Movie Project #49: Metropolis [1927]

Due to the surprising success of my initial Movies Project, I decided to do a part two for 2012. This time around I put a greater emphasis on directors I am not familiar with, but I also tried to compile a mix of different genres and eras. This will be an ongoing project with the finish date being sometime this year.

Metropolis [1927]

Metropolis [1927]
Director: Fritz Lang
Writers: Thea von Harbou, Fritz Lang
Genre: Drama/Sci-Fi
Starring: Brigitte Helm, Alfred Abel and Gustav Fröhlich
Running Time: 153 minutes (restored version)

It’s hard to believe Metropolis is nearly 90 years old. One of the earliest science fiction films, Metropolis has been wildly influential over the years, and it feels well ahead of its time. Modern dystopian favorites such as Blade Runner and Dark City owe a great deal to Fritz Lang’s film, one of cinema’s most impressive achievements.

Set in the year 2026, Metropolis takes place in a hand-crafted dystopian city that has been divided into two sections. The lower, working class live underground, while the wealthy upper class are rewarded with luxurious skyscrapers and endless entertainment above. The two sides typically have no interaction with each other, but that all changes when a teacher (Brigitte Helm) from the subterranean city brings a group of children to the rich gardens above.

Metropolis [1927]

The woman, Maria, and the children are quickly escorted off the premises, but not before Freder (Gustav Fröhlich) takes notice. Freder, the son of the city’s dictator, Joh Fredersen (Alfred Abel), instantly becomes entranced by both the beauty of the woman and the fact that there is a city of slave-workers down below. He makes it his goal to find this woman and learn about a world he knows nothing about.

Freder quickly becomes empathetic toward the workers’ plight, and he attempts to become a sort of mediator between the two classes. This takes an ugly turn, however, when a mad scientist, Rotwang (Rudolf Klein-Rogge), is contacted by Joh to learn more about the rumblings of a possible mutiny by the workers. Rotwang has developed a man-machine in which he can mold into a clone of any living person. When he chooses to make a robot version of Maria, all hell breaks loose.

Metropolis [1927]

While the struggle between the different classes may feel familiar, what makes Metropolis really stand out are its impressive visuals. Eugene Schuefftan’s special effects are nothing short of remarkable, and the city itself looks absolutely stunning. Inspired by Fritz Lang’s first visit to New York, the skyscrapers are monstrous with an alluring futuristic design. All sorts of transportation are found in the city — long highways rise to great heights while airplanes buzz past — and the underground is a working hell.

There are many versions of Metropolis floating around, but thankfully an almost complete edition of Lang’s original vision resurfaced in 2010. This is the version I saw, and it can be found on Netflix Instant in its proper form. It’s easy to see why certain bits may have been cut, but overall this extended version is a wholly engrossing film that holds up very well today. A must see for any sci-fi fan or film aficionado.

9/10

Movie Project #3: M [1931]

Due to the overwhelming success of my initial Movies Project, I decided to do a second round for 2012. This time around I put a greater emphasis on directors I am not familiar with, but I also tried to compile a mix of different genres and eras. This will be an ongoing project with the finish date being sometime this year.

M [1931]

M [1931]
Director: Fritz Lang
Genre: Film Noir/Thriller
Starring: Peter Lorre, Ellen Widmann and Inge Landgut
Runtime: 117 minutes

I will never hear “In the Hall of the Mountain King” the same way again.

For my first Fritz Lang film, I opted to see M. For some reason, I was under the assumption that this was a silent film, so I was mildly surprised when I heard children speaking in the opening scene. It didn’t take long for me to get hooked into the movie.

Set in 1930s Berlin, M tells the story of a child murderer and those who are searching for him. The killer is Hans Beckert (Lorre), a portly man who lures children by buying them balloons and other small gifts. After several children disappear and are thought to be murdered, the police begin frantically searching for clues. Fingerprinting, handwriting analysis, underground raids, vast location searches — they are doing everything they can to put an end to the killings. This is bad news for the criminal underworld, as their frequent raids are putting a major hit on their business. In an effort to get the police off their backs, the big time crime bosses pool their resources and decide to eliminate the murderer on their own.

M [1931]

Much of the movie follows the efforts of both the police and the criminals as they pursue Beckert. In fact, despite being the central figure of the movie, Beckert doesn’t really get that much screen time. We see his shadow and we hear his whistling of “In the Hall of the Mountain King”, but we don’t see him that often, at least not in the first half of the movie.

When the killer is shown, however, Peter Lorre makes the most of his screen time. Beckert is played as creepy, a real disgusting shell of a man who claims to have no control over his actions. He really is a disturbing fellow, and Lorre portrays this perfectly.

M feels well ahead of its time. The subject matter is very heavy, and everything about the film just has a dark, grungy feel to it. This isn’t the type of film I would expect to come out in the 1930s, regardless of its location. A haunting film that is constantly engaging, I don’t think I could have asked for a better introduction to Fritz Lang. I can’t wait to see more of his work.

9/10