The Hindenburg (1975)

ROBERT WISE

Bil’s rating (out of 5): BUSA, 1975, Screen story by , , Screenplay by , based on the book by Cinematography by Produced by Music by Production Design by Costume Design by Film Editing by Academy Awards 1975.

Robert Wise cashes in on the popularity of disaster movies and simultaneously dips into history to recreate an event that fits both seventies obsessions beautifully, the tragedy of the Hindenburg zeppelin. Following a successful voyage across the Atlantic, the magnificent vehicle caught fire and exploded just before landing in New Jersey, the cause of which remains a mystery (this film for the most part entertains more than one theory but, in the interest of dramatic licence, places most of its weight on the most ridiculous one).  plays the good German who is assigned to take the vessel’s latest voyage across the pond when the German government receives a letter warning them that a time bomb is aboard and will be exploded mid-route, the letter featuring enough specific details to scare the authorities into taking it seriously. Scott finds himself having to hide his distaste for his Nazi overseers (a point emphasized a great deal too often, probably to get around the fact that we’re watching a movie about the wrong side of the war) while dealing with the array of passengers on board, including a titled aristocrat who is also an ex-flame ().  Scott’s constantly shifting suspicions and an invented sequence involving a tear in the cloth covering the ship’s framework do their best to kill time while we wait for a relatively uneventful voyage to reach its climax, and while you’re waiting you are treated to a number of gorgeous matte painting shots of this floating cruise ship in the sky and the vistas that these passengers witness from within. Wise cheats a bit by switching to black and white when the most memorable part of the story happens, a choice made to integrate real footage of the disaster with his own recreated scenes of mayhem (and, to be fair, the real footage is so haunting that a recreation could never duplicate it). Stunning production design is a plus, as is David Shire’s beautiful score, but the screenplay is a dud and the plot never raises your pulse; the eventual doom of all these lifeless characters is almost a relief to the misery of their bland existence.

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