Once touted as the new Marlene Dietrich, Hildegard Knef never achieved the international film stardom that once seemed hers for the taking. Having starred in The Murderers Are Among Us (1946), the first post-war German-language film, David O. Selznick signed her up to a seven-year contract. After two years go past without a role, Knef returns to Germany where she is caught up in a scandal for briefly appearing nude in The Sinner (1951). Yet despite the many substantial film roles that followed, Knef’s life in front of the camera is the least interesting aspect of this biopic.
Using the standard biopic device of the lead character reflecting on their life while preparing for a performance, Hilde flashes back from 1966 Berlin to the same city 23 years before. Unambiguously depicted as a woman who knows what she wants, Knef insists her family stay in the war-torn city so she can pursue her acting career. She becomes the lover of the head of the Nazi film studio, disguises herself as a man to fight the conquering armies, is captured by the Russians, then escapes back to post-war Berlin where she lives a hand-to-mouth existence before resuming her acting career. All this occurs before she makes it onto film.
This handsome production succeeds on several fronts. The period detail immediately establishes a time and place, the musical score compliments the onscreen action and the script illuminates a period in history from a unique viewpoint. Likewise, Heike Makatsch lights up the screen with her radiant performance, perfectly capturing Knef’s husky voice in both speech and song. For despite often stating throughout this biopic that she wants to be film actress, Knef would find her greatest success on the musical stage and in the recording studio. She wasn’t a bad author either!
Erich Pommer did not die on the eve of Knef’s performance at Berlin’s Philharmonie. That concert took place on March 28th 1966, whereas Pommer passed away just over a month later, on the 8th May.
Biopic features the setup for The Sinner's nude scene and a Hollywood screen test.