The Golden Sea
The influence of Gasnier’s The Perils of Pauline is very striking.
Professor Johnson of Harvard, kidnapped by “descendants of the Incas” while exploring in Peru, their fabulous wealth. The enchanting style is played directly to the camera at times. The Standard Club of San Francisco, a gallant yachtsman, the America-Japan Regatta.
Feuillade for the Spiders. Bigwigs, financiers, with ninja cadres, after the gold.
“The two expeditions prepare.” In Mexico, a Western by Griffith or Hart. “A mysterious diamond ship.”
Question of human sacrifice. The Priestess of the Sun.
Vivid memories are to be found in many a film, Robert Day’s Tarzan and the City of Gold is one, J. Lee Thompson’s Mackenna’s Gold another, the death of Naela in This Sporting Life (dir. Lindsay Anderson).
“Riotously exotic... a demonstration of the aesthetic power of popular culture” (Film4). Tom Milne (Time Out) speaks of “Lang’s superb architectural sense.”
This is all worked out from Madama Butterfly, a teddy bear earns the Daimyo ritual death from the Mikado at the behest of the Bonze, who places the suicide’s daughter (recipient of the gift) in the Sacred Garden broached by a foreign captain, who marries the girl for a time.
A beautiful masterpiece, a great Japanese film, every inch worthy of its source, and now extant in a lone Dutch print.
The Diamond Ship
“Our biggest secret.”
Before F. Richard Jones’ Bulldog Drummond, a love of trickery and gadgets in the villains.
“The lost stone.”
“A modern raid.”
“The secret of the many diamond thefts.”
The ivory key.
“In the subterranean Chinese city.” Gambling and opium at the Red Dragon.
The diamond of the Buddha head. The low dive of Vier um die Frau.
The Storm Bird, sailing for South America.
Yoghi All-hab-mah, seer.
The diamond that will free Asia. A London trader. A pirate captain of the sixteenth century, “the logbook of the Sea Witch.”
Ahead of Hitchcock’s The 39 Steps, “Four-Finger John”. The Falkland Islands. “The treasure cavern.” “The poisonous crater.”
A duplicate stone, to be carved in Amsterdam for “the Asia Committee”.
The Secret of the Sphinx and For Asia’s Imperial Crown, unfilmed (except as The Tiger of Eshnapur and The Indian Tomb). A certain Londoner has held Asia in thrall for half a century and more, in that sense a prophetic film.
Das Wandernde Bild
The Virgin of the Snows is seen to tread the earth by a hermit who has left his wife according to his worldly antipathy toward marriage, he returns to her, a woman plagued by jealous heirs to her husband’s fortune.
Thus much can be gleaned from the Cinemateca Brasileira’s incomplete print, said to be the only one in existence.
Vier um die Frau
Five characters in all.
Harry Yquem, a fabulously wealthy stockbroker who uses counterfeit money and a disguise to buy a stolen jewel for his wife.
Florence Yquem, née Forster, who married according to her father’s wishes.
Werner Krafft, whom she had loved.
William Krafft, his brother, a high-class jewel thief.
Charles Meunier, a blackmailer.
The complications are as ornate as any farce, but at the end Meunier is dead, Harry and William are under arrest, Florence is wounded yet still proclaiming her devotion to Harry, who loves her so.
Again (Das Wandernde Bild), the Cinemateca Brasileira has the only print.
Der Müde Tod
The greatness of this, the vernissage, occurs at the point of conception and is left intact to be found at the end, when the spectator in his seat in the theater is Fritz Lang. This is the creative distance that would be what Brecht has in mind, the stories read by gentlemen of the country “in the light they have invented,” and there are no witticisms that can improve on that.
Lang’s technical artifices are not ideal (ninety percent is the best he could achieve), but the aplomb of their usage carries dramatic weight effortlessly, so that if the effect must be employed, it justifies the frames of its existence. The Junge Mädchen takes a draft that transports her to the realm of Death. Lang quickly dissolves on her in the same position but not precisely, and the momentary inconstancy is what creates the transition, dramatically. Death (an avatar of the Mephistophelean one in The Seventh Seal) is God’s executioner, and would bless the lady if her love could overcome him. Human lives are tall thin candles snuffed out when the Lord wills it. Death’s hands somberly approach the candle flame and lift it (via jump cut) from the wick, it is a baby in his arms (the dissolve), and then it is gone (Lang cuts to the mother weeping over its corpse on Earth). The conception, realized in Lang’s technique, is that of lives watched over by Death and ultimately passing through his hands and beyond him. Keaton’s magic and the M-G-M wipe of invisibility are not cinematically superior.
All this is but a metaphor. Would she win her beloved back from Death, the Junge Mädchen must keep three short candle flames lighted, or one of them at least.
The scenic conception of this is faultlessly imaginative. At the back of a vast hall is a tall Gothic doorway through which stone steps can be seen rising to infinity in a graduation from dark to light. In a long shot of the doorway (there is naught else in the image), the Junge Mädchen climbs the stairs and thus rises to the point of the doorway arch. Death’s chamber of tall tapers is constructed of their slightly off-kilter or akimbo verticals in darkness, rather than dominated by their illumination.
She seeks to reclaim the Junge Mann from the walled domain of Death.
The three lights are those of a Frank in the Caliph’s court (he loves Zobeide), a Venetian swain whose Monna Fiametta is betrothed to Girolamo, and a magician’s assistant in China whose beloved is claimed by the Son of Heaven.
The 2000 “edition” by Film Preservation Associates is tinted but shortened and so choppy as to be unserviceable.
Dr. Mabuse der Spieler
“A good average popular thriller—dime novel stuff in a $100,000 setting—but sufficiently well camouflaged to get by with a class audience,” thus Variety of a version one-fourth the original length, presumably with reference to Feuillade.
Mabuse spins the stock market into a crash and rises from it wealthy, he hypnotizes fellow card-players into throwing away their hands, he projects his will onto a count to make him cheat, and takes the swooning countess to bed.
“What do you think of Expressionism, Herr Doktor?
“It’s a pastime, like everything else nowadays.”
Death to the mistress thought disloyal, death by snake venom.
Death to the count, by auto-suggestion. Death to State Attorney Von Wenk the same way, in front of a crowd of people at Philharmonic Hall, his men save him.
Dr. Mabuse, gambler, psychoanalyst, is also Sandor Weltmann the charlatan.
He goes into early Hitchcock, especially his wild shootout with the police and the army (The Man Who Knew Too Much).
He is trapped amid ghosts, quite mad, within his counterfeit printing house run by blind men.
Herzog rememorates him for Invincible.
The emperor and the nightingale.
Moloch, Babel, Die grosse Babylon...
Griffith’s Broken Blossoms, Worsley’s The Hunchback of Notre Dame...
Chaplin’s Modern Times, Godard’s Alphaville, Pal’s The Time Machine, Menzies’ Things to Come, Rosenberg’s The Drowning Pool...
The restoration by Kino, the Murnau-Stiftung, the Bundesarchiv-Berlin and an impressive list of cinematheques around the world, if projected at the wrong speed, renders the film absurd. It nevertheless has Gottfried Huppertz’s magnificent orchestral score, mocking the impossible result.
Certainly, Metropolis anticipates this revolting development. A prophetess named Maria awaits the Mediator who shall reconcile the worlds above and below, but she is replaced by a Machine-Man endowed with her face, tempting the critics.
The inventor Rotwang, whose right hand has forgot her cunning...
The film of all films most admired by Ken Russell, he would screen it at every opportunity, the structural basis on which his analysis of Women in Love is constructed.
Mordaunt Hall of the New York Times, “it is a technical marvel with feet of clay, a picture as soulless as the manufactured woman of its story.” Variety, “the weakness is the scenario by Thea von Harbou. It gives effective chances for scenes, but it actually gets nowhere.” Evelyn Gerstein (The Nation), “Hollywood lives for money and sex. It borrows or buys its art. It is the Germans who are the perpetual adventurers in the cinema. They gave the camera its stripling mobility, its restless imagination. They played with lights in the studio and achieved innumerable subtleties in the use of black and white as a medium. Even in their scientific miniatures they have worked with a virtuoso camera. And it was the Germans who injected fantasy into the cinema...”
A massive Russian spy ring uses the Haghi Bank as a front.
Blackmail, bribery, seduction and murder are its devices.
The Secret Service has Agent No. 326 to track it down.
Countless observations delineate the organization and the effort to halt it.
Hitchcock is a great admirer, the train wreck is in Secret Agent, the finale elsewhere.
“It is impossible to make head or tail of the story” (Mordaunt Hall, New York Times, on the English version, Spies).
Frau im Mond
The beautiful print issued by Transit Films and the Murnau-Stiftung has been transferred at an incorrect speed, helping even now to grant the wish of Variety that Woman in the Moon be shortened, howsoever.
The incalculable indifference of critics to such a masterpiece in Lang’s best style is out of commerce with the actual state of its influence, which is best illustrated by the extremely circuitous manner in which Altman’s Countdown is explained by way of Poe’s “The Gold-Bug”.
The version presented in the Nineties as a restoration has a certain amount of discrepancy in the running speeds, but only in two or three scenes.
The famous perfection of this film is a sure sign, as in Capra, of an underlying structure carefully prepared beforehand, allowing freedom on the set. Here, there are almost no perturbations of the flawless surface, but they mount to the letter “M” on the child-murderer’s coat, and give rise to a sense of the film’s workings.
The supreme laconicism of Lang is that, as in Beyond a Reasonable Doubt, the suspect is in fact a killer. His defense is the one offered by Shylock, in a rather pathetic way, but he is shown no mercy by the tribunal of criminals set up in a cellar, and none by the eventual judge before whom he is brought by the police.
This is what drains the mickey out of the tale, or the sense and sensibility, allowing these compositions of perfect immediacy, the comic playing area in which actors appear as ideal caricatures of policemen, government ministers, judges, and their counterparts in the criminal hierarchy, and even permits a direct parallel of the government, beleaguered by publicity, turning against the mob.
The ease of Lang’s images, as a consequence, is almost effortless. A ball coming to a stop, a toy balloon caught against electric wires and wafted away, the empty place at dinner, are enough to settle the murder and cause Renoir to pan his camera onto the empty table in La Grande Illusion, then Reed to establish his montage in The Third Man.
But this is where Lang is free of his rivalry with Hitchcock, at least technically. It remains to be observed that M has the same overall form as Metropolis, two worlds above and below with a single unifying figure, this one not a Mediator but beyond the pale.
Das Testament des Dr. Mabuse
Mabuse’s second avatar is Professor Baum, who runs an insane asylum and becomes possessed by the terrible mind of his patient, as expressed in the writings that give the film its title.
The “dominion of crime” is Mabuse’s sole aim.
Murnau’s Nosferatu and Browning’s Dracula go into Lang’s film, a masterwork of masterworks from which come various gags and features of The Man Who Knew Too Much, The Ipcress File, The Quiller Memorandum, The Drowning Pool, 2001: A Space Odyssey, A Clockwork Orange, Family Plot, etc.
“Oh! Ça, c’est extraordinaire!”
Life and death of a carnival barker. The heavenly commissariat.
“Entendu, Liliom? Sur la foire, quel silence. C’est parce qu’ils savent tous. Non, ils ne savent pas...”
A Matter of Life and Death, It’s a Wonderful Life, Death of a Salesman, etc.
H.T.S. of the New York Times noted “good use of the power of illusion”.
Truffaut, “all great films are ‘failed.’ They were called so at the time, and some are still so labeled: Zéro de Conduite, L’Atalante, Faust, True Heart Susie, Intolerance, La Chienne, Metropolis, Liliom, Sunrise, Queen Kelly, Beethoven, Abraham Lincoln, La Vénus aveugle, La Règle du jeu, Le Carrosse d’Or, I Confess, Stromboli—I cite them in no particular order and I’m sure I’m leaving out others that are just as good. Compare these with a lot of successful films and you will have before your eyes an example of the perennial argument about official art.”
You can take it as it comes (English critics have done this), or let the dead bury the dead, but Lang wants you to know his man is guilty, as later in Beyond a Reasonable Doubt.
Joe goes into partnership with his two brothers rather than marry Katherine, he’s broke, she leaves the state for a job elsewhere, it’s the Depression. A year later, he’s arrested for kidnapping a little girl, his gang is said to include two other men and a woman.
He escapes a lynching by sheer luck (or what would you call it, the dynamite kills his companionable bitch and opens the cell door), lies low and waits to see ‘em hang. Katherine finds out, but won’t marry “a dead man”. Now he pleads “don’t leave me alone” and stands before the judge.
This is what makes the lynch mob so culpable, innocent or guilty the poor slob has had no trial.
Hitchcock sets up the identical theme at the start of Psycho.
You Only Live Once
The striking effect achieved in the Death Row interview and noted by Truffaut is only the prelude to a much grander surprise planned for the execution soirée at which Father Dolan describes his understanding of rebirth. As he concludes his thought in the warden’s residence, sirens rise all at once around the prison like a Last Judgment, the condemned but innocent man is escaping with the help of his former cronies.
His conversion is amply illustrated, and Lang’s vision is really of the second death avoided.
The European view of Lang’s American films is just that, a crash in the Lang market can be avoided, as with any director, by a valuation based on real assets. The universal principle of evil seen in the two larcenous gas station attendants is simply a commonplace of American humor, like the executive padding his expense account.
You and Me
You get what you pay for and, incredibly, the girl who’s been there totes it up on a blackboard for the gang, what suckers they are (the boss is meanwhile liquidated).
That’s the truth of it, and with no shadow at all on their love the young couple get married in earnest, dowered with “Hour of Ecstasy”.
Variety was flummoxed, Halliwell never took his finger out, “curious comedy drama which never has a hope of coming off,” to coin a phrase.
The Return of Frank James
The point of the structure is finally to overthrow the apparatus of guilt laid on by the railroad, and specifically to exonerate Frank James by a jury of twelve good men and true.
Major Cobb authors a commendatory piece for the Liberty Weekly Gazette, his first, in the name of the people.
The charming lady reporter from the Denver Star returns home with compliments.
Critics took exception to this as not down and dirty enough, the triumph of democracy seemed a good idea to Lang, dramatically speaking.
In the same spirit, Tierney’s performance was thought to be weak.
The North includes the East and West, the South only the West. “No law west of Omaha”, Moseby’s guerillas attack the line.
The outlaw West and the renegade South both die, wounding the East, but the Western Union is preserved, by wish of President Lincoln in a telegram.
The joke is refined practically out of existence, it serves the turn but leaves commentators strictly hors de combat, despite Lang’s supervision of the exacting dialogue on a “sporting stalk” and suchlike amusements.
Much hell has been played with the film as a consequence by reviewers left spiteful, and again Lang provides relief in a comic number at the Risboroughs’, to dispel any hard feelings.
Pidgeon’s heroism, Bennett’s tenderness, Sanders’ accuracy, and Worlock’s finer feeling, go a long way down the track laid by Nichols & Household, there is nothing lacking in the rendition (notable on the contrary for its bravura), yet the power of analysis brought to bear by Lang upon his theme fairly trumps all.
An English huntsman loads his rifle after a dry shot at Hitler on the Berchtesgaden terrace and doesn’t squeeze the trigger, too civilized for killing anymore, “decadent” says his torturer.
He escapes magnificently and returns to England pursued by a double, he can’t be involved in a government incident, a confession is sought that he is an agent.
Panzers take Poland, he’s tracked down to a cave, yes he meant it, on behalf of Hitler’s victims, the confession is thrust in at him to sign.
There is a girl in it, not the treacherous violet-seller of Frau im Mond but a London demimondaine who finds an honest gentleman at last and not a parading butler.
He is too fastidious, too honorable, she dies, he quells the torturer with a silver arrow he’d given her for her hat.
Influential a thousand ways (the subway fight is in Sargent’s The Taking of Pelham One Two Three), marvelous beyond all description (Bennett bouncing cheerily on Lady Risborough’s cushioned sofa), refined beyond the critical establishment.
Hangmen Also Die!
A brutal, distinct mark is drawn between two states of being, the hunted and the hunters, corresponding to the two halves of the film.
A thin electric wire of fear dominates the first. Who killed Heydrich? A surgeon in Prague, he has nowhere to go.
Life in these circumstances proceeds from the account given by Sternberg in Shanghai Express, one lives by faith but one’s life hangs upon a glance, a look.
The second turns the tables, there is a collaborator, an underground infiltrator, a man of lofty position. He killed Heydrich, everyone will swear.
The Nazis are left with this.
Ministry of Fear
The gift of Fritz Lang is to bring the war home as no other.
And this with the pure German technique that brings Dan Duryea on in a derby at the charity fete like a Berlin nightmare figure.
The Ministry of Home Security has an advisor on Nazi psychology who is a Nazi spy.
The hero (Ray Milland) has just been released from an asylum for the criminally insane.
And so it goes, greatly vying with Hitchcock in a humorous way.
Londoners bed down on the underground train platforms during another night’s air raid, one (the hero) observes how hot it is, not long before D-Day.
The Woman in the Window
A purely surreal representation of an amorous dream by a Gotham College professor of psychology.
It all ends rather badly and rather well, and the lesson has been taught (murder in self-defense, murder for gain).
An artist becomes a great painter in New York through the intercession of a prostitute.
This is practically Moses und Aron, a work left unfinished because UCLA professor Schoenberg failed to get a Guggenheim Fellowship. Kubrick, on the other hand, found in it a way of filming Lolita, and a very good way.
Cloak and Dagger
The “lever of love”, scientists held captive by the Nazis through fear of reprisals against relatives or civilians.
The O.S.S. sends in a scientist to understand the dilemma. The genuine horror is manifest in the fight scene with Mussolini’s secret policeman, which is the source of the fight with Gromek in Hitchcock’s Torn Curtain, a famous bow to realism.
Elsewhere in Torn Curtain are indications of Hitchcock’s regard for Cloak and Dagger, as also in North by Northwest.
The ground is certainly prepared by Lang’s acknowledgment of The Man Who Knew Too Much and The 39 Steps, also Foreign Correspondent.
It has always stayed beyond the perception of critics (Variety, New York Times, Halliwell’s Film Guide, Time Out Film Guide).
Secret Beyond the Door...
Hitchcock doesn’t haggle, Lang however drives a hard bargain with great consequences for Huston’s Freud and Preminger’s The Man with the Golden Arm, etc.
The constant surrealism is on a scale with any of the avant-garde masterpieces gawked at by juvenile film buffs who in this instance anyway slid under the table, to read the reviews.
The heiress has a heartsick brother safeguarding her fortune, two suitors (trombone-player and psychoanalyst) are rejected as Mexican knife-fighters, the landed gentry has a scion down at heels who wins her heart, she locks the door of marriage on a duenna’s counsel, he bolts to sell his architectural magazine called APT, his hobby is “felicitous rooms” collected at the manse.
As noted, Bluebeard (Powell’s Herzog Blaubarts Burg, from Bartók). There is a son by a previous marriage, and a disfigured secretary who figures in Boorman’s The Tailor of Panama, and a sister.
The murder rooms are “apt”, the double room is a strange effect that completes them all, mother and loveless wife and secretary.
House by the River
Two houses with their riverfront gardens side by side. A man in his gazebo writing, a woman using a hoe around a scarecrow.
The tide makes things come and go on the river, like his returned manuscripts.
There are three characters, the Author, the Editor, and the Hypocrite Lecteur.
The Editor is three persons, the unseen correspondent, the downstairs maid in the upstairs bath (due to a plumbing problem), and the author’s wife.
A purely surrealistic formulation of the disappearing author (à la Nerval), it might have met with no favor among critics but is one of Lang’s most electrifying works.
American Guerrilla in the Philippines
Bosley Crowther led the critics in wishing, like Ensign Palmer, they were off to Australia, but that is not the case, and that is enough of a film for Lang to have made unflinchingly, or anyone.
PT men after the fall, so They Were Expendable and Back to Bataan, but mainly Hangmen Also Die!, exiguous survival is the theme, and then at length (Variety complained) the possibility of resistance.
Lang’s procedure is measured and considered in every degree, he is certain that every joke and rag has its meaning in the context, and he even cites My Darling Clementine (Doc Holliday’s operation).
Rimbaud’s tale of the Prince and the Genie is handsomely explicated in this marvelously cool and abstruse Western. The close relation is immediately to Hitchcock’s “Revenge” (Alfred Hitchcock Presents), and much later to Frenzy.
Altar Keane (Marlene Dietrich) is the “pipedream” made real before a young man’s eyes (Arthur Kennedy) that have seen his fiancée a corpse shot through at the assayer’s office, one bloody hand still clawed at her attacker’s face.
The only clue is “Chuck-a-Luck”, where Altar receives a sacrifice from desperadoes for her hospitality.
Fantastic compression and detail work enliven the cold, dispassionate view. The lady’s biography is seen in flashback, riding a cowpoke over a barroom obstacle course not shown but revealed by Lang, disputing a saloon-owner’s rules for shilling, her defense by Frenchy Fairmont (Mel Ferrer in powdered hair à la Ford), a polished gunslinger. Frenchy and Altar step out from the saloon to walk down the street, the geezer recounting this says they went to Mexico, she hikes her skirts to cross a puddle, they pass a cantina and reach her digs.
Milestone’s A Walk in the Sun has the precedence of ballad form (Fuller’s critique is perhaps absolved).
Clash By Night
The most natural and detailed settings are constantly established to let the unreality shear off in subtle and spectacular ways, mirrored in the Doyle house smartened up by May on her return.
The fishermen have a regular audience of gulls and seals clamoring for a scrap from the catch, so too the projectionist and the politician in lives divorced from reality feast on the scattered morsel.
The roots of Fascism, says Odets, a lost calling for some sort of “authority”.
Still more the evident symbolism of Uncle maintained until May’s arrival, and then the idle dementia of Pop before the wedding and his threefold blessing, “fish, wine, and love, for everybody.”
Lang precisely defines the subtlety of the horizon line mainly with his screenwriter, Alfred Hayes, in dialogue given to Earl and the two women.
The Blue Gardenia
A superb noir Blackmail, even to the phone booth, featuring Nat “King” Cole in a nightclub scene performing the Lester/Lee title song (arr. Nelson Riddle) at the piano.
The Big Heat
Duncan’s suicide and note, and Mrs. Duncan’s appropriation of the latter, look like a reflection of the main gag in Tay Garnett’s Cause for Alarm!
“Politicians” sit at Vince Stone’s card table (they include a city councilman and Police Commissioner Higgins).
The style at the outset is rather close to Perry Mason, as seen on TV.
Bannion questions Mrs. Duncan, and you see the beauty of a cop’s mind as it clicks over, sifting evidence and knowability, probability and certitude.
Half the time, Lang cuts in the camera, giving you the tour of every scene.
At home, Bannion’s in his castle. When the phone rings, he gives it a dirty look.
Lucy Chapman is tortured and killed. At the police station, Bannion is seen walking by a poster that reads, “GIVE BLOOD NOW”. The scene in Lieutenant Wilks’ office introduces a background complexity with consequences for Kubrick’s 2001: A Space Odyssey.
The real magic takes place back at the Bannion household. His little daughter wants him to help her “build a police station,” his wife wants him to shower and make cocktails. He knows the department is corrupt. Lang has spent considerable time laying a psychological foundation. Bannion places another toy brick on the “station” and it collapses.
The department watches over Mike Lagana, Vince Stone’s boss. Lang hired a well-known actress to sit for her portrait as Lagana’s mother—only the portrait appears in the film, not the actress.
Lagana’s home is a remarkable scene, with his daughter’s jitterbug party in the background. It’s his castle. “Too elegant, too respectable.”
“I’ve been thinking about Lt. Wilks,” says Mrs. Bannion. Her husband replies, “that leaning tower of jelly?” She continues, “you attack yourself from all sides like Jersey mosquitoes.” A track-and-pan expresses Bannion’s joy in his daughter, and Lang’s in his technique.
Mrs. Bannion goes for the babysitter and is blown up. Bannion sniffs out the Commissioner and is suspended. His badge is revoked, but his gun he “bought and paid for” himself.
He’s “had a bellyful of the department.” When a crony says, “no man’s an island,” Bannion tells him to get out.
Vince Stone, “some career, huh? Six days a week she shops. On the seventh, she rests.”
His moll jokes that her perfume “attracts mosquitoes and repels men.”
Lagana’s daughter, her coming-out, etc., unseen like any other such character in Gogol.
Mike Lagana, “prisons are bulging with dummies who wonder how they got there.”
Headlines threaten the election. Things are changing. A grand jury means deportation. Lagana doesn’t want to end up “in the same ditch with the Lucky Lucianos.”
Bannion attempts to question the “scared rabbits.” He takes Vince Stone’s moll to his own hotel room, from Vince’s club “The Retreat” on Club Row. She tells Bannion, “you’ll never get anywhere in this town by not liking Vince.” This is the central moment of the film, she makes overtures to Bannion, and he backs to the wall beside a light fixture (on).
She’s disfigured by Vince. The Commissioner has to quiet the doctor. “I’ll try,” he says, “I’ll try.”
Back in Bannion’s hotel room, the light fixture is off, but you see Bannion and the moll (her face bandaged) and between them in the background a lamp emitting two cones of light upward and downward.
Bannion, “our city is being strangled by a gang of thieves, and you protect Lagana and Stone for the sake of a soft, plush life.”
Mrs. Duncan is making a living by not revealing her conscience-stricken husband’s suicide note. With her dead, “the big heat falls for Lagana, for Stone, for all the rest of the lice.”
At this point, you notice the really complicated designs Lang has worked up, and the strenuous, forceful acting required of his players.
Only ex-GI’s are capable of withstanding Lagana’s forces, and only with the keenest foxhole awareness.
The moll kills Mrs. Duncan. In Vince’s apartment, during the confrontations and shootouts, you finally see what Lang is after. In Scarlet Street he invented the 1940’s. Here, he achieves the vertical geometry of the 1950’s, and looks ahead to the 1960’s (there are some details here precisely recalling the décor of Scarlet Street, for perspective).
Dying, the moll inquires after details of Mrs. Bannion’s character.
“LAGANA, HIGGINS INDICTED!” reads the newspaper headline. And once more for the audience, the poster, “GIVE BLOOD NOW”.
The absolute zero at the centerpoint is really as mild as Frost’s “word I had no one left but God.” There are other dimensions in Lang’s work, but it is absolute zero nonetheless.
The pure Lang distillate of madness and impossibility, to which Crowther of the New York Times said, “so what?”
Because it all comes to nothing, which is what Crowther observed. He should have stood in bed.
A marvelously clever woman (Gloria Grahame) leads her fink (Broderick Crawford) by his chain, their monkeyshines take in a Korean War veteran (Glenn Ford) who drives a train.
Lang’s train-rides through the opening credits and the film are immensely enjoyable. The engineer has seen enough killing to know a gratuitous venture, and bows out.
It’s all so very mysterious, for film critics, that they simply evaporate (Variety’s, for example).
Meanwhile Lang, with Amfitheatrof’s clever help, puts together a dissolving conundrum on the basis of Zola and Renoir, justly admirable, and with such a cast.
Lang’s magical epic looks at Hitchcock’s Jamaica Inn from a standpoint beyond Secret Beyond the Door to restore the fortunes of a ruined house in eighty-five minutes of CinemaScope and Technicolor, with a memorable theme by Miklos Rozsa on the crashing surf of Dorsetshire or Southern California, filmed behind the opening credits.
John Mohune goes to Moonfleet with a note for Jeremy Fox, captain of a band of smugglers. The lad is a descendent of Sir John Mohune, who “sold his honour for a diamond”, and whose knightly ghost is said to haunt the churchyard murderously. Lang has a picture of the scene, a low building with a light by the door amid the gloom of the clouded heath, beside gravestones and the statue of an angel with staring eyes romantically stylized like the other statue of Sir John with his sword dominating the interior of the church from the back, while the minister sermonizes against the credulous fear of Redbeard, as the ghost is called amongst the villagers.
Young John Mohune in the shadow of the angel stumbles into the underground crypt used by smugglers to bring brandy and silk from the sea, and breaks open Sir John’s coffin by innocent misadventure, discovering a silver locket that later proves to bear the secret of the hidden diamond, a cipher of misnumbered Bible verses written on parchment.
Fox needs the diamond for his partnership with Lord Ashwood, who wants to finance a mission of piracy against enemy ships (Lady Ashwood is Fox’s mistress). Despite the protection of Lord Ashwood, the army presses hard on Fox’s smuggling operation, and he has but the one chance to make good his losses. Nevertheless, he abandons the venture out of tender feeling, though Lord Ashwood stabs him in the back for it and receives a bullet himself. Wounded by Ashwood and sought by the army, Fox returns the diamond to its rightful inheritor and makes his way to the sea.
The cinematography recalls the burnished oaken color of Huston’s Moby Dick the year before. The ladies’ costumes in particular are fetching and scenic. Variety noted a passing resemblance to Treasure Island, but not to Great Expectations. Moonfleet has in turn had considerable influence, most recently on Polanski’s Oliver Twist. Rozsa’s contribution to scenes like the descent into the well is noteworthy. A fight between Fox and one of his men at The Halberd has Fox draw a rapier and the other take the inn’s namesake down from the great chimneypiece.
Halliwell’s Film Guide found this all rather boring, a view anticipated by Lang in the boy’s nap during the final action. Godard did not see this film in France until 1960, and placed it among the ten best films released that year (with Chabrol’s Les Bonnes femmes, Nicholas Ray’s The Savage Innocents, Donen’s Give a Girl a Break, Mizoguchi’s Sansho Dayu, Buñuel’s Nazarin, Dovzhenko’s Poem of the Sea, Hitchcock’s Psycho, Cocteau’s Le Testament d’Orphée and Truffaut’s Tirez sur le pianiste).
While the City Sleeps
The grand symphonic treatment of all Lang’s themes owes its title to the quotidian surrealism of a daily newspaper. No critic has recognized the Kyne symbol as that of Citizen Kane, the news story covered here is the one first proposed by Charles Foster Kane as he began his tenure at the Inquirer (“woman missing in Brooklyn”).
Still another working theme appears to come from Wise’s Executive Suite, Lang of all people knew a good film when he saw it. The three top executives assigned to crack the case are more or less manifestly unworthy, yet the managing editor of Kyne’s newspaper, the Sentinel, has the good sense to do his job and rely on his top crime reporter, who has a Pulitzer Prize and nowadays writes books (the other two run the Kyne News Service and Kyne Pix), furthermore he does a twice-nightly commentary for the Kyne TV arm.
Kyne Pix is conducting an affair with Kyne, Jr.’s wife (the playboy scion has just inherited, the three-way hunt is his “gimmick”), Kyne Wire is negotiating a lucrative Midwest television deal. The reporter’s fiancée lives across a corridor from the love nest.
The murderer is a “mama’s boy” characterized in one shot (spying from a bookstore entrance) and his costume as the young killer in The Big Sleep, and looking directly ahead to The Boston Strangler.
The subway fight in Man Hunt is resumed and elevated to a position from He Walked by Night or The Third Man, the genuine liberality of Lang’s resources springs from an extraordinarily pliant technique with a plethora of thematic considerations, and ends every bit as happy as Wise.
Beyond a Reasonable Doubt
The trick resemblance is, ultimately, to An American Tragedy or A Place in the Sun, but the real structure is elucidated by Hitchcock in Psycho.
For this is the tale of a man who postpones his wedding to write a book, a second book, mind you, his editor demands.
Then there’s the body, and a convenient alibi, set up to prove the weakness of the courts.
Bosley Crowther lectured his New York Times readership on the law like a judge, bless you, instructing a jury, “it wouldn’t stand up in court.”
Variety lost the opening thread and never recouped, “the melodrama never really jells.”
Halliwell was at his most petulant, “the distinguished director is at his most flatulent.”
Dave Kehr in the Chicago Reader has a “shatteringly nihilistic conclusion.”
There is a monumental analysis by John Huston in The Mackintosh Man, from Across the Pacific.
Der Tiger von Eschnapur
Lang’s supreme utterance on the Hitler nightmare, at one remove (Joe May) for prophylaxis.
Debra Paget as the half-Indian temple dancer, Paul Hubschmid as the Canadian architect in a backward province of the sub-continent.
The flavor of the serials, deliberately maintained.
Das indische Grabmal
The continuation and conclusion of Der Tiger von Eschnapur.
The architect and the dancer are recaptured, the Maharajah announces his own impending marriage and her doom.
Eugene Archer saw the compendium, Journey to the Lost City, and ridiculed it in the New York Times, having no idea what it was all about, none whatsoever.
There is a characteristic diffidence in the filming, an alternating distance and interest, Lang films from across the room or builds up Indian miniatures, or something else again.
Die Tausend Augen des Dr. Mabuse
The thousand eyes of Dr. Mabuse’s latest avatar are television cameras in every part of the Luxor Hotel. From a control room in the basement, formerly a listening room when the Nazis built the hotel in 1944, and now updated, every manner of meeting and conversation can be observed (the Nazi idea had been to group these hotels together for ease of surveillance). Lang’s camera lingers on a monitor, after pulling out from the shot onscreen to show that it is one.
There are more red herrings, flat contradictions, twists and turns than can be ascribed to anything but an effect of style. Nothing is what it seems, except Inspector Kras, and he’s nearly killed twice.
Dr. Mabuse is supposed to have died in 1932. The woman on the ledge at the Luxor, coaxed in by an American whose name isn’t Taylor but Travers, the insurance agent Hieronymus B. Mistelzweig (“B stands for belly”), even the hotel staff are all suspect.
The relation to Hitchcock is supplied by a two-way mirror in one of the rooms, and a wife with a secret identity, so Rear Window and Vertigo are pointed out. The Bond films are prefigured as well. The ultimate aim of Mabuse as ever is “to throw the world into chaos, and be the only man able to profit by it.”
The particular plan is to hypnotize a woman into embroiling an American multi-millionaire into marriage, after which he dies leaving all to his wife, especially the nuclear plant and the missile works. “The celebrated button” is waiting to be pushed.
This is Lang, the greatest man in any cinema among his equals, lifting Germany’s head a little after the nightmare. He reserves until the last shot (answered by Russell in Aria) a sense of loss, with reference to Dreyer’s Ordet.
Mainly there is Inspector Kras, an island of sense in the turbid seas all around him. “Interesting” is his comment on the various clues he’s offered.
Lang has a trick in the first half of initiating a new setup amidst a conversation, like a new idea, which strongly resembles the rocking-chair scene in Huston’s The Maltese Falcon (his other trick is in the car chase, a plain treatment preparing a vile deed). He has the best actors in these roles, Fröbe, Preiss, Van Eyck, Addams, Peters. The technique is refined well beyond the elegant.