German Music in the Movies – Pt 2

Continuing the theme of tv & movie music sound-tracks, possibly the most repeated requests Tomahawk regularly receives relate to the identity of German marching songs whenever the satellite channels show their regular re-runs of Jeremy Isaac’s 1973 ground-breaking 26-part series The World at War. Featuring the most stunning film footage, the series is actually made by the spine-tingling Shakespearean tones of Sir Laurence Olivier.. (oh, to be able to deliver such mellifluous voice-overs as that.. I’d certainly die a happy man if I could come even close when I’m narrating WW-II documentaries!!).

But correctly identifying Third Reich Military Music/Nazi-era music tracks from a mere ‘description’ is not always easy, especially as Tomahawk Films was not actually in existence when that hallowed series was in production and so we did not contribute to that never-to-be-bettered, series. However in the late 1980s, when Tomahawk Films was happily up & running, we did market vast numbers of the World at War series during our early distributor days, though sadly we have never been able to access the Music Cue Sheets.

Nevertheless when pressed we still try to get our hands on the volume in question and offer an opinion to a customer desperate for an track I.D; and fortunately, we usually have a good bash at getting it right, (very often after a customer has hummed or whistled the tune down the ‘phone at us to give us a head-start in matching up his rendition to a track or commercial CD in our archive..and that happens on a good deal more occasions that you could probably imagine!!)

Probably the second most requested track customers call in to our Production Office about is the Panzer Song as featured in the 1965 Warner Brothers Hollywood epic movie Battle of the Bulge...

Directed by Ken Annakin and starring the movie world’s leading men of the day, such as Henry Fonda & Telly Savalas, (amongst a stellar cast of the great & the good), the leading German character of SS Colonel Hessler is/was played by the great Robert Shaw, (and believed, by some, to have been modelled on the true life of Waffen-SS Standartenfuehrer Joachim Peiper).

In the build-up to the film’s climax comes a memorable war-film scene so beloved of German military music fans when Hessler, (Shaw), is introduced to his new, young & very clean-cut tank commanders and, keen to demonstrate their bristling zeal & loyalty to their tank arm, they burst into a very moving acappella rendition of the Panzer Lied   for him, (i.e. unaccompanied in the manner of a Church or Welsh Choir), in something of a show-stopping performance!

But of course, (like the previously-discussed modern ‘Battle Of Britain March’), what you hear on screen is purely a movie confection, though very adroitly sung by the actors in the cast; however the actual Panzer Lied as sung in that marvellous scene is a true replication of the original and famous German Tanker’s song… and those singing it with much gusto on celluloid do an absolutely fantastic job, it has to be said!

However, Tomahawk Films does have a most superb acappella version of the Panzer Lied as sung by the original Waffen-SS Veteran Choir of Minden; composed of 50 former soldiers from the most famous SS Regiments, such as the SS-Leibstandarte ‘Adolf Hitler’, Wiking, Das Reich & Der Fuehrer, (and all now local members of the SS Alte Kameraden organisation), they all got together in a meeting room above a bier-keller in the German town of Minden to sing & record a selection of their most favoured marching songs from the war years, the evocative Panzer Lied being one of them….

The choir members had, previous to the recording, spent a long time gathering up together the sheet-music & lyrics to some of their favourite soldier songs, back from the days when they were very much in the vanguard as Hitler’s elite fighting men and, through our links with senior members of the Waffen-SS Veteran’s Organisation, we were very fortunate to be able to acquire the exclusive world rights to this fabulous recording which indeed includes that fabulous rendtion of the Panzer Lied.

We also acquired a second exclusive recording from the Minden SS-Soldatenchor in which a former Waffen-SS Stabshornist, (Company Bugler), Arthur Schulte, additonally performed, alongside more evocative accapella songs, a unique selection of 11 original Waffen-SS bugle calls, and Tomahawk re-mastered & released both of these superb, rare recordings on commercial CDs as Die Waffen-SS Alte Kameraden Singen and Soldatenlieder und Hornsignale der Waffen-SS.

The selection of their chosen soldier songs on both of our two CD releases is beautifully delivered, as you would expect, in their strong Bass & Tenor voices and, as with all of these emotive songs as sung by these SS Veterans, it certainly raises the hairs on the back of your neck when you listen in. Sadly however we have not yet been able to nail down a pre-1945 copy of the Panzer Lied as sung by war-time a Musikkorps und Chor, so this stunning post-war Veterans’ example will have to fill the gap for now…however we may stumble across that war-time version at some point along the way.

Meanwhile ‘Cross of Iron’ and ‘The Mackenzie Break’ are two other television-shown movies that we also regularly receive questions about because of their musical content…both excellent films in their own right and again we always know when they have just been given an airing on television as the ‘phone starts ringing soon afterwards regarding a particular Soldier Song from each film that the enthusiastic audience always wants us to identify for them…

Firstly, the 1977 Sam Peckinpah-directed Cross of Iron’ starring James Coburn as the hard-bitten Wehrmacht NCO Steiner and his bete noire Maximillian Schnell as the Infantry Officer Stransky who applies for transfer to the white-heat of combat on the Russian Front from a soft billet in France in an effort to finally win the infamous combat award of the movie’s title.

Filmed in Yugoslavia, in an effort to replicate the Kuban Bridgehead of 1943, the combat scenes have been described as some of the best ever shot, however one of the other memorable scenes is not a combat one, but a reflective moment involving a superb rendition of “Im Feldquartier”  which, if memory serves…and it is a long while since I have personally seen the movie… may have been sung by James Coburn’s grizzled character sitting by a camp fire.. (though Coburn was certainly not known for his singing skills so almost certainly an over-dub), nevertheless it is a most contemplative scene made all the more so because of the haunting melody of this very moving Soldier Song..!

However, whomsoever actually sang it in the movie, Tomahawk Films has a wonderful pre-1945 version of it as performed beautifully by the bass voice of Wilhelm Strienz… and in answer to those many such questions, this can be found, (along with his famous signature tune: ‘Gute Nacht Mutter’), on our CD: The Songs of Wilhelm Strienz 1935-1945

The other major ‘movie music question’ surrounds the equally watchable 1970 British-made & Lamont Johnson-directed The McKenzie Break’  which is another in that gripping line of classic PoW Films about captured German submariners & airmen imprisoned here in the UK.

Starring Helmut Griem, Brian Keith & Ian Hendry, a sinister German U-Boot Commander (played by Griem) sets about challenging the authority of the British Camp Commander, (as played by the legendary Hendry), as he plans a mass breakout of his men from the Prisoner of War camp..

Based on a true story surrounding a war-time escape attempt from a German PoW camp in Cumbria, the location of this fictional camp is set in Scotland and during an intense tale involving the murder of a German prisoner, a game of ‘cat & mouse’ is played out between the opposing sides…and in one of the earlier scenes the German ‘actor-prisoners’ perform a superb acappella version of ‘Erika’

One of the most popular of all German period marching songs, Tomahawk Films posses a number of superb and differing versions of ‘Erika’, both in our Archive and on CD… one of the best being a full Musikkorps und Chor version on our CD release: Musik in der Luftwaffe…

As a German marching song, ‘Erika’ is hard to beat and it also holds up very well when performed and sung with a lighter tempo & delivery by a Third Reich civilian orchestra, such as the The Heyn Quartett as featured on our most evocative 2-CD set entitled Wunschkonzert fuer die Wehrmacht..

Copyright @ Brian Matthews 2012