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THE HINDENBURG, 1975
Starring: George C. Scott, Anne Bancroft, William Atherton, Roy Thinnes, Gig Young, Burgess Meredith, Charles Durning, Richard Dysart, Robert Clary, Rene Auberjonois, Peter Donat, Katherine Helmond
When a credible threat to blow up the biggest and most luxurious of Nazi Germany’s air-ship fleet, The Hindenburg, is received German Intelligence Colonel Franz Ritter (Scott) is dispatched to oversee its flight and to interrogate the passengers and crew, numbering among them a mysterious Countess (Bancroft) whose home and lands have been seized by the Nazi’s, a shifty maintenance man (Ahterton), a vocally anti-fascist noted musician (Donat) and a businessman (Young) who constantly pays to visit the off-limits insides of the ship.
A mid-decade addition to the 70’s run of disaster drama’s sees a real-life incident (the sudden explosion on landing of the titular Zeppelin) being turned into a conspiracy theory whodunit by Sound of Music maestro Wise, who was anything but when he employed the meticulous attention to detail (he spent a year on background research) and clock-wise precision to plotting that benefitted his previous films.
There (as with The Andromeda Strain), such an approach led to organised, factually sound productions. Here, he overloads and seriously slows down an immaculately presented but lifeless period piece. He ladles on evidence and modus operandi to the theory but neglects to inject any equally diverting characterisation or suspense.
The script provides some moments of light relief, but this is mostly unintentional and there are some embarrassing ‘Americanisms’ that sound out of place for a situation supposedly peopled by Germans.
The Hindenburg also suffers from leaving the moment of disaster right until the very last 10 minutes, unlike most films of this genre where cataclysm usually occurs early in the film’s duration. It is an excitingly staged finale, splicing together the actual, hypnotic footage shot at the time with Wise’s dramatic reconstruction of what’s happening inside, but you have to be in it for the long haul.
The cast of Hollywood Oscar alumni (Scott, Bancroft), young guns (Atherton, Thinnes) and old-timers (Durning, Meredith) fail to convey anything approaching a German flavour, but there are performances to be enjoyed. Gruff Scott growls throughout as if he is embarrassed to be in such a plush dustbin, Bancroft is a sensuous and surprise leading lady (an older Frau Robinson), but twitchy Atherton and genial Meredith and Auberjonois as incorrigible gamblers hit the mark.
Fittingly for a mystery that even after this film was released was not satisfactorily explained (most experts dismiss the film’s conclusions), the air-ship is distant and wreathed in cloud during the opening titles, a resolution that is tantalisingly just out of Wise’s grasp.