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28 March 2015

Die Nibelungen (1966)

The West German fantasy film Die Nibelungen (Harald Reinl, 1966) was released in two parts, Siegfried and Kriemhilds Rache (Kriemhild's Revenge). The film, produced by Artur Brauner, starred Uwe Beyer, Karin Dor and Herbert Lom. The two films were a remake of the silent classic Die Nibelungen (Fritz Lang, 1924), which was in turn based on the Middle High German epic poem Das Nibelungenlied.

Die Nibelungen (1966)
German postcard, no. 2. Photo: CCC / Constantin Film. Publicity still for Die Nibelungen, Teil 1 - Siegfried / Siegfried (Harald Reinl, 1966) with Uwe Beyer as Siegfried and Benno Hoffmann as Mime.

Caption: "Siegfried, der Sohn des Königs der Niederlande, zog aus, um Ruhm zu ernten. In der Schmiede von Mime schmiedet er eigenhändig sein Schwert Nothung. Eifersüchtig auf Siegfrieds Stärke, will des Schmieds Geselle ihn töten, doch Siegfried kommt ihn zuvor und steckt ihn nieder. Die Probe ergibt, dass Siegfrieds Schwert, durch Blut eines Alben erkaltet, härter als Eisen ist und ihn unsiegbar machen wird."
(Siegfried, son of the King of the Netherlands moved out, in order to reap fame. In the smithy of Mime, he personally forges his sword Excalibur. Jealous of Siegfried's strength, the blacksmith apprentice wants to kill him, but Siegfried comes before him and puts him down. The test shows that Siegfried's sword cooled by a blood of a dwarf is harder than iron and make him invincible).

Die Nibelungen (1966)
German postcard, no. 3. Photo: CCC / Constantin Film. Publicity still for Die Nibelungen, Teil 1 - Siegfried / Siegfried (Harald Reinl, 1966) with Uwe Beyer as Siegfried.

Caption: "Seiner Stärke bewusst, zieht Siegfried aus, um Abenteuer zu bestehen. Vor allem will er sich des Schatzes der Nibelungen bemächtigen, der von dem feuerspeienden Drachen Fafnir gehütet wird. Nach hartem Kampf gelingt es ihm das Untier zu töten. Als er von seinem Blute kostet, versteht er die Stimmen der Vögel, die ihm raten, sich im Blute des Drachen zu baden, auf dass er unverwundbar werde. Während des Bades fällt ein Lindenblatt zwischen seinen Schultern. An dieser Stelle wird er verwundbar bleiben. Der Weg zur Höhle, wo der Schatz verborgen sein soll, ist nun frei, jedoch stehen ihm noch weitere Gefahren bevor."
(Conscious of his strength, Siegfried takes off to challenge adventure. Above all, he wants to take possession of the treasure of the Nibelungen, which is guarded by the fire-breathing dragon Fafnir. After a fierce battle, he manages to kill the monster. When he tastes of his blood, he understands the voices of the birds that advise him to bathe in the blood of the dragon, so that he may be invulnerable. During the bath a linden leaf falls between his shoulders. At this point, he will remain vulnerable. The path to the cave where the treasure should be hidden, is now free, but he finds himself facing further threats.)

Invulnerable and invisible


Siegfried von Xanten defeats the dragon Fafnir, and becomes invulnerable by bathing in the beast's blood. He then wins a net of invisibility and the legendary Treasure of the Nibelungen from the dwarf Alberich.

Siegfried falls in love with Kriemhild, sister of King Gunther of Burgund. However, Gunther will not allow Siegfried to marry her until he has helped Gunther to win a wife himself.

They travel to Iceland where Siegfried helps Gunther to defeat and win Queen Brunhild. They return to the Burgundian court at Worms and both weddings take place.

However, jealousy and envy cause frictions at the court. Intrigues eventually result in Hagen of Tronje killing Siegfried during a hunt.

In part 2, Kriemhild marries Etzel, king of the huns, in order to gain revenge for the murder of her husband. The Burgundians, led by Gunther and Hagen, follow an invitation after Kriemhild gives birth to Ortileb, and travel to Etzel's hall.

There they are attacked by the huns. Hagen kills Ortileb in the fight. There is a great slaughter and Gunther is killed. Finally Kriemhild kills Hagen and is then killed herself.

Die Nibelungen (1966)
German postcard, no. 5. Photo: CCC / Constantin Film. Publicity still for Die Nibelungen, Teil 1 - Siegfried / Siegfried (Harald Reinl, 1966) with Uwe Beyer as Siegfried and Karin Dor as Brunhild.

Caption: "Es erfordert viel Mut, den Feuergürtel, der Burg Isenstein ergibt, zu durchbrechen. In der Burg findet Siegfried die schlafende Königin. Als er ihr den Ring an den Finger steckt, erwacht Brunhild wieder zum Leben. Der Bann ist gebrochen. Brunhild zeigt Siegfried ihr schönes Land und bittet ihn zu bleiben. Er aber will hinaus in die Welt, um Reiche zu erobern und Ruhm zu ernten. Zusammen mit Alberich gelangt Siegfried nach Worms, der stolzen Burg der Burgunder-Könige."
(It requires a lot of courage to break the ring of fire, which surrounds the castle Isenstein. In the castle Siegfried finds the sleeping queen. As he puts the ring on her finger, Brunhild comes back to life. The spell is broken. Brunhild shows Siegfried her beautiful country and asks him to stay. But he wants out to conquer the empires and become famous. Together with Alberich, Siegfried arrives in Worms, the proud castle of the Kings of Burgundy.)

Die Nibelungen (1966)
German postcard, no. 6. Photo: CCC / Constantin Film. Publicity still for Die Nibelungen, Teil 1 - Siegfried / Siegfried (Harald Reinl, 1966) with Uwe Beyer as Siegfried and Rolf Henniger as King Gunther.

Caption: "In Worms wird Siegfried von König Gunther willkommen geheissen. Als er Kriemhild, Gunthers Schwester, erblickt, verliebt er sich in sie. Gleichzeitig bringen Boten die nachricht zu König Gunther, dass die Sachsen ins Burgunderland eingefallen seien. Siegfried erklärt sich sofort bereit, mit Hagen und den anderen Recken König Gunthers dem Feind entgegen zu eilen. Im Zweikampf besiegt Siegfried den König der Sachsen, unterwirft ihn und bringt ihn zu König Gunther. In Worms schwört dann der Sachsenkönig dem König von Burgund aufs Schwert ewige Treue."
(In Worms, Siegfried is welcomed by King Gunther. When he sees Kriemhild, Gunther's sister, he falls in love with her. At the same time, messengers bring the message to King Gunther, that the Saxons have invaded the Burgundy country. Siegfried immediately declares his willingness, with Hagen and the other knights to rush against King Gunther's enemy. In a duel Siegfried defeats the King of Saxony, subjects him and brings him to King Gunther. In Worms, the Saxon king then swears on his sword eternal fidelity to the king of Burgundy.)

Very old Germanic myths


The original source for the story was the Middle High German epic poem Das Nibelungenlied, likely written around the year 1200. This in turn was based on motifs from even older Germanic myths.

Although a new screenplay was written by Harald G. Petersson, Ladislas Fodor and director Harald Reinl, in many respects it followed the earlier version fairly closely.

In the late 1950s, German producer Artur Brauner had wanted Fritz Lang to remake his own silent film Die Nibelungen (1924) and had already informed the press that the project would go ahead.

However, in the fall of 1959, Lang energetically resisted this proposal, pointing out that it could be interpreted as Lang "not having anything new to say and being forced to fall back on successes of the past". Lang ended up making three films for Brauner that were in fact referencing his own past (Der Tiger von Eschnapur/The Tiger of Eschnapur (1959), Das indische Grabmal/The Indian Tomb (1959) and Die 1000 Augen des Dr. Mabuse/The Thousand Eyes of Dr. Mabuse (1960)).

It took another six years for Brauner to find the right director for his Nibelungen project. Harald Reinl had been the commercially most successful director of the 1950s and 1960s in Germany. But it was the vast box office success of his three Winnetou films - Der Schatz im Silbersee/The Treasure of the Silver Lake (1962), Winnetou - 1. Teil/Winnetou (1963), and Winnetou - 2. Teil/Winnetou: Last of the Renegades (1964) - that convinced Brauner that Reinl was the right man for the job.

Brauner wanted a disciplined worker who would respect budgets even without constant direct control by the producer, who could deal with large numbers of extras and who had experience shooting in Yugoslavia. Reinl also was fond of impressive landscape shots and, in conjunction with a symphonic music score, these were supposed to add gravitas to the story.

Die Nibelungen (1966)
German postcard, no. 12. Photo: CCC / Constantin Film. Publicity still for Die Nibelungen, Teil 1 - Siegfried / Siegfried (Harald Reinl, 1967) with Siegfried Wischnewski as Hagen and Skip Martin as Alberich.

Caption: "Sturm umtost die Burg von Worms. Alberich, dem König von Xanten ergeben, und Hagen, der treue Ritter König Günthers, ahnen das kommende Unheil. Daraufhin schwört Hagen von Tronje mit erhobenem Schwert, jeden zu töten, der die Ehre seines Königs verlezt."
(Storm rages around the castle of Worms. Alberich, loyal to the king of Xanten, and Hagen, the faithful knight of king Gunther, suspect the coming disaster. Then Hagen swears with upraised sword to kill anyone who violates the honour of his king.)

Die Nibelungen (1966)
German postcard, no. 13. Photo: CCC / Constantin Film. Publicity still for Die Nibelungen, Teil 1 - Siegfried / Siegfried (Harald Reinl, 1967) with Maria Marlow as Kriemhild and Karin Dor as Brunhild.

Caption: "Beim Kirchgang begegnen sich die Königinnen Kriemhild und Brunhild. Von Eifersucht geplagt, wirft Kriemhild der Königin von Burgund vor, dass nicht ihr Bruder Gunther, sondern Siegfried Brunhild besiegt hätte. Als Beweis zeigt sie Brunhild deren Zaubergürtel. Die Königinnen trennen sich in Zorn und Hass."
(When going to the church, the queens Kriemhild and Brunhild encounter. From jealousy plagued Kriemhild tells the Queen of Burgundy that not her brother Gunther but Siegfried has defeated Brunhild. As proof, she points Brunhild the magic belt. The queens separate in anger and hatred.)

The most expensive post-war film in West Germany


Die Nibelungen was produced by Artur Brauner's CCC Filmkunst in cooperation with Belgrad-based Avala Film. Both parts were shot back-to-back between 20 April and 20 October 1966. Locations included what was then Yugoslavia (today's Serbia: Sremska Rača, Smederevo fortress and Slovenia: Postojna Cave) as well as Iceland, and Spain (Ciudad Encantada and Cuenca).

Interiors were shot at CCC-Studios in Berlin-Spandau and at the Avala-Studios in Belgrad. To save on costs, the large-scale sets (the court at Worms and Etzel's Hall) were constructed in the Belgrad studios. However, this was the limit of the cooperation with Avala and the total cost of Die Nibelungen reportedly came to 8 million DM, which would have made it the most expensive post-war film in West Germany at the time.

According to a survey conducted by the Allensbach Institute prior to shooting, 35% of participants wanted to see a film about the hero Siegfried, but he had to be blonde and played by an unknown actor. Uwe Beyer, an olympic hammer thrower (Bronze medalist in 1964) was selected to play Siegfried. He had no prior acting experience and was dubbed by Thomas Danneberg in postproduction.

Siegfried, the first part of Die Nibelungen premiered on 13 December 1966 at Mathäser-Filmpalast in Munich. Kriemhilds Rache followed on 16 February 1967. Both were released by Constantin Film.

The films were very successful commercially. Siegfried was awarded the 'Goldene Leinwand' (Golden Screen) in 1967 for more than 3 million tickets sold within 18 months in West Germany. Critics were unimpressed, however.

In 1976, the film was re-released as a single film of 110 minutes length, also titled Die Nibelungen. It was released again in 1982 under the title Das Schwert der Nibelungen.

Die Nibelungen (1966)
German postcard, no. 14. Photo: CCC / Constantin Film. Publicity still for Die Nibelungen, Teil 1 - Siegfried / Siegfried (Harald Reinl, 1967) with Maria Marlow as Kriemhild and Siegfried Wischnewski as Hagen.

Caption: "Nun hält Hagen von Tronje seine Stunde für gekommen. Er hasst Siegfried weil der Unruhe und Streit an den Hof von Burgund gebracht hat. Hagen redet Kriemhild ein, er wollte Siegfried vor jeder Gefahr beschützen. Sie müsse Ihm dazu genau die Stelle an Siegfrieds Körper bezeichnen wo Ihm beim Batt in Drachenblut ein Lindenblatt verwundbar bleiben liess. Kriemhild vertraut Hagen und bereut dies später bitter."
(Now Hagen von Tronje considers his hour has come. He hates Siegfried because of the unrest and dispute he has brought to the court of Burgundy. Hagen persuades Kriemhild that he wants to protect Siegfried from any danger. She must designate to him the exact spot on Siegfried's body where a lime leaf remained him vulnerable when he bathed in the dragon's blood. Kriemhild trusts Hagen and later regrets this bitterly.)

Die Nibelungen (1966)
German postcard, no. 15. Photo: CCC / Constantin Film. Publicity still for Die Nibelungen, Teil 1 - Siegfried / Siegfried (Harald Reinl, 1967) with Uwe Beyer as Siegfried and Siegfried Wischnewski as Hagen.

Caption: "Hagen überredet König Gunther, zu Siegfrieds Abschied einen Jagdausflug zu veranstalten. Unter dem Vorwand, Siegfried eine nahe gelegene Quelle zu zeigen, lockt Hagen mit des Königs wissen diesen von der Jagdgesellschaft weg. Als sich Siegfried, Erfrischung suchend, über die Quelle neigt, trifft ihn Hagens wohlgezielter Speer an der verwundbaren Stelle. Vergebens bäumt sich Siegfried noch einmal auf."
(Hagen persuades King Gunther to organize a hunting trip as Siegfried's farewell. Under the pretext of showing Siegfried a nearby source, Hagen lures with the king know, him off the hunt. When Siegfried, searching for refreshment, leans over the source Hagen's well-aimed spear hits him on the vulnerable spot. In vain Siegfried rears up again.)


Trailer Die Nibelungen, Teil 1 - Siegfried / Siegfried (Harald Reinl, 1966). Source: R6dw6C (YouTube).


Trailer Die Nibelungen, Teil 2 - Kriemhilds Rache / Kriemhild's Revenge (Harald Reinl, 1966). Source: R6dw6C (YouTube).

Sources: Wikipedia and IMDb.

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