"My Four Years in Germany" (1918)

Cast: Halbert Brown, Willard Dashiell, Louis Dean, Earl Scheneck, George Riddell, Fred Stone, Karl Dane, Fred Hern, Percy Standing, William Bittner, Arthur Dubel, Ann Dearing, A. B. Conlwright, and William Nigh.

A World War I propaganda drama in documentary form. Based upon the recollections of the American ambassador to Germany, James W. Gerard who was witness to the events that preceded the American entry into World War I.

Released April 29, 1918, directed by William Nigh, produced by My Four Years In Germany, Inc., and distributed by First National Exhibitors' Circuit. Based upon the very popular book, My Four Years In Germany, by James W. Gerard (New York, 1917).
The film reportedly cost $50,000 to produce and it earned $430,000.

Favorable Reviews

After demonstrating their cruelty through a number of incidents, including one in which a German officer kills a lame shoemaker in Zabern, Germany, the German troops invade Belgium. As World War I progresses, the United States ambassador to Germany witnesses many instances of German intrigue and cruelty.

Since the film was released during the war, the reviews were very favorable, as expected.

Variety, March 15, 1918. "My Four Years In Germany" purports to depict the events in Berlin continuing up to the time the United States declared war upon Germany, principally the events in which the American ambassador participated such as his interviews with the Kaiser and other German officials, showing how they systematically "doubled crossed " the United States and other nations with whom they were supposed to be on terms of amity. "

The New York Times, March 11, 1918. "Gerard Sees His Film, Makes a Speech At Presentation Of 'My Four Years In Germany'"
"Another movie expose of the Kaiser and the workings of German politics reached Broadway last night at the Knickerbocker Theater, where a film version of ex-Ambassador James W. Gerard's book, My Four Years In Germany, was shown for the first time. Mr. Gerard, who figures conspicuously in the story, was among those present, and an audience which packed the house found much to applaud, considerable to hiss, and not a little to cheer. The most interesting part of the film is the treatment of the prisoners at Wittenberg."

Motion Picture News, March 23, 1918. " While there is no personal story interwoven with the facts, these in themselves are fully dramatic enough to make the ten reels pass tirelessly. There is no stone left unturned to arouse the audience to a sense that the German manner of conducting war is synonymous with barbarism. One witnesses the heart rendering sight of helpless prisoners shot down before German firing squads because, "there will be less mouths to feed," of English and Russian soldiers placed in the same pens together so that the former contact diseases common among the latter and feeding of the prisoners as dogs. All of which Mr. Gerard was an eye witness, and more, is utilized to spread the propaganda. "

Photoplay, June 1918. "The entire production stands apart from the eagle screaming variety of war films, which are only too common in these martial times. "

Inevitable Controversy

"My Four Years In Germany" was the first major film of the Warner Brothers, which included many scenes of brutalities in German prison camp where they placed English prisoners at Wittenburg that was crowded with Russian soldiers who were sick with typhus. Many of the scenes supposedly were from captured enemy newsreels, but the most shocking scenes were faked in a small studio in Grantwood, New Jersey. Battle scenes were shot at Camp Upton, Long Island.

After Major Metellus Lucullus Cicero Funkhouser, Chicago's Second Deputy Superintendent of Police and head of the city's censor board, ordered scenes of the film cut that showed extreme cruelty by the Germans. George Creel, Chairman of The U.S. Government Committee on Public Information, requested that Funkhouser be asked to resign. His replacement ordered the restoring of the expurgated material.

In 1919 a sequel was produced, " Beware! " which had ex-Ambassador Gerard warning of Prussian deception and calling for safeguards to prevent Germany from ever rising again to a position of international

The New York Times, May 27, 1928. "GERARD CONDEMNS THE MOVIE 'DAWN' - The Picturized Story Of Edith Cavell Is Strongly Objected to by the Former Ambassador as Untrue and Provocative Hate "

The Director

William Nigh (1881-1955) was a Wisconsin-born actor-turned-director. He entered the movie business in 1911 and made his directorial debut in two-reel comedies for Mack Sennett. During a career spanning over thirty years, he directed numerous films ranging from comedies, melodramas and westerns. He was made his first feature film in 1915 and was highly regarded during the silent era. However, most of his sound films were of the low-budget category. He entered the sound era and specialized in mysteries, westerns, and action films. Just a few of his silent films are available. They include "Across To Singapore" and "Desert Nights."

copyright 2001 by John DeBartolo. All rights reserved.

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