The Lost Honor of Katharine Blum (1975) from Johnny Web (Uncle Scoopy; Greg Wroblewski)

This heavy-handed political/sociological film was all but forgotten a couple of years ago, because the themes were no longer current. Such is the problem with political films.

Katharina Blum is a humble German worker who goes home from a party one might with a stranger. In the morning, the stranger is gone, but her house is filled with a heavily-armed SWAT team and a crack unit of homeland security forces who specialize in anti-Marxism and  anti-terrorism. This is kind of a bad break for Katharina, because she apparently chose to form a very intimate attraction to a suspected terrorist. The Marxist Bader Meinhof gang was terrorizing West German society in the 70's, and the right-wing law and order forces were cracking down hard on that gang and those considered sympathetic to them.

In the course of the interrogation, Katharina realizes that many innocent events in her past, matters which were her sole private business,  seem suspicious when viewed from a certain perspective. The police are bad enough, but Katharina also falls prey to a sensationalist tabloid journalist who builds up every aspect of her story as if she were Lenin himself, fanning the flames of mass hysteria, and plastering her picture all over the tabloids, supporting the photographs with outrageously exaggerated copy. Even if Katharina were to prove her complete innocence, people in the streets would always remember her as the Pinko Commie. In essence, the repressive behavior of the police and newspapers eventually succeed in making Katharina as radical as they thought she was to begin with. The points seem to be as follows:


Angela Winkler shows everything when she is getting dressed to go to the police station.

an unidentified actress, as Katharina Blum's mother, is shown stark naked upon a morgue slab

1) the government's repression of rights in pursuit of terrorists proved to be as chilling or more so than the acts committed by the terrorists themselves

2) the government's "need to know" about Katharina's sex life came into conflict with her code of honor about naming names, and her belief in a right to privacy. There was a feminist subtext in the film. Katharina's insistence on her privacy was viewed by the male interrogators as a challenge and an object of suspicion. Frankly, this point was labored. If she had told the full truth in the first place, the police probably would have left her alone, and she could have avoided the most unpleasant elements of the denouement. By insisting on keeping her secrets, by saying that they had no right to pry into her sex life, she assured that they would assume she was covering up something more important than mere sexual trysts.

3) Katharina was not really a radical until she was brutalized by the state and the conspiratorial right-wing press. Through their actions, they made her into the person that they had once falsely accused her of being.

The film was was based on a novel by Henrich Boell. Boell was an essayist who had accused the Bild-Zeitung tabloid of creating mass hysteria with its sensationalized coverage of the Bader-Meinhof gang. That tabloid then labeled Boell himself a pinko commie sympathizer for criticizing them in the execution of their patriotic duty. Because the paper convinced the public and the police that Boell was sympathetic to terrorists, he and his family were harassed. Boell got in the last word by writing Katharina Blum, into which he incorporated his own story, making the authorities and the newspaper reporters into the story's monsters.

DVD info from Amazon

  • New digital transfer supervised by the cinematographer.

  • New and improved subtitle translation

  • New video interview with directors Volker Schlondorff and Margarethe von Trotta

  • New video interview with cinematographer Jost Vacano

  • Excerpts from a 1977 documentary on author Heinrich Boll

  • Widescreen anamorphic format, 1.78:1

I mentioned at the beginning of these comments that the issues in this film seemed quaint in the year 2000. They seem fresh again in 2002. All of this squabble between Boell and the press was a lost tale of political demagoguery on both sides, with very little current relevance until September 11, 2001, at which time many people started to feel that the government of the United States was repeating the mistakes made by Germany in the 1970s, trying to deal with terrorists by creating a climate of constant fear in the citizenry, and by stripping some citizens of the basic rights which are considered quintessential to the very concept of America.

How far should a government go to protect its citizens in a free society? This question will undoubtedly be debated as long as governments and societies exist, and the attacks of September 11th have brought the issues back into sharp enough focus that The Lost Honor of Katharina Blum has been hauled out of the Vault of Obscurity for another look. Before that, it was just a fictionalized, one-sided, shrill, whiny account of one man's squabble with a tabloid newspaper, told entirely from his point of view, with no attempt at balance, and no attempt to create fully-realized portraits of the antagonists or to understand their point of view.

The Critics Vote

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The People Vote ...

The meaning of the IMDb score: 7.5 usually indicates a level of excellence equivalent to about three and a half stars from the critics. 6.0 usually indicates lukewarm watchability, comparable to approximately two and a half stars from the critics. The fives are generally not worthwhile unless they are really your kind of material, equivalent to about a two star rating from the critics. Films rated below five are generally awful even if you like that kind of film - this score is roughly equivalent to one and a half stars from the critics or even less, depending on just how far below five the rating is.

My own guideline: A means the movie is so good it will appeal to you even if you hate the genre. B means the movie is not good enough to win you over if you hate the genre, but is good enough to do so if you have an open mind about this type of film. C means it will only appeal to genre addicts, and has no crossover appeal. (C+ means it has no crossover appeal, but will be considered excellent by genre fans, while C- indicates that it we found it to be a poor movie although genre addicts find it watchable). D means you'll hate it even if you like the genre. E means that you'll hate it even if you love the genre. F means that the film is not only unappealing across-the-board, but technically inept as well.

Any film rated C- or better is recommended for fans of that type of film. Any film rated B- or better is recommended for just about anyone. We don't score films below C- that often, because we like movies and we think that most of them have at least a solid niche audience. Now that you know that, you should have serious reservations about any movie below C-.

Based on this description, this film is a C. It is a heavy-handed film with simplistic cartoon politics, more of a political diatribe than anything else. As with any soapbox oration, your reaction to it will depend largely on whether you agree with the politics. In this case, there isn't much else except the politics. The characters are cardboard, and you will probably find it impossible to get involved in the plot. You will probably think it is OK for the film to be tedious if you think the US is turning into a police state supported by sensationalistic and capitalistic media, and you desperately need reinforcement for your point of view. If you think all of that is exaggerated and blatant left-wing demagoguery, then you'll find that the tedious filmmaking on display is also matched by a philosophy you despise.

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