The Hindenburg (1975)

PG | 126 mins | Drama | 25 December 1975

Director:

Robert Wise

Producer:

Robert Wise

Cinematographer:

Robert Surtees

Editor:

Donn Cambern

Production Designer:

Edward Carfagno

Production Companies:

The Filmakers Group, Universal Pictures
Full page view
HISTORY

Before the opening credits, a 1937 Universal Pictures newsreel shows the history of Zeppelins, climaxing in footage of the construction of the LZ 129 Hindenburg. According to the newsreel, the airship was nearly three hundred yards long, fifteen stories high, constructed with ten miles worth of aluminum girders and sixteen separate cells holding over seven million cubic feet of hydrogen. It was capable of lifting over 240 tons of cargo and passengers.
       As the film states, thirteen passengers, twenty-two members of the crew and one naval lines man died in the disaster. A board of inquiry stated that the most probable causes for the disaster were structural failure, static electricity, “St. Elmo’s” fire and sabotage. The German investigation insisted it was sabotage; however, they decided to call it an act of God to avoid admitting there was any resistance movement against German Chancellor Adolph Hitler.
       Although the film shows the Hindenburg taking close to six minutes to explode and crash to the ground, the real disaster took thirty-four seconds as stated in the production notes in AMPAS library files. Actual footage of the disaster was intercut with action sequences shot for the film.
       Most characters in the film are fictional, however Capt. Max Pruss, Capt. Ernst Lehman, Dr. Eckener, Joe Spah and Edward Douglas are historical figures.
       A news item in the 16 Dec 1971 HR reported that rights to writer Michael MacDonald Mooney’s nonfiction book The Hindenburg had been acquired by Universal Pictures in a pre-publication deal.
       An 11 May 1972 DV announced that screenwriters William Link and Richard Levenson were signed to ... More Less

Before the opening credits, a 1937 Universal Pictures newsreel shows the history of Zeppelins, climaxing in footage of the construction of the LZ 129 Hindenburg. According to the newsreel, the airship was nearly three hundred yards long, fifteen stories high, constructed with ten miles worth of aluminum girders and sixteen separate cells holding over seven million cubic feet of hydrogen. It was capable of lifting over 240 tons of cargo and passengers.
       As the film states, thirteen passengers, twenty-two members of the crew and one naval lines man died in the disaster. A board of inquiry stated that the most probable causes for the disaster were structural failure, static electricity, “St. Elmo’s” fire and sabotage. The German investigation insisted it was sabotage; however, they decided to call it an act of God to avoid admitting there was any resistance movement against German Chancellor Adolph Hitler.
       Although the film shows the Hindenburg taking close to six minutes to explode and crash to the ground, the real disaster took thirty-four seconds as stated in the production notes in AMPAS library files. Actual footage of the disaster was intercut with action sequences shot for the film.
       Most characters in the film are fictional, however Capt. Max Pruss, Capt. Ernst Lehman, Dr. Eckener, Joe Spah and Edward Douglas are historical figures.
       A news item in the 16 Dec 1971 HR reported that rights to writer Michael MacDonald Mooney’s nonfiction book The Hindenburg had been acquired by Universal Pictures in a pre-publication deal.
       An 11 May 1972 DV announced that screenwriters William Link and Richard Levenson were signed to write the screenplay and David Victor was slated produce, however, Levenson and Link receive “story by” credit in the film, while Victor does not appear in the credits.
       The 27 Nov 1973 HR reported that Nelson Gidding had been hired to write the screenplay while Universal’s vice president, Jennings Lang, was the liaison between the Filmakers Group and Universal.
       Bernard Donnefeld and production designer Edward Carfagno researched records in Washington D.C., London, England, and throughout Germany for details on the Hindenburg ; however, Donnefeld is not credited on the screen.
       A 30 Jun 1975 Box article reported that a 25-foot model of the airship was made at the cost of $37,000. The full sized control gondola replica cost $65,000. The original plans for the Hindenburg were lost during World War II, forcing designers to work from photographs, newsreel footage, books and museum exhibits. Silverware, uniforms tables and chairs, were also meticulously duplicated for the film. Both the airship model and the control gondola were donated to the Smithsonian’s Air and Space Museum as part of its permanent collection.
       Eight tons of aluminum, 11,000 yards of muslin, 24,000 feet of sash cord and two million rivets were used to construct the nose cone, belly, fin and catwalk sets which were built on stage 12 in Universal City, CA. It took four months to complete construction.
       Principal photography began 12 Aug 1974 with locations in Munich, Germany; Milwaukee, WI; Washington D.C.; New York City and Los Angeles, CA. Two 1000-foot lighter than air hangers at the El Toro Marine Base in Irvine, CA, were used to fill in for the Lakehurst, NJ, Navy base.
       An article in 11 Oct 1974 DV reported that the Hindenburg facsimile collapsed while two California safety inspectors were inspecting it. The inspectors had been called in by International Alliance of Theatrical Stage Employee Sound Technicians Local 695, who claimed the facsimile’s construction violated state safety regulations. Inspectors Bob Sands and Wallace Zattero’s unannounced safety inspection was met by protests from director Robert Wise, who claimed the inspectors had no right to interfere with film’s production. Before starting the inspection, workers were asked to leave the set, which prevented anyone from being injured. Local 695 had also complained that the crew members were forced to work well above ground with no side rails and had to dangle equipment over a narrow platform to get overhead shots. The inspectors estimated that the fines for violations would cost the production several thousand dollars. Production was halted until violations were corrected and the damage repaired. DV reported on 3 Nov 1974 that a fire broke out on the gondola on 2 Nov 1974. There were no injuries.
       Although the 1976 Var annual issue had stated that The Hindenburg was one of Universal’s biggest grossing movies for 1975, with total domestic rentals reaching $1,644,000, R.A. Lee of Universal’s research department stated in a 9 Feb 1977 Var news brief the real figure was $14,644,000.
       Various contemporary sources estimated the film’s budget was between $7.5 million, and $15 million.
       As reported in a 1 Apr 1980 DV article, the New York Federal Appeals court ruled against author A. A. Hoehling’s copyright infringement lawsuit against Universal Studios and Michael MacDonald Mooney who wrote the book on which the film was based. According to an article in the 6 Nov 1981 DV , Hoehling contended that both Mooney’s book and the film adaptation had “contained chucks of information” and “plot threads” from his 1962 book Who Destroyed the Hindenburg. The court ruled that “In works devoted to historical subjects it is our view that a second author may make significant use of prior work so long as he does not bodily appropriate the expression of others.” As reported in the 7 Oct 1980 HR, , the U.S. Supreme Court refused to hear Hoehling’s appeal on the lower court’s ruling.
       The 6 Nov 1981 DV article reported that Universal Pictures then sued publishers Dodd, Mead & Company asking for $160,517 to reimburse legal fees incurred defending Hoehling’s lawsuit, as well as costs for suing the publisher. Universal contended in New York Federal District Court that the publishers reneged on a contractual clause to indemnify the studio for all legal costs generated by any claims of copyright infringement. Universal was joined by the insurance company Pacific Indemnity Company which wrote the policy that reimbursed Universal for its legal fees. The outcome of this suit could not be determined.
       The Hindenburg recieved two Academy Awards: Special Achievement Award (Sound Effects) and Special Achievement Award (Visual Effects). It was also nominated for Art Direction, Sound and Cinematography.
More Less

SOURCE CITATIONS
SOURCE
DATE
PAGE
Box Office
30 Jun 1975.
---
Daily Variety
11 May 1972.
---
Daily Variety
11 Oct 1974.
---
Daily Variety
3 Nov 1974.
---
Daily Variety
19 Dec 1975.
---
Daily Variety
1 Apr 1980.
---
Daily Variety
6 Nov 1981.
---
Hollywood Reporter
16 Dec 1971.
---
Hollywood Reporter
27 Nov 1973.
---
Hollywood Reporter
16 Aug 1974
p. 17.
Hollywood Reporter
13 Dec 1974
p. 12.
Hollywood Reporter
19 Dec 1975
p. 8, 17.
Hollywood Reporter
7 Oct 1980.
---
Los Angeles Times
21 Dec 1975
Calendar, p. 56.
New York Times
26 Dec 1975
p. 46.
Variety
24 Dec 1975
p. 14.
Variety
9 Feb 1977.
---
CAST
PRODUCTION CREDITS
NAME
PARENT COMPANY
PRODUCTION TEXT
A Robert Wise Production
NAME
CREDITED AS
CREDIT
DIRECTORS
Unit prod mgr
1st asst dir
2d asst dir
PRODUCER
WRITERS
Screen story
Screen story
PHOTOGRAPHY
Dir of photog
Spec photog
ART DIRECTORS
Prod des
Continuity illustrator
FILM EDITOR
Film ed
SET DECORATOR
Set dec
COSTUMES
Men`s ward
MUSIC
Mus score
Title voice
VISUAL EFFECTS
Spec visual eff
Spec mechanical eff
Spec mechanical eff
Spec mechanical eff
Spec mechanical eff
Matte photog
Titles & opt eff
MAKEUP
Makeup
Makeup
Makeup
Hair styles
PRODUCTION MISC
Tech adv
STAND INS
Stunt coord
SOURCES
LITERARY
Based on the book The Hindenburg by Michael M. Mooney (London, 1972).
SONGS
"There's a Lot to Be Said for the Fuehrer," music by David Shire, lyric by Edward Kleban.
DETAILS
Release Date:
25 December 1975
Premiere Information:
Los Angeles opening: 25 December 1975
New York opening: week of 26 December 1975
Production Date:
began 12 August 1974
Copyright Claimant:
Universal Pictures
Copyright Date:
25 December 1975
Copyright Number:
LP45935
Physical Properties:
Sound
Westrex Recording System
Color
Technicolor®
Widescreen/ratio
Panavision®
Duration(in mins):
126
MPAA Rating:
PG
Country:
United States
Language:
English
Passed by NBR:
No
SYNOPSIS

In 1937, German authorities receive a letter detailing a plot to blow up the zeppelin, Hindenburg, and the Nazi Minister of Propaganda, Joseph Goebbels, assigns Luftwaffe Col. Franz Ritter to be the zeppelin’s security officer. Ritter confers with Capt. Ernst Lehmann, senior pilot for the Zeppelin Company, and the Hindenburg designer, Dr. Hugo Eckener, but they decline Ritter’s offer to accompany him on the airship’s next flight, stating they are out of favor with the Nazis. However, Ritter informs them they have been ordered to go. The day before the flight, Ritter and his wife Eleanore Ritter attend the crew’s farewell party, and Eleanore begs to move to Switzerland. Although Ritter hates Nazis, he cannot be a deserter. The couple is interrupted by Karl Boerth, a drunken rigger, who stumbles into Ritter while his friends sing a Nazi propaganda song. In the morning, the embarking passengers are searched. They include: Reed Channing, an American Broadway producer and his pregnant wife, Bess; the Countess Ursula Von Scharnwitz; advertising tycoon Edward Douglas, and Albert Breslau with his wife Mildred, their teenage daughter, Valerie, and their two sons.When Ritter learns that Ursula, the widow of a former comrade, refuses to leave behind a steamer trunk that is too large to bring to board, he orders the customs men to tear the luggage apart and have the trunk sent by ... +


In 1937, German authorities receive a letter detailing a plot to blow up the zeppelin, Hindenburg, and the Nazi Minister of Propaganda, Joseph Goebbels, assigns Luftwaffe Col. Franz Ritter to be the zeppelin’s security officer. Ritter confers with Capt. Ernst Lehmann, senior pilot for the Zeppelin Company, and the Hindenburg designer, Dr. Hugo Eckener, but they decline Ritter’s offer to accompany him on the airship’s next flight, stating they are out of favor with the Nazis. However, Ritter informs them they have been ordered to go. The day before the flight, Ritter and his wife Eleanore Ritter attend the crew’s farewell party, and Eleanore begs to move to Switzerland. Although Ritter hates Nazis, he cannot be a deserter. The couple is interrupted by Karl Boerth, a drunken rigger, who stumbles into Ritter while his friends sing a Nazi propaganda song. In the morning, the embarking passengers are searched. They include: Reed Channing, an American Broadway producer and his pregnant wife, Bess; the Countess Ursula Von Scharnwitz; advertising tycoon Edward Douglas, and Albert Breslau with his wife Mildred, their teenage daughter, Valerie, and their two sons.When Ritter learns that Ursula, the widow of a former comrade, refuses to leave behind a steamer trunk that is too large to bring to board, he orders the customs men to tear the luggage apart and have the trunk sent by ship. On the tarmac, Joe Spah, a famous clown, hands his luggage to the Gestapo, treating them like bellhops. While boarding, Capt. Lehmann asks the zeppelin’s commander, Capt. Max Pruss, to cancel the flight, but Pruss claims the ship was searched twice and is safe. Ritter says goodbye to Eleanore, promising he will think about Switzerland, then boards to meets his roommate, Martin Vogel, the ship’s photographer. Meanwhile, a porter gives young Valerie a pen, claiming it is a gift from German relatives, but tells her to wait until the ship is airborne before giving it to her father, Albert Breslau. Later, as the ship traverses Holland, Valerie gives Albert the pen; he is shaken and retreats into the smoking lounge. There, a steward bets Douglas that the Zeppelin’s flight is so steady, he can balance a pen on its end. Douglas accepts the bet and grabs Albert’s pen. The man’s fervent protests make Ritter suspicious and upon examining the pen, discovers hidden diamonds. Albert confesses that his Jewish relatives requested he sell the diamonds to raise money, so they can escape Germany. Ritter instructs Albert to declare the diamonds when they get to New Jersey. Back in his cabin, Ritter and Vogel discuss possible terrorist suspects: while Joe Spah cancelled a show for Hitler to take this flight, the Countess had her estate confiscated by the Nazis to build a rocket research facility; and Douglas was a U.S. naval intelligence officer. When Ritter mentions that rigger Boerth’s girl friend, Freda Halle, works for a French bank, Vogel protests Boerth is a Hitler youth and above suspicion. Ritter confesses his knowledge that Vogel is an entrenched gestapo agent and advises the man to stay out of his way. The next day, Ritter finds Ursula illegally smoking in her cabin and he forcibly takes her lighter. Complaining that the Nazis have taken everything from her, Ursula tells Ritter about the rocket research, but he stops her, warning that he would be obligated to inform the gestapo if he thought she knew military secrets. They are interrupted when the lights go out and bolts of electricity crackle. In the dining room, Lehmann informs fellow passengers that the airship flew through a charged cloud and generated static electricity, but everything is safe. That night, as Reed gives a concert in the dining room, Vogel and Ritter search Douglas and Joe’s rooms to discover Joe has been sketching the framework of the zeppelin, and Douglas possesses a code cipher. Later, Boerth spots Ritter prowling. Stepping back, Boerth accidently snaps a cord which makes a small tear in the ship’s fabric. Ritter sees Boerth, but lets him go when Boerth claims he is inspecting the steering cables. The next day, the tear rips open, causing the airship to lose altitude. Boerth climbs onto the ship’s outer skin to patch the tear, but the ship drops down to one hundred feet and Pruss orders full power to regain altitude. Nearly blown overboard, Boerth climbs inside and completes the patch. Inside the airship, Ritter confronts Douglas about a coded message he received, and learns that Douglas is trying to return to New York City before his business competitor, who is on the RMS Queen Mary. Later, Lehmann informs Ritter that the source of the threatening letter was a psychic from Milwaukee, Wisconsin, who had a premonition. When Ritter confesses he is still uneasy, Lehmann exclaims that the Nazis are making everyone nervous. When Lehmann inquires if Ritter has children, he reveals that his son died recently. That night, Ritter informs Boerth that his girl friend, Freda Halle, was arrested by the gestapo, and accuses him of sabotage. After threatening to blow the ship up, Boerth declares he is a member of a resistance group that wants to destroy the Hindenburg as a symbol of Nazi power, but he plans to destroy the airship after it lands, with no one aboard. Boerth asks Ritter for his help, but before he can reply, a cable arrives, announcing Halle was shot while escaping the Nazis. The next day, Ritter meets Boerth, informs him Halle is dead, and explains that his son, a Hitler youth, died falling off a synagogues’ roof while painting Swatstikas. Ritter tells Boerth the zeppelin will be empty at 7:30 pm and Ritter will keep security away, so Boerth can plant the bomb and get away. However, Boerth declares he is staying aboard to broadcast a radio transmission explaining the explosion was not an accident. As they float over New York City, Boerth drops his knife while setting the bomb. Later, another rigger finds it and shows it to Vogel, who deduces that it is Boerth’s. As wind gusts delay the landing, Joe shows his drawings to Reed, explaining he has an idea for a trapeze act based in a zeppelin. At seven o’clock, Vogel intercepts Boerth on his way to change the time of denotation. As the zeppelin lands, Ritter searches for Boerth and finds him being tortured by Vogel. Ritter orders Vogel to stop, but the Nazi attacks, and Ritter knocks him unconscious. Boerth tells Ritter the bomb’s location, but it detonates as he tries to defuse it. The flames force passengers and crew to leap twenty feet to the ground below. Joe saves himself by scaling down a mooring rope. Albert Breslau pushes his wife out the window, but dies when a beam collapses. His daughter and sons jump to safety from the dining room. As the Hindenburg touches ground, Ursula and the bridge crew run out of the flames. Pruss sees Lehmann and asks what happened, but the man dies before he can answer. The survivors are taken to a field hospital.
+

Legend
Viewed by AFI
Partially Viewed
Offscreen Credit
Name Occurs Before Title
AFI Life Achievement Award

TOP SEARCHES

CASABLANCA

During World War II, Casablanca, Morocco is a waiting point for throngs of desperate refugees fleeing Nazi-occupied Europe. Exit visas, which are necessary to leave the country, are at ... >>

CITIZEN KANE

Seventy-year-old newspaper tycoon Charles Foster Kane dies in his palatial Florida home, Xanadu, after uttering the single word “Rosebud.” While watching a newsreel summarizing the years during which Kane ... >>

REAR WINDOW

Laid up with a broken leg during the height of summer, renowned New York magazine photographer L. B. “Jeff” Jeffries enters his last week of home confinement, bored and ... >>

RAGING BULL

In 1941, at a boxing match in Cleveland, Ohio, pandemonium breaks out when Jake La Motta, an up-and-coming young boxer, loses a decision to Jimmy Reeves, suffering his first ... >>

CITY LIGHTS

At an outdoor dedication ceremony, a tramp is discovered sleeping in the arms of a statue as it is being unveiled before a crowd. He is chased into ... >>

The American Film Institute is grateful to Sir Paul Getty KBE and the Sir Paul Getty KBE Estate for their dedication to the art of the moving image and their support for the AFI Catalog of Feature Films and without whose support AFI would not have been able to achieve this historical landmark in this epic scholarly endeavor.