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Thursday, February 23, 2012

S.O.S. EISBERG / S.O.S. ICEBERG (1933)

Switching gears from their ‘Mountain Films,’ those snow-clogged Alpine romantic thrillers, director Arnold Fanck & star Leni Reifenstahl found new frozen terrain to explore in their last dramatic vehicle: icebergs! Now, Leni’s a daring pilot who takes to the air in an attempt to the rescue her explorer husband, adrift on an iceberg off Greenland. And he’s not alone, an earlier rescue effort is also stranded on the icy float. Unsure if their position was transmitted before the radio gave out, they wait with dwindling supplies while one brave soul attempts to reach the nearest Eskimo encampment. As with their earlier films, the real locations & documentary shooting style (largely shot silent) create an awe-inspiring visual spectacular, but the dramatic thru-line suffers from Leni’s stable position as true-blue wife. And it's even weaker, if oddly fascinating, in the simultaneously-made English-language version (pieced together by Tay Garnett) which opens with some stuffy exposition instead of throwing us right into the action. To a surprising extent, it pretty much goes its own way, often using completely different location footage to fit its reconfigured story, along with a bit more studio fakery and Hollywood’s Rod La Rocque as the injured explorer-husband. (Leni’s few lines of English dialogue appear to be dubbed.) After this, Reifenstahl became even more famous/infamous as Hitler’s favorite documentarian with TRIUMPH OF THE WILL/’35 and OLYMPIA/’38. Now, that’s switching gears.

SCREWY THOUGHT OF THE DAY: Yes, that’s Gibson Gowland, the unforgettable McTeague in Erich von Stroheim’s GREED/’24, as one of the would-be rescuers. What a surprise to hear his own voice in the English-language version, sounding rather like Edmund Gwenn, of all people.

WATCH THIS, NOT THAT: Everybody should see one of Fanck’s Mountain Films - try THE HOLY MOUNTAIN/’ 26 or THE WHITE HELL OF PITZ PALU/’29.

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