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Monday, June 2, 2014

DIE VIER UM DIE FRAU / FOUR AROUND A WOMAN (1921)

Fritz Lang’s second collaboration with scenarist Thea von Harbou (later his wife) furthers her penchant for overloaded melodramatic claptrap (see: DAS WANDERNDE BILD/’20), but also displays Lang’s rapidly-maturing visual mastery. (His next pics were DESTINY/’21 and the astonishing leap of DR. MABUSE: THE GAMBLER/’22.*) Here, the story elements, even with the familiar Harbou hysteria, have a Langian ring to them as late-blooming marital love is tested under rumors of past infidelity. It all has something or other to do with a mysterious engagement night that left her tied-and-bound in bed while a thief sped off in the night. But what’s with those sleazy currency counterfeiters; the illegal diamond exchange that pilfers large rubies during luncheon trysts; a reappearing long-lost brother; or half of the cast spying on the other half? All the ingredients of a nightmarish Langian fever-dream, but minus the control needed to make sense of it. This long missing title barely survived, a single print was found in Brazil, with missing chunks of footage and its own Brazilian titles, now reverse-translated back into German & English. (Perhaps the original cut held together better.) In spite of its provenance, the elements prove quite watchable, a sharp image with minimal ‘blasting’ balanced against emulsion scratches & the expected odd continuity jump. Hard as it is to crack as a conventional story, its intimations of future work, impressive production values and visual swing make it a must for Lang completists.

DOUBLE-BILL: *Rather than DESTINY, skip ahead to MABUSE which has more visual & thematic elements in common with this one.

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