Original Title: Marschall Vorwärts. Historical war drama 1932; 101 min.; Director: Heinz Paul; Cast: Paul Wegener, Traute Carlsen, Hans von Schwerin, Elga Brink, Theodor Loos, Friedrich Kayssler, Paul Richter, Fritz Alberti, Josef Peterhans, Eduard Rothauser, Carl Auen, Alfred Durra, Anton Pointner, Hans Adalbert Schlettow; Biograph-Tobis-Klangfilm.
Prussia faces Napoleonic invasion, losing the Battles of Jena and Auerstedt. Marshal Blücher surrenders due to insufficient supplies. Despite alliance with Russia, Blücher faces disappointment and leads the Prussian army, overcoming defeats and minor victories until Austrians join. He defeats Napoleon’s forces at the Battle of Leipzig, earning him the nickname “Marshal Forwards.”
In 1806, the Prussian army suffers defeat at Jena and Auerstedt as Napoleon’s armies advance. The capital of the country, Berlin, falls into Napoleon’s hands. Leading the last resistance is Blücher, a man who has been an enthusiastic soldier and fervent patriot since his youth. He hopes to offer successful resistance against the enemy near Lübeck, with the support of his capable ally Scharnhorst. However, their efforts prove futile against the enemy’s overwhelming superiority. Yorck, another hero in their group, falls wounded, and despite Blücher’s personal involvement in street fighting, Lübeck falls to the triumphant and brutal enemy. The remnants of Blücher’s troops gather around him in Radkau, where he surrenders, writing the words “I surrender only because I have no bread or ammunition left” on the surrender document with trembling hands, thus being captured by the French.
Prussia’s fate is not yet sealed before the Peace of Tilsit, which robs the country of its rights and almost all its privileges. In the council of the king, held in the city palace in Memel, it becomes clear that only a man of action like Blücher can overcome the situation. A fortunate coincidence leads to a French general falling into the hands of the Prussians, and he is exchanged for Blücher. As Blücher makes his way to his king, he passes through Napoleon’s quarters, where the Prussian general is shown respect befitting his bravery. Full of hope, Blücher meets his monarch and advises him with great enthusiasm to attack Napoleon. However, the Russian leadership has no intention of engaging in a fight against France for the sake of Prussia’s interests. Struck by this realization, Blücher expresses his despair to those around him, stating, “Come, children, everything is lost here, we are sold out and betrayed.” Subsequently, the Peace of Tilsit is signed on July 7, 1807, marking Prussia’s deepest humiliation. The country becomes diminished, burdened with unbearable tributes, and its army reduced to insignificance, leaving a man like Blücher condemned to inaction by Napoleon’s orders. Even the love of his wife and family fails to console him, and he loathes his existence. Yet, his hope lies in his old friend Scharnhorst and Gneisenau, a capable staff officer, who tirelessly seek ways to free Prussia from its inactivity and lethargy.
Blücher’s impetuous nature leads him to write letters to the king, urging him to act, despite the king’s attempts to restrain him. Napoleon, informed of Blücher’s actions, intervenes with a decisive veto, questioning who actually rules in Prussia, the king or Blücher. The general feels complete despair upon receiving the official letter of dismissal. However, he slowly recovers from this blow, realizing that his king had no choice but to take such action to prevent further encroachments by Napoleon on Prussia. During long evenings, Blücher gathers around him a circle of upright men who share his ambition and thoughts of the rebirth and reconstruction of the fatherland. The news of the fire in Moscow and the devastating retreat of the French army from Russia rekindles the 71-year-old man’s plan and determination, making him feel youthful once again.
Blücher stands at the center of those who believe the time has come to strike, including Stein, Scharnhorst, and Gneisenau. The convention of General Yorck von Tauroggen further tips the scale, calling the people to arms. Friedrich Wilhelm III appoints the old Blücher as the commander of the army that will be the first to confront the enemy. Battles ensue at Gross-Görschen, but Napoleon’s strategy forces the troops of the newly allied Prussians and Russians to retreat. With a heavy heart, Blücher gives the order, unwilling to let all the bloodshed be in vain. He himself is wounded three times, and his best friend Scharnhorst is severely wounded as well. However, one thing consoles him: “The shame of Jena is wiped away. It is once again the old Prussia of Frederick the Great.” The battle at Bautzen fails to bring a solution in favor of the allies, but Napoleon also suffers heavy losses. In the ceasefire quarters in Strehlen, Blücher anxiously awaits the expiration of the armistice, deeply affected by the news of Scharnhorst’s death. He extends his hand to Colonel Gneisenau, saying, “Our friend is dead – now we must remain vigilant.”
Finally, the hour of liberation arrives, with Austria leading the fight against Napoleon at the head of Prussia and Russia. Blücher’s military genius leads him through Katzbach and Möckern to the great Battle of Nations at Leipzig. The grateful old general bares his head before the tattered battalion flags of his infantry, which then loses half of its strength at Möckern. Victory is dearly, very dearly bought with German blood. The Battle of Nations at Leipzig ignites, and victory seems to lean towards Napoleon’s battle-tested troops until Blücher’s intervention changes the course of the battle. Leading his troops into the already burning Leipzig, he is hailed by its inhabitants and revered by the allied monarchs as the hero of the day, the Field Marshal Forward. Blücher grants himself no rest as his life’s desire is to free Prussia, and Germany, from the enemy. He joyfully calls out to his men, “Forward, children, forward!” and the voices of thousands thunder in response, “Forward, Marshal Forward!”
Georg Herzberg’s review in Film Kurier No. 276 (November 23, 1932)
A film of grandeur, this production brings the period from 1807 to 1813 to life using substantial resources. It opens with the struggle for Lübeck following the disaster at Jena and concludes with the Allies’ victory over Napoleon at Leipzig. At the heart of the story is the resolute Blücher, who consistently urged the wavering king to resist Napoleon during the years of waiting.
It is common for historians to portray historical events and figures differently than how they are remembered by the general public. The War of Liberation, with its events and personalities, is no exception. The manuscript writers Arzen von Cserepy and Heinz Paul adhere to the popular historical narrative, which aligns with what we learned in school, albeit with a slightly more favorable portrayal of the Prussian king at the time.
The film’s authors cannot be blamed for their stance. A film titled “Marshal Forward” must align with a specific tone, which could be described as political, in order to be successful. Those who believe or write otherwise are idealistic. It is simply not feasible to create a right-leaning film with a left-leaning tendency.
The theater owner, based on what has been said, will know which audience the film is intended for. Simultaneously, it can be confidently stated that this particular audience will undoubtedly be captivated. Expert circles attest that the film has an unprecedented depth. Battles are not merely mentioned in dialogues or briefly depicted in a few scenes; they are genuinely portrayed through a significant investment of resources and personnel. The audacity of a small production company like Biograph is truly admirable.
Such investment is certainly not in vain. Director Heinz Paul transforms it into captivating cinematic effects. He skillfully guides the large ensemble of extras to provide the audience with a genuine sense of the realities of war and battle during that time. The Battle of Nations at Leipzig, depicted in the film, is characterized by its grandeur. The intense struggle for the gates of Lübeck feels authentic, as do the forced marches of the Prussian troops.
The film introduces everyone and everything of importance in the allied camp at that time. Napoleon, Emperor Franz, Tsar Alexander, Metternich, Yorck, Hardenberg, and Scharnhorst are among the names skillfully utilized by Paul. With each new introduction, the plot is propelled forward. Admittedly, the nature of the events occasionally leads to a somewhat slow-paced first part, but in the second half, the pace intensifies masterfully, culminating in Blücher’s march to the Rhine.
The dialogues frequently make references to our contemporary time. Incidentally, the film touches on the subject of our Reichswehr (armed forces). The strong and repeated applause during “open scenes” serves as evidence that the impact of these words was well-calculated.
The cast includes an impressive array of talented individuals. Heinz Paul skillfully brings them together into a cohesive ensemble. Paul Wegener embodies the grandeur of Blücher, focusing on the character’s humanity and evoking respect for the courageous warrior. It is an excellent performance that reestablishes the spotlight on these long-neglected artists.
Theodor Loos is particularly memorable as Friedrich Wilhelm III, with noteworthy performances by Kayßler as Scharnhorst, Paul Richter as Gneisenau, and Fritz Alberti as Hardenberg.
Other notable mentions include the debutant Count von Schwerin, Alfred Durra as Napoleon, Traute Carlsen and Elga Brink, Josef Peterhans, Carl Auen, Eduard Rothauser, and Arthur Reinhardt—the list goes on.
The technical staff deserves unequivocal recognition. Viktor Gluck and Wolfgang Hoffmann deliver stunning cinematography, while Robert Dietrich and Bruno Lutz create impressive sets. The sound, overseen by Birkofer, is flawless. Schmidt-Gentner’s music skillfully underscores the narrative with a keen sense of tone.
August Müller is responsible for production management, with Dr. Robert Schönmann overseeing the process. Both have put in a considerable amount of effort.
The theater owner should emphatically draw attention to the exceptional qualities of this film, as it is poised to receive an overwhelmingly positive audience response with suitable promotion.