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Friday, March 29, 2013

DAS WANDERNDE BILD / THE WANDERING SHADOW (1920)

‘When Thea met Fritz . . .’ This early Fritz Lang effort was his first with the future Mrs. Lang, writer Thea von Harbou. And while it only shows glimmers of the inventive mastery to come in DESTINY/’21 or the jaw-dropping advances of DR. MABUSE: THE GAMBLER/’22, it already displays the thudding melodramatics and flights of deep think symbolism Harbou favored. Our plot: A noted Free Love lecturer lives with his mistress, but lets the relatives think they are married. Even a pregnancy can’t get him to make things legit. She secretly marries the man’s brother, but has him sign the church registry with the real father’s name. Finding out all about the proxy hypocrisy, ‘Dad’ disappears, presumed drowned. The wife, now a ‘widow,’ but with a sham husband, is denounced by that brother as insane to silence her. Now, she also runs off, leaving her little girl with G’mom and heading for the hills. (BTW, there’s also a cousin who’d like to marry her even though he’s next in line for the inheritance if her scam comes to light.) Lost in the mountains, the wife takes shelter with a local ‘monk, only to be buried alive by a rock avalanche! But the monk is really . . . her own common-law husband! And the avalanche was started by the jealous brother! And, we’re only halfway thru this thing! Crazed as it is, and missing a third of its footage, it actually seems quite sensible as you watch, and Lang, working with lenser Guido Seeber, gives it a handsome outdoorsy look. (See frame enlargement.) But filmically, things would improve rapidly. Including the level of acting. Here, the inadequate female lead is Mia May, wife of producer Joe May whose career once rivaled Lang’s, but who never quite reestablished himself once he emigrated to Hollywood.

WATCH THIS, NOT THAT: Start at the top with Lang’s astonishing DR. MABUSE: THE GAMBLER/’22.

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