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June 2011

Max Schmeling: Fist Of The Reich

cast: Henry Maske, Susanne Wuest, Heino Ferch, Vladimir Weigl, and Arved Birnbaum

director: Uwe Boll

118 minutes (15) 2009
widescreen ratio 1.78:1
Metrodome DVD Region 2

RATING: 8/10
review by Tony Hill

Max Schmeling: Fist Of The Reich

Disregard, entirely, the ridiculous war-based cover for this DVD. It is not a war story but is a powerful telling of the life of German boxing legend, Max Schmeling. Also, don't worry if you are not a boxing fan because, although about boxing, it is more about the 'man' Schmeling, set against the rise of the Nazi party in the 1930s and the impact of the subsequent world war. It is a gripping, emotional story which will hold your attention from start to finish. This is even more noteworthy as sport-based movies (particularly boxing) are often ridiculous with their portrayal of the sporting scenes. Here they are much more realistic and dramatic - even if you know about Max Schmeling's career and his famous bouts.

Again, equally noteworthy is the fact that Henry Maske (playing Max Schmeling) had never acted before. He himself was a successful professional German world champion (following his Olympic gold medal in 1988, representing East Germany). He was chosen for the role by director Uwe Boll because, as well as being a boxer, he has an uncanny physical resemblance to the real-life Schmeling.

The story is told in a simple and direct way - but loses nothing from this approach - and follows Schmeling and his loyal team of manager Joe Jacobs (Vladimir Weigl), and trainer Max Machon (Heino Ferch), as they go about building his career based on fights in the USA including with the 'invincible' world champion, Joe Louis. Boxing fans know all about these bouts but, for others, I will say no more...

Back in Germany, Max falls for Czech-born film actress Anny Ondra and their love story is an integral part of the movie. No lover of boxing, however, she is soon besotted with Max and marriage comes quickly. All the time that Max's career is on the rise, so are the Nazis - ominously for Jewish manager Jacobs. As the 1930s progress, and Max's successes and popularity increase, so the Nazis, particularly in the person of Hans von Tschammer und Osten (Arved Birnbaum) - the Nazi Reichsportsführer - try to get Max to be an official representative and spokesman of the party. The gentle, and gentlemanly, Max holds out with unpleasant consequences to follow.

By now, the persecution of the Jews is reaching its climax, and Jacobs decides to stay in the USA. But war is inevitable and our villain, the Reichsportsführer, has his revenge, as you will see. The war takes away five years of prime boxing time for Max and we see him, with great dignity and sportsmanship, as he afterwards picks up the threads. As for all of us, age takes its toll and a wonderful career comes to an end.

Uwe Boll has done a fine job with this tricky (sport-based) film, not overloading us with too many boxing scenes and giving great attention to the love story of Max and Anna. Boxing and non-boxing fans will enjoy it. The closing captions provide a neat postscript to the film giving us little pen-pictures of the lives of Max, Anny, Max Machon and Joe Jacobs, after the movie ends. It is interesting to see that Max Schmeling went on to be a successful wealthy businessman and died in 2005 at the grand old age of 99.

The DVD extras give some very interesting interviews with the director and cast, revealing their thoughts on the film and particularly on the choice and performance of Henry Maske as Max. For those interested, Maske has a website, albeit in German - but Google will translate it for you (after a fashion) - at www.henrymaske.de



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