Wolfgang Liebeneiner’s Die Entlassung (The Dismissal, 1942) is a direct sequel to the same director’s earlier biography, Bismarck (1940), which starred Paul Hartmann as a younger Otto von Bismarck, the architect of Germany’s Second Reich in 1871.
The year is now 1888. Kaiser Wilhelm I, for whose house of Hohenzollern Bismarck created the empire, dies; his son, Crown Prince Friedrich III, dies soon thereafter of laryngeal cancer and is succeeded by the old Kaiser’s grandson, the arrogant, inexperienced Wilhelm II. In 1890 the Kaiser’s will prevails, and Bismarck, portrayed to perfection by Emil Jannings, is forced to resign. The new Kaiser’s rejection of the old Iron Chancellor forms the core of the drama, the outcome of which ultimately led to the First World War, the abdication of Wilhelm II, and the rise of Adolf Hitler’s Third Reich.
Was Die Entlassung a propaganda picture? Of course it was, and it performed its morale-building task exquisitely. The film was based on Otto von Bismarck’s memoirs, Gedanken und Erinnerungen. Its historical accuracy is impeccable, as all of its dialogue was taken word for word from Bismarck’s own accounts.
Its direction by the always assured Wolfgang Liebeneiner, cinematography by the great Fritz Arno Wagner, musical score by Herbert Windt, and a superb supporting cast including Werner Hinz, Werner Krauss, Theodor Loos, and Carl Ludwig Diehl, make Die Entlassung one of the most ambitious film biographies produced during the Nazi era.
Die Entlassung is finally restored to nearly its original running time with the addition of nearly four minutes of footage cut from the 1954 reissue print, Schicksalswende, the only version available in Germany today.