KAMAD Throwback Thursdays 1975 “The Hindenburg”

Throwback Thursday #TBT

Throwback Thursday on the KAMAD site will be a regular occurrence in the next year. As a motivational project, to make sure I am working on something, even in a week where I don’t see a new film in a theater, I am going to post on movies from 1975. Along with 1984, this is one of my favorite years for movies and it is full of bittersweet memories as well. 1975 was my Senior Year in High School and my Freshman Year in College. The greatest film of the last 60 years came out in 1975, as well as dozens of great and not so great cinematic endeavors. Most of the films in this weekly series will have been seen in a theater in 1975, but there are several that I only caught up with later. I hope you all enjoy. 

The Hindenburg

This was another of the few 1975 films I am covering on this year long project, that I missed in theaters when it opened in December. As a freshman debater at USC, we were expected to participate in and help out in the major National Debate Competition held on our campus”The Alan Nichols Invitational”. So I was preoccupied at the holidays and never got a chance to catch up. Also in December we had “Lucky Lady”,”The Killer Elite”, “The Black Bird”, “Hustle”, “The Man Who Would be King”, “Barry Lyndon”, and  “Sherlock Holmes Smatter Brother”. Many of these were released the same day as “The Hindenburg”. The reviews on the film were not promising at all. Many reviewers called it a “disaster” of a disaster movie. Some said it was the worst film of the year, and called the acting and dialogue laughable. So it was no wonder that it slipped passed me at the time. 

Many years later I caught up with the movie on a subscription service and my opinion was not nearly as negative. I remember thinking it was a little dull but I did not hate myself for having watched it. Today, I am going to stick to that opinion, the film is serviceable, not great, but certainly not the dregs that were suggested by Pauline Kael, Roger Ebert and Vincent Canby. The movie was made by Robert Wise, no slouch as a director,and meticulously integrates the real world events in with the fictional story that structures the movie. Several of the characters and the manner in which they escaped from the flaming crash of the Zeppelin, are accurate if dramatic re-creations of those events. I can’t say that the acting was excellent but I can say that the cast was. George C. Scott was one of my favorites in the decade of the 1970s. He is trying to play a sympathetic German Colonel who is resistant to Nazi control of the military. He obviously needs the part to be written that way because we would be unlikely to root for a Nazi as our hero.  Anne Bancroft is a passenger on the trip, given a plot line just to justify having the female lead of the film portrayed by a star. William Atherton, who will become the default prick of so many 1980s films, is playing against type here as a crewman with a somewhat heroic but dangerous agenda. 

The rest of the cast was filled with familiar faces:Roy Thinnes, Gig Young, Burgess Meredith, Charles Durning, Richard A. Dysart, Robert Clary, and René Auberjonois. Young had been fired from “Blazing Saddles” a year before  because he was incapable of performing while withdrawing from alcohol. He was typecast as a boozer for very good reasons, and his ultimate tragedy is something you might wan to read about if you are in the mood to be depressed. Meredith and Durning both had two Academy Award Nominations in their careers, Meredith in fact was nominated this year for his performance in another 1975 film, “Day of the Locust” (which also featured Atherton and Dysart). While performances from this film were not honored, the special effects were, two wins for Special Achievement in sound effects editing and visual effects, and three nominations for art direction, cinematography, and sound. 

The best things about the film are in fact it’s handsome production. The elaborate reconstruction of the interior of the Hindenburg is impressive. The metal frames and catwalks are intricate and provide lots of opportunities for the actors to run through, climb on, and ultimately fall off of them. The dining hall and lounge areas might make you wish that travel by airship still existed. The luxury of a cruise ship, combined with a view of the Earth from several hundred feet above the surface, is very appealing. The cabins look a little small but they could work if you spent most of your time looking out the observation ports. The manner of loadings, docking, and operating the ship seems to be pretty accurate, and if the plot does not suck you in, at least you can enjoy the details that are provided from the era.  

Basically, we know from the get go, that the Zeppelin explodes at the end of the movie. The story speculates on political intrigue because the Nazis used the Hindenburg as a propaganda tool, and it is still a mystery as to what really caused the explosion. This story postulates that there was a conspiracy to sabotage the airship as a way of indicating that there was a resistance effort at work in the Third Reich. The technical effectiveness of the film is tied up in how the actual film footage of the real disaster is integrated into the filmed sequences depicting what happens to the characters we see in the story. Except for some mild variations in the film stock and lighting, the results are very solid. Anyone who has watched the newsreel footage from 1937 will be amazed to learn that two thirds of the passengers and crew survived the conflagration.

The characters in the film represent a passenger list of 36 and a crew of 61. There is a fun sequence where the Broadway impresario plays a satiric tune on the piano as a vaudeville clown acts out the concepts. The mocking of the Führer was funny but unlikely to get as far as it did with the audience on board.  The movie is filled with red herrings about the plot. There is a clairvoyant, diamond smuggling, drafting sketches, and coded messages which are there to create intrigue but really have nothing to do with the threat to the vessel. Scott is a special security expert, brought on board to respond to a rumored threat, and Thinnes is the Gestapo counterpart who has methods that Scott’s Luftwaffe Colonel objects to. 

I did find the film a little dull because of the pacing, but the whole point of a film like this is to build up to the conclusion. I did not find it objectionable but I would suggest that if you decide to watch this, you make sure you are fully caffeinated. I saw the Laser Disc version of this film many times but never pulled the trigger on that so I watched this on a bare bones Blu Ray release. There was literally no menu options except for subtitles. There were no extras, chapters, or other languages available on the media I had. I will say however, the picture looks fantastic and the images of the ship in the air combine the model effects with matte paintings very convincingly and in a beautiful composition. 

Star Trek: The Motion Picture (4K Director’s Cut)

I went to see “Star Trek: The Motion Picture” on opening day at the Chinese Theater in Hollywood. The crowd was massive, the movie was gorgeous and our mood afterward was hopeful. The film did not play like a space war rip off of Star Wars” but rather an extended version of a cerebral episode of the original series.   There were sequences that felt long, and the special effects got more attention than the characters, but I was happy it existed, I’d waited ten years for Trek to rise from the dead and when it did, I make two or three trips to see it in theaters.

The home video market started in the early 1980s, when sell through pricing became real and the idea of owning your favorite film, not just renting it was a dream come true. Trek was one of the early franchise adopters of the sell through price, where a film was sold to a general audience rather than just video rental stores. When STTMP was available, a longer special edition was sold and it had some different
effects shots and additional scenes to tantalize us. I owned that edition on VHS and on Laser Disc, as well as a Laser Disc version of the original theatrical cut. I suppose it was my purchase of a collection of Star Trek films from the first to the fifth in a Laserdisc Box set that made me complacent about updating the films when they had subsequent releases.  

I have never seen the Director’s Cut by Robert Wise from the 2001 DVD offering. I bypassed it, figuring ist was simply a remaster of the Special Edition. It was not until I saw the film last night that I saw what substantial improvements in the story had been made by the inclusion of two previously cut scenes and the trimming of other moments here and there. This 4K version is a remastering of the Director’s Cut from 2001 and of course it is digitally enhanced to improve the video and the audio. 

My choices for the Fathom Event were limited, and I ended up at a theater here in the Austin Area that I had not yet been to. This was a Regal Theater and coincidentally, I had just removed the Regal App from my phone because it had been two plus years since I had used it. There were a couple of drawbacks to this location. While they did have a digital presentation, the screen was not sufficiently shielded from lighting in the theater, especially the forward Exit signs, so the image was soft at times. The theater also lacked a dynamic stereo system for the audio tracks so the presentation did not show off the technical aspects of the 4K release as dramatically as one would have hoped. [The biggest drawback of the theater is that they serve Pepsi products, resulting in my usual movie thirst going unquenched.  I’m a Coke guy.]  One thing that I did approve of however, was the traditional theater seating. No tiers, no electronic lounge chairs, just a slight sloping of the theater floor. The big advantage of this was that it enhanced the chatter between me and some other guests before the film started. Instead of being isolated from one another by the admittedly more comfortable confines of today’s stadium and  lounge chairs, we felt like a group of kindred spirits revisiting an old friend on screen but also new friends in the audience. 

The film itself is vastly improved over the theatrical version. I liked the sequence where Spock weeps for Vger because he sees himself in the emptiness of pure logic and realizes that there can only be more if he moves beyond that. In the end sequence, Mr. Scott activates a self destruct protocol, which would be a very Kirk maneuver in the face of overwhelming odds to try to defend the planet Earth. You can find other places on line to explore the differences in the various versions, that’s what I did. Here is one that is pretty thorough without getting too technical (The Movie Sleuth).

One of the complaints that people have made over the years is that so much time is devoted to fetishizing the Enterprise in this film. There are multiple tours of the exterior of the ship, and whenever possible, a scene is shown of the interior that is not on the bridge. I think one of the things that makes the first outside view of the Enterprise feel so long is that there is basically no dialogue for the sequence. Kirk and Scotty are in a small shuttle, traversing the immensity of the ship and they say nothing, all of the acting is done with their faces as the detailed model is explored in depth. This was a moment of fan service that might put off non-Trekkers but it was needed by the long time fans, because dammit, we had waited so long for it to become a reality.

The Special Effects of the Vger Cloud, Ship, Probes and union with humanity were beautiful back in 1979 and they continue to impress still. The slingshot warp drive effect with the sonic punch is still cool. I was struck by a moment in the film that had been done in a completely different film a few months earlier. The James Bond Space story “Moonraker” had used the idea of geosynchronous orbiting objects spreading death like a necklace around the planet. Here we had the same general idea, visualized in a way that was slightly different but did seem to be cut from the same cloth. Another 1979 parallel that I realized was that two great science fiction film scores came out this year and they were both from the same mind. Jerry Goldsmith first brought us “Alien“, but finished the year with a completely different sounding score for “Star Trek”, including a theme that was subsequently used for the “Next Generation” TV series and run of films. The attack on the Klingon ships is also a noteworthy motif that we will hear in subsequent adventures.  It was worth the trip to the theater just to listen to the music, even if the sound system was not optimal.  

Trekkers are glad to see their favorite crew return after a decade off. Kirk’s interactions with Captain Decker start off with an uncharacteristic bite, but when the good Doctor joins the crew and moderates his old friend, the Kirk we knew seems to come back to life before our eyes. Had Spock been a pure Vulcan, we get a chance to see how his calculating nature might have diminished the character in the larger scheme of things. When his analysis of Vger’s defect is complete, Spock returns as well to the character that we all fell in love with during the Original Series. Chekov has the best moments of the secondary characters, but everyone gets a spotlight here and there and it made us anticipate new adventures even more.

Although the story did seem to have elements from the television episodes, the time given to some of the philosophical questions raised was much greater and deeper in this film. I like a space battle as much as the next person, but Trek was always about more than action, it was about ideas. This is the Star Trek film that cleaves closest to the spirit of the series. It may lack the action elements that people want in a movie, but it has the soul that fans of the original love. 

“The human adventure is just beginning.”