Schmeling: Fist of the Reich (2010)

Country: Germany
Director: Uwe Boll
Starring: Henry Maske, Susanne Wuest, Heino Ferch, Vladimir Weigl, Yoan Pablo Hernández
Music: Jessica de Rooij

Director Uwe Boll has a pretty poor reputation as a film director – especially amongst the gaming community, as several of his films have been disrespectful adaptations of popular games. But, I must say that Schmeling: Fist of the Reich isn’t half bad at all. It has its limitations, but generally the era is captured well, the performances are good – and most importantly, Max Schmeling is a fascinating topic for a biopic.

But in some ways, it should be no surprise that Uwe Boll should make a decent boxing film – after all, he is the man who challenged his critics to put up or shut up in an event dubbed ‘Raging Boll’! I’ll let Wikipedia explain:

Boll made headlines by challenging his critics to “put up or shut up”. In June 2006, his production company issued a press release stating that Boll would challenge his five harshest critics each to a 10-round boxing match. Invitations were also open to film directors Quentin Tarantino and Roger Avary. To qualify, critics had to have written two extremely negative reviews of Boll, in print or on the Web. In 2005, footage from the fights were to be included on the DVD of his upcoming film Postal .On June 20, 2006, Rich “Lowtax” Kyanka stated on Something Awful that he had been invited by Boll to be the first contestant, after Kyanka reviewed Alone in the Dark. The online gambling site GoldenPalace.com decided to sponsor this event, dubbing it “Raging Boll”. A lot was drawn up in late August 2006, featuring Kyanka, Rue Morgue magazine writer Chris Alexander, webmaster of Cinecutre Carlos Palencia Jimenez-Arguello, Ain’t it Cool News writer Jeff Sneider and Chance Minter, amateur boxer and website critic. Boll fought and won against all five participants. The first match took place on September 5, 2006 in Estepona, Spain against Carlos Palencia. The others battled on September 23, 2006 at the Plaza of Nations in Vancouver.

After Kyanka lost his match, he would go on to make several allegations against Boll, including the fact that Boll refused to fight against Chance Minter (an amateur boxer), because he was an experienced boxer. However, Boll fought Minter as his fourth opponent. He also claimed that Boll misled them by claiming it was a PR stunt when he actually intended to fight them and that Boll claimed that the participants would get training before the match (which no one did). Boll had seriously wounded Sneider, who had also believed Boll.

But of course, that’s all incidental. Let’s have a look at the film. As the story begins, boxer Max Schmeling (Henry Maske) is an embarrassment to the German army, and when his unit is wiped out in Crete, it is believed that he has been killed. But Schmeling survives. As punishment for his survival, despite an injured leg, he is forced to march and English prisoner back towards his own troops. It is assumed (or hoped) that Schmeling will be shot. But instead on the track, he enters into a dialogue with his prisoner. As they walk, Schmeling recounts his story – which also explains how he became an embarrassment that the army.

The film flashes back in 1930, and Schmeling has a title shot against American boxer Jack Sharkey. Schmeling wins controversially, when Sharkey is disqualified after a vicious low blow. However, Schmeling doesn’t deal like a champion, and although he is embraced by the German ruling elite, the common citizens don’t believe he is a real champion either.

In between title defences, Schmeling courts Czech actress Anny Ondra (Susanne Wuest). Anny is Jewish, and in the prevailing political climate in Germany at the time, her film projects are having trouble attracting funding.

In June 1932, Schmeling fights a rematch with Jack Sharkey at Madison Square Garden. Despite Schmeling’s dominance from start to finish, Sharkey is awarded the fight and the Championship belt on points. The German public are outraged.

Later, a story in a German newspaper highlights Schmeling and Anny’s relationship, which up until this point had been kept secret. Anny fears that the story will cause the end of their relationship instead Schmeling asks her to marry him. She does.

Meanwhile in the world of boxing, nobody of any worth is willing to fight Schmeling – with the exception, of course, of an up and comer named Joe Louis. Louis has a reputation as a wrecking machine, and everybody advises Schmeling not to take the fight. But Schmeling has watched a lot of footage of Louis in action and thinks he has spotted weaknesses in the ‘Brown Bomber’s’ technique.

Before the fight, Hermann Goering sends for Schmeling. He wants the fight stopped – as he thinks Schmeling will lose, and therefore would embarrass the German people. He also asks Schmeling to leave his wife, and to ditch his American trainer, who also happens to be Jewish. Schmeling refuses. But before Goering can enforce his demands, he is undermined by the Fuhrer himself, who wants to see Schmeling beat Joe Louis. When Schmeling, who goes into the fight as an unbackable underdog, defeats Louis, he becomes the toast of Germany.

Schmeling and Louis contest a rematch in 1935, but this time Louis knocks Schmeling down in little over two minutes into the first round. Now Schmeling is a national disgrace, and as punishment is called up to its service. The story picks up again at the start of the film, where it began in Crete and follows Schmeling’s life through the rest of the war and beyond.

Ultimately, Schmeling is a man who fought for himself. He wasn’t a Nazi or a politician. He was a boxer and a pretty good one at that. The fact that many boxing commentators consider the first Schmeling v Louis fight to be one of the greatest fights of the twentieth century, proves his boxing skills but it is a shame that the politic of the day should overshadow his contribution to the sport. This film does a lot to address that issue, painting Schmeling as a decent man at an indecent time. And one whose sporting achievements were hijacked for propaganda purposes.

I must confess that beyond some archival footage of Schmeling (and Louis), I do not know much about the man and cannot comment on the veracity of this film. But it seems like an earnest and sincere portrait of a man who became larger than the sports he was associated with. The film is insightful, entertaining, and the boxing scenes aren’t too bad either – without being showy. This is probably because lead actor, Henry Maske, isn’t an actor at all, but a boxer. But he does a good job in the acting stakes – and is convincing. Schmeling: Fist of the Reich, despite the lurid and inappropriate cover art (as shown above) is a solid boxing film – and if you have an interest in the sport, then I think you’ll enjoy this production.

Click here to visit the film’s official website.

In May:

May sees the launch of King of the Outback, the sixth book in the popular Fightcard series – and my literary debut (writing as Jack Tunney).

Set in Outback Australia, in Birdsville, one of the most remote towns on the planet, two rival boxing tents set up shop in competition with each other. In the sweltering heat, tensions simmer, tempers flare, and a tent burns.

For an up-to-date direct connection with the Fightcard series check out the home page, or for you youngsters, you can follow the Facebook Fan Page.

2 Comments Posted in Film and Cinema
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2 Comments

  1. Sounds interesting. Schmeling was a survivor in any sense of the world — leaving out the politics, he was a boxer who lived to be 99 years old. That title seems really off base if Boll wants to portray Max as a good guy. I like boxing movies so I might be willing to give old Uwe a chance here.

  2. Of course, when I say it ‘isn’t half bad’ and ‘solid boxing film’ – I don’t mean to suggest it is a masterpiece (I don’t think ‘Uwe Boll’ and ‘Masterpiece’ will ever been used in the same sentence – except for just there – but you know what I mean!).

    And I am not sure who is to blame for the English version’s cover art and sub-title ‘Fist of the Reich’. Looking at the official website, the subject matter seems to be treated considerably more reverently.

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