EXCLUSIVE: George Gallo has come attached to direct The Nazi Titanic, a film that tells the crazy backstory of the German WWII propaganda film about the most famous shipping disaster, which itself turned out to be a cinematic disaster of epic proportions. The project is being cast now, and it has a script by Scott D. Rosenbaum and Josh Posner. The pic is being produced by Jeff G. Waxman, Tony Grazia and Rosenbaum.
While there are several memorable films about the 1912 disaster — James Cameron’s Titanic and Roy Ward Baker’s A Night to Remember among them — the banned and barely seen 1943 Nazi film has as wretched a behind-the-scenes backstory as just about any film ever made, even though Adolf Hitler and his Nazi propaganda minister Joseph Goebbels commissioned it to be their greatest cinematic triumph.
While director James Cameron’s 1997 film went 100% over budget and led then-Fox president Bill Mechanic to joke he would not go for a physical during shooting because he didn’t want to know how high his blood pressure was, Cameron’s film won 11 Oscars, including Best Picture and Best Director, and became the highest-grossing film of its time. The Nazi Titanic‘s director Herbert Selpin didn’t even make it to the end of his shoot; he was hanged in a jail cell by the Nazis for dissing the Third Reich in an on-set tirade.
Goebbels became infatuated with film as a propaganda medium. Among the swarms of films he made was the virulently anti-Semitic Suss the Jew, a drama about an innocent German girl raped by a Jewish man. That film became a huge hit in Germany, demonstrating how propaganda films could sway the population toward hatred. Emboldened, Goebbels saw as his propaganda masterpiece opportunity a Titanic movie designed to blame that tragedy on Great Britain and American greed and incompetence. There was even a fictitious German officer who tries in vain to save the day despite the incompetence of the British.
Goebbels hired Selpin, a temperamental, hard-drinking director who’d made previous propaganda films. Selpin was given unlimited resources, and just as Cameron’s Titanic would become the most expensive film of its time; Selpin presided over a budget said to be the equivalent of $180M-$200M in today’s dollars. A luxury liner the Nazis were building to be as large as Titanic, The Cap
Arcona, was conscripted for the film shoot, and soldiers were taken out of battle to serve as extras in the film. After the director returned from a meeting with Goebbels when Hitler’s henchman became worried about the runaway production, Selpin became upset to find that soldiers drafted for the film were hung over. The filmmaker let loose a rant about the Third Reich, the quality of its fighting force and just about everything else he could think of.
His temper tantrum would prove fatal: Goebbels had spies on the set, who reported back what the director said. When Selpin refused to retract his statements, he was thrown in a jail cell and died suspiciously, believed to have been hanged by Nazi soldiers. Another filmmaker finished the film. Shown in a few territories, Nazi Titanic then was pulled back and banned by Goebbels, who suddenly feared the film would demoralize the German population, who were realizing that — like Titanic passengers — they were helpless while the Third Reich was going down like a sinking ship. In the ultimate tragedy, the Nazis loaded The Cap Arcona with concentration camp prisoners, planning to sink the ship. British bombers spotted the ship from above and destroyed it, unwittingly drowning thousands of innocents.
The filmmakers say they hope to begin pre-production in the winter and start shooting next year. Gallo wrote Midnight Run and Bad Boys and directed 29th Street; Rosenbaum wrote and directed the blues docu Sidemen: Long Road to Glory, which Grazia produced; and Waxman’s credits include The Fighter, Out of the Furnace, Mother! and both John Wick sequels.
Gallo called the pic “without a doubt one of the strangest, most remarkable stories of the Second World War.”
He’s repped by Industry Entertainment.