation arises as people are preoccupied with the war.
Coincidentally, Mertens is also assigned to serve on the “Emden.” On board, Petzold attempts unsuccessfully to reconcile with him. Under the command of Captain von Müller, the cruiser sets sail and joins Count Spee’s squadron on August 10, 1914. Later, it receives orders to carry out independent combat operations with the tender ship “Markomania.”
The “Emden” sinks several English merchant ships and the troop transporter “Indus.” Then, it intercepts a radio message suggesting that the Russian cruiser “Zhemchug” is present in the Penang harbor. On October 28, 1914, the “Emden” sinks the “Zhemchug” in the harbor.
Captain von Müller realizes the threat posed by the English radio station on “Keeling Island” as it is the sole transmitter for communication between the Far East and England. On November 9, 1914, von Müller destroys “Keeling Island,” but he cannot prevent a distress call from reaching the cruiser “Sydney.”
A naval battle ensues between the overwhelmingly superior “Sydney” and the “Emden,” resulting in the latter being heavily damaged. Shortly before succumbing to his severe injuries, seaman Mertens reconciles with Petzold and asks him to care for Grete. Tragically, Petzold is fatally wounded soon after and cannot fulfill this request.
Faced with a hopeless situation, Captain von Müller decides to beach the “Emden” but is unable to execute the plan. Refusing to sacrifice more lives, he orders the flag to be taken down and burned.
The English sailors rescue the surviving crew members of the “Emden” and receive them with military honors aboard the “Sydney.” Following orders from the English commander, the survivors are allowed to keep their weapons.
Walter Jerven’s review in Film Kurier No. 118 (May 21, 1932)
This is not just a sound version of the once-successful silent film adaptation of the adventurous and heroic fate of the Emden. It is an entirely new film, capable of demonstrating the extraordinary possibilities of the talkies as a classic example, when compared to the silent version. Not because of booming cannons, but because here, logically and inevitably, the characteristics that define the concept of sound films unfold. No noise, no tinkling, no singing for the sake of acoustic effects! The question that arises today, after the misguided paths of sound films, whether we should return to silent films, can only be answered exclusively in favor of sound films after watching this film. More accurately, in favor of the cinematic use of sound, which is not based on adding sound to moving pictures, but is rooted and remains in the visual silence, with the silent visual language still dominating, experiencing a remarkable enhancement through word and sound effects. The Emelka film Kreuzer Emden proves how the acoustic element can be captured with an enthralling rhythm of images.
It is cleverly done how, in the beginning, before we witness the decisive cross and transverse voyages of the Emden, the individual human fates are illuminated through precise and successive image reporting. These fates then become intertwined into a moving and dramatic collective destiny. Gossip, rivalry, personal ambitions; how they fade away, tamed by a single task, a single goal. How silence grows out of noise! “Cheering ‘Hurrah’ is easy; waging war is harder!”—Here, objectivity (a frequently misused and misunderstood term) goes beyond sobriety and leads to romanticism. In subtle episodes delicately inserted by the director Louis Ralph amidst the powerful events, the human aspect is revealed. For example, when the letters are written back home. Werner Fuetterer, fresh and immediate like never before (the ship, sea air, coasts, breezes, and storms have taken hold of him), in his attempts to reconcile with the leading seaman, whom he brings unrest to in both home and heart, and who botches the wartime marriage in Tsingtau.
Fritz Greiner, a robust figure rarely seen in German films, delivers his most touching scene among the ruins of the destroyed Emden, as he, the leading seaman, dies without resorting to the usual theatrical dying gestures. Here, he magically emanates the miracle of a creative artist. Stobrawa, as the leading seaman’s bride, is strikingly colorless, not at all vibrant. Numerous types portrayed with wonderful naturalness, officers and sailors. The danger of slipping into operetta-like elements, as almost always happens when actors don the smart uniform of the Navy, is avoided throughout! Alongside Ralph’s simple and perhaps too monotonous Captain von Müller, Jack Mylong-Münz is magnificent and concise; discreetly, Willi Kaiser-Heyl, the captain of Sydney, performs the concluding verse of the grand Emden ballad.
Among the sailors, there are distinct characteristics that stand out, embodied in their spontaneous youthfulness: Munich’s “Vier Nachrichter” (the cabaret ensemble, authors of the revue Hier irrt Goethe). Leading the pack is Bobby Todd, a sort of hybrid of Buster Keaton and Menjou, a unique type who, like a pelican, seemingly helplessly and indifferently captures our amused attention while firmly on his feet. And Helmut Käutner, a true “köllscher Jung.” They are also the creators of the lyrics and melody of the authentic sailor’s song “Den blauen Jungens sagt ein Mädel niemals nein!” The music in this film elevates the vivacity of the mood and the era. A buried time image eerily comes to life when suddenly the brass band plays: “Auf der grünen Wiese!” — “Puppchen, du bist mein Augenstern!”
The prayer scene possesses a sublime, hypnotic effect after the Emden becomes “detached,” embarking on its own for war in the Indian waters. As the ship’s band plays “Wir treten zum Beten,” the stern faces of the men gaze while the infinite melody of the waves surges. It is commendable that episodic moments resurface. The excursion of the officers from the Russian cruiser “Schemschug”! Here, in the harbor district, we encounter a new, memorable face: Nina Forster-Larrinaga. Apathetic, fateful. If the expression “Grusel” is currently en vogue, it can be pronounced here in the best sense. A gripping, lasting impression as she sings: “Du kennst mich nicht; ich kenn dich nicht!” These episodic moments, also naturally occurring, invigorate and bring light, melodious nuances, preventing stagnation into pathos that could have occurred when handling such weighty material.
A technical masterpiece: the bombardment of Penang. Nighttime atmospheres, snapshot moments that elicit waves of shock and admiration in the audience! Here, the great artistry of the architect and technical director of the Emelka grounds, Willy Reiber, celebrates his ingenious dedication to the work with triumph! The culmination of technical achievements, led by Karl Grune’s imaginative and tireless work over the past months, has its impact on the film. Furthermore, the excellent cinematographer Franz Koch speaks — a significant asset to Munich’s film industry. Josef Wirsching assisted him. The sound quality is excellent, credited to Walter Tjaden. Friedrich Jung’s musical arrangements align with the style and essence of the whole production.
The audience applauded. A film for the city and the countryside, for both sides of the border. Suitable — after the abundance of military farces in recent months — for forgiving the cinema’s shortcomings. And especially now, during the meager months of the film season, it will keep the cinema afloat.