It's based on the The Surprising Adventures of Baron Munchausen novel, which in turn was based on tall tales about the adventurous 18th-century nobleman Baron Munchausen (spelled "Münchhausen" in Germany, and therefore in this film as well). In the modern day, a descendant of the Baron has invited a young couple for dinner. The young man, who is very interested in the historical Münchhausen, asks the current Baron to tell about his famous ancestor. The latest Baron then tells stories of the grand and magical adventures of his ancestor, which included being a consort to Catherine the Great, riding a flying cannonball into a Turkish fortress, acquiring an invisibility ring, and flying a balloon to the Moon.
Münchhausen was conceived by Joseph Goebbels as a spectacular color extravaganza meant to rival Hollywood productions like The Wizard of Oz. It contains no overt propaganda message, and really not even a covert propaganda message, instead adopting a tone of light whimsical fantasy meant to distract Germans at a time when World War II was turning bad. It was made to celebrate the 25th anniversary of the Ufa film studio, and no expense was spared, including location shooting in Venice (Fascist Italy being in the German orbit).
Not to be confused with Munchausen (2013).
Provides examples of:
- As You Know:
- The movie shows that Sophie and von Hartenfeld are engaged by having him say "I had no idea my fiancee could dance so wonderfully."
- Casanova is introduced by having the artist painting his portrait say "Can't you sit still for a minute, Casanova?"
- Blackface: For no obvious reason, the Baron has his servant Johann wear blackface for the ball. He actually wipes some of the blackface off of Johann's face with his hand.
- The Casanova: The Casanova, in the person of Giacomo Casanova, an old acquaintance of Münchhausen who meets him again in Venice. Actually averted with the original Casanova, who is older and past his romancing days, but played straight in the case of Münchhausen himself. The Baron cuts a swath through the women of Europe, with conquests including Catherine the Great and Isabella the Italian princess.
- Contrived Coincidence: The authorities in Venice are after the Baron. How to get away? Good thing that the inventor of the hot air balloon happens to be in town demonstrating his device.
- Cool Gun: The Baron's servant Christian invents a gun that can hit targets 100 miles away.
- Creepy Changing Painting: Although it's not played as creepy, but as part of the light comic fantasy setting. In the opening scene, a portrait of the Baron winks at the camera. When the Baron admires Cagliostro's portrait of a nude woman as seen from behind, Cagliostro has the woman in the portrait turn to face them. And at the end, a portrait of the Baron comes alive and blows out a servant's candles.
- Dances and Balls: The film opens with the 1943 Baron hosting a fancy dress ball in 18th century dress. This inspires his guest von Hartenfeld to ask about his famous ancestor.
- Dark Humor: The eunuchs at the sultans court wear scissors as hat accessoires.
- Did Not Get the Girl: Münchhausen loses Isabella forever when her slimy brother has her locked up in a convent.
- Duel to the Death: The Russian court has a rather unique version of this: a "cuckoo" duel in which two people are locked in a pitch-black room and each duellist fires when his opponent calls out "cuckoo".
- The End: The smoke from a blown-out candle rearranges itself to form "ENDE".
- Everybody Calls Him "Barkeep": The supernaturally fast runner who works for Münchhausen is called only "the Runner" (Der Läufer). And the Turkish sultan has a servant called Clock, who is exactly that. Clock swings a pendulum from his hand and counts off time by the second.
- Evil-Detecting Dog: The cat at the inn arches its back and hisses when Cagliostro the schemer enters.
- Fanservice Extra: The babes of the sultan's harem. They lounge around partially clad or scantily clad, and some of them even go topless and splash around in the sultan's pool. (Yes, German cinema allowed nudity in this era.)
- Framing Device: The 1943 Baron telling von Hartenfeld and Sophie stories of the magical adventures of his ancestor, the 18th century Baron von Münchhausen.
- High-Class Glass: The 1943 Baron sports one while telling the story of his ancestor to Sophie and von Hartenfeld.
- Historical Domain Character: Among the Real Life people the Baron meets on his adventures are Tsarina Catherine the Great, her minister Grigory Potemkin (of "Potemkin village" fame), her lover Orlov, Emelyan Pugachov, traveling sorcerer Giuseppe Cagliostro, sultan Abdul Hamid, Giacomo Casanova and Jean-Pierre Blanchard, inventor of the hot air balloon. Louis XV, his lover Madame de Pomadour and queen Maria Theresa also get mentioned. And in fact Baron von Münchhausen himself was inspired by a real 18th century German nobleman who liked to tell tall tales. (The real Baron von Münchhausen was still alive when the folk tales were published and was very pissed off over having his name associated with fictional stories.)
- Invisibility Cloak: Cagliostro has a unique version of this: an invisibility ring that is a one-shot deal, giving the wearer ten minutes of invisibility before the wearer becomes visible again and the ring becomes an ordinary ring. Cagliostro uses his to escape from the Russian police. The Baron eventually uses his to rescue Isabella from the sultan's harem.
- Jumping Out of a Cake: One of the highlights of a state banquet given by Catherine the Great is a giant pie which, when cut open, reveals a dwarf playing on a miniature piano.
- Limited-Use Magical Device: The ring that Cagliostro gives Münchhausen. Ten minutes of invisibility, one time. That's it.
- Lunarians: Baron von Münchhausen and his sidekick fly a balloon to the Moon. They find a genial race of moon people that can exist as whole bodies or just disembodied heads, as well as a weird Year Outside, Hour Inside time warp.
- Mayfly–December Romance: The ending reveals that the Baron, who is immortal, has been with his wife for forty years as she's grown into old age.
- The Münchausen: Yep. Sexing Catherine the Great, fighting duels with Potemkin, riding a balloon into space, escaping from a Turkish sultan's palace—the Baron has had a busy life and likes to talk about it.
- My Grandson, Myself: The 1943 Baron claims to be a descendant of the famous 18th century Baron whose portrait hangs prominently in the mansion. They are, of course, one and the same guy.
- No Immortal Inertia: Sort of. After giving up his immortality, the Baron immediately ages, but only to an age that matches his wife.
- Really 700 Years Old: The ending reveals that the 1943 Baron is the famous Baron von Münchhausen, who has survived into the present day thanks to the gift of immortality bestowed on him by Cagliostro.
- Royal Harem: The Turkish sultan has one. Münchhausen liberates Isabella from the sultan's harem, but not before the sultan tries to welch on his bet and give Münchhausen another woman in her place.
- Super-Speed: Münchhausen's runner, who is called, uh, the Runner, can make a journey in 20 minutes that would take two days for a normal man on foot. He puts the Runner's skills to use when he wins his freedom by betting the Turkish sultan that the Runner can make it to Vienna and back in an hour.
- Taking the Veil: The "immured" variant of this trope, as Isabella is shut away in a convent in order to keep her away from the Baron forever.
- What Happened to the Mouse?: Given the movies episodic nature, many characters disappear and reappear seemingly randomly throughout the story. Especially Münchhausens various romantic interests fall victim to this.
- Who Wants to Live Forever?: The Baron is telling his story because he's realized that he doesn't want to go on living after his beloved wife passes away. So he relinquishes Cagliostro's gift and chooses to age and die.
- Year Outside, Hour Inside: A curious example. The Moon exists in some sort of time warp where time is sped up; an hour on the moon is equivalent to a year on Earth. Unfortunately, people on the Moon still age by Earth time, so after an hour on the Moon, you have physically aged a year. This is no problem for the Baron as he never ages due to Cagliostro's magic. However, his faithful servant Kuchenreutter has no magic charm, so over the span of a few hours Kuchenreutter grows old and dies of old age.