Author Archives: Peter Fuller

Comin’ at ya! Japan’s heroic fire-breathing turtle Gamera is heading to Arrow Video Channel

Kaiju fans rejoice! All 12 tales of the titanic terrapin and ‘friend of all children’ Gamera is heading to Arrow Video Channel (available on Apple TV and Amazon Prime Video – UK only) this month ahead of its home entertainment release on 17 August. Check out the trailer here…

Watch the skies! Flash Gordon is approaching in glorious Ultra High Definition!

Courtesy of Studiocanal comes the eagerly-awaited 4k, Ultra High Definition restoration of the 1980 cult sci-fi adventure Flash Gordon, in honour of the film’s 40th anniversary which will get a big-screen presentation at Picturehouse Central and in select UK cinemas from 31 July, ahead of its home entertainment release on 10 August (in a 4K UHD Collector’s edition, Blu-ray, Steelbook, DVD and digital). The camptastic classic will also screen as part of The Luna Drive-In Cinema from August.

 

Check out the trailer…

Check out the restored clip…

Criss Cross | Robert Siodmak’s must-see film noir classic on Blu-ray

Obsessive love, robbery and murder collide in Robert Siodmak’s classic 1949 film noir suspense tale. Burt Lancaster plays working-class armoured car driver Steve Thompson, who returns to Los Angeles after a few years away hoping to reunite with his ex-wife Anna (Yvonne DeCarlo) – but she’s now married to local mobster Slim Dundee (Dan Duryea).

Unable to stay away from each other, Steve and Anna begin an affair – only to be discovered by Dundee. But Steve manages to convince Dundee that he only wanted to get close to Anna to get his help in robbing an upcoming payroll shipment. Dundee falls for the ruse, which triggers a series of deadly events…

Packed with suspense, a tight script and direction, a sterling cast (especially DeCarlo), moody monochrome cinematography that makes effective use of the downtown Los Angeles locations, plus a rousing Miklós Rózsa score, this is film noir masterpiece that’s ripe for a revisit. Watch out for Tony Curtis making his screen debut (as Anthony Curtis) and prepare to be shocked by the very bleak ending.

Criss Cross gets a new 4K restoration for the first time on Blu-ray in the UK as part of Eureka Entertainment’s The Masters of Cinema Series and includes the following features…

• 1080p presentation on Blu-ray, from a new 4K scan of the original nitrate negative
• Uncompressed LPCM 2.0 audio
• Audio commentary by film author Lee Gambin, and actress Rutanya Alda
• Video piece on the film by film scholar Adrian Martin
• Theatrical trailer
• Collector’s booklet featuring new writing by film historian Kat Ellinger; an essay by Adam Batty; archival writing and imagery

A Foreign Affair | Billy Wilder’s postwar romantic comedy on Blu-ray

From Eureka Entertainment comes Billy Wilder’s Oscar-nominated postwar romantic comedy A Foreign Affair on Blu-ray as part of The Masters of Cinema Series.

When a US congressional committee flies into occupied Berlin to monitor the morale of American troops, staunchly conservative Iowa congresswoman Phoebe Frost (Jean Arthur) is appalled by the lax attitudes exhibited by the troops. She then also starts her own investigation when she discovers that a popular cabaret singer Erika von Schlütow (Marlene Dietrich) was the former mistress of wanted ex-Gestapo agent Hans Otto Birgel (Peter von Zerneck) and is being protected by a mystery American officer. But when she enlists the services of fellow Iowan Captain John Pringle (John Lund) to root him out, she’s unaware that Pringle’s her man – and now he’s trying to cover his tracks by wooing her…

Shrewd, sharp with a whole lot of heart despite its cynical undertones, this is one of Wilder’s best-loved films, thanks to its winning combination of some amazing location footage of a decimated Berlin, delightful performances (especially Jean Arthur), and the divine Dietrich in sultry fine voice.

SPECIAL FEATURES
· 1080p presentation on Blu-ray
· Uncompressed LPCM 2.0 audio
· Audio commentary by film historian Joseph McBride
· From Berlin to Hollywood: Wilder and Dietrich’s Foreign Affair – A video essay by Kat Ellinger
· Two radio adaptations of A Foreign Affair, broadcast as part of the Screen Directors Playhouse in 1949 and 1951. Featuring Billy Wilder, Marlene Dietrich, Rosalind Russell, John Lund, and Lucille Ball
· Archival interview with Billy Wilder
· Theatrical trailer
· Collector’s booklet featuring new writing by film historian Alexandra Heller-Nicholas; a new essay by critic Richard Combs; and archival material

The Specialists | Jeremy Isaac hails the return of the French Elvis in a sparkling Blu-ray 4k restoration of the 1960s Baguetti Western

Sacré bleux! There are 100s of Italian Westerns, loads of Spanish ones and even a few Brazilian entries (Glauber Rocha’s Antonio Das Mortes, for instance). But a French spaghetti Western? The Specialists is one of only a handful of ‘Camembert’ or ‘Baguetti’ oaters which, in itself, makes the film worthy of interest. It was helmed by Italian director Sergio Corbucci, known for violent spaghetti Westerns such as Django (1966) starring Franco Nero and The Great Silence (1968) with Jean-Louis Trintignant, as well as action comedies featuring Terence Hill and Bud Spencer, who were also paired in Enzo Barboni’s Trinity entries. The screenplay was penned by Corbucci with writer Sabatino Ciuffini, from a story the two conceived with the help, it is rumoured, of Hollywood spag icon Lee Van Cleef. The movie was also released under the eyebrow-raising title Drop Them or I’ll Shoot, and is only now enjoying its home entertainment debut, half a century after its original premiere.

The film boasts neither top Hollywood stars such as Eastwood, Fonda, Bronson, Coburn, Steiger or Robards, nor classic European faces like Nero, Cardinale, Volonte, Koch, Trintignant, Kinski or, indeed Hill or Spencer. What it does have is Johnny Hallyday – the French Elvis, a Gallic music legend for nearly 60 years who sold more than 110 million records worldwide, earning 40 gold records, 22 platinum and three diamond, and who appeared in scores of films, including the award-winning supernatural 2002 hit L’homme du Train and the 2010 Macau-set Triad shoot-em-up Vengeance. He’s the perfect tough-guy selection for this underrated but rambunctious Franco-Italian-West German cowboy thriller.

The unsung but stalwart supporting cast includes Italian actor and producer Gastone Moschin, who found fame in the Amici Miei film trilogy (1975–1985), French actress Françoise Fabian, best-known for Luis Buñuel’s Belle de Jour (1967) and Éric Rohmer’s 1969 French New-Wave drama My Night at Maude’s, Parisian ingénue Sylvie Fennec, who would later grace Goodbye Emmanuelle (1977) and German thesp Mario Adorf of Volker Schlöndorff’s The Tin Drum fame, who had recently turned down the role of General Mapache in Sam Peckinpah’s The Wild Bunch (1969), and would also decline a part in Francis Ford Coppola’s The Godfather: Part II (1972).

The story is simple and deliciously predictable: chainmail-wearing shootist Hud Dixon (Johnny) arrives in the remote frontier town of Blackstone where his brother was falsely accused of robbing a bank and then lynched. Hud is out for revenge, and through a series of cataclysmic pistol exchanges, head-banging bar-room brawls and a furious shootout with juveniles, during which the townsfolk are forced to lie face-down on the main drag while naked, he gradually uncovers the truth behind his brother’s murder and the stolen cash. Along the way he clashes with humanitarian Sheriff Gedeon (Moschin), seductive but formidable lady banker Virginia Pollicut (Fabien), the beautiful but innocent Sheba (Fennec) and one-armed Mexican bandit and former childhood friend El Diablo (Adorf). ‘If Hud comes here, he’ll have to kill every one of us,’ observes Gedeon at one point, and he’s not far wrong.

The dramatic locations represent a radical departure from the genre’s habitual backdrop of windswept Spanish/Italian desert townscapes. To be sure, the dust flies as fast and as high as the bullets in the explosive main-street gun battles, as snipers fall from church towers and El Diablo’s gang is ignominiously levelled. But the suggested Nevada setting of snow-covered mountain fastnesses and pine-clad escarpments (filmed in the Dolomites near Cortina d’Ampezzo in Veneto, the location for The Great Silence) evokes a sombre, wintry feeling reminiscent of Peckinpah’s Ride the High Country (1962) or Eastwood’s Pale Rider (1985) – including a gloriously filthy mud bath. This newly restored version showcases the luminescent, crystal-clear camerawork of cinematographer Dario Di Palma (he famously lensed Lina Wertmüller’s The Seduction Of Mimi in 1972), whose sweeping vistas across the stark but majestic landscape take the breath away.

The music score is impressive, too. OK, it’s not Ennio Morricone, or Franco Micalizzi (Barboni’s Trinity films) or Bruno Nicolai or Marcello Giombini (Gianfranco Parolini’s Sabata trilogy) –  it’s Angelo Francesco Lavagnino, famous for many Hollywood scores including Orson Welles’s Othello (1951), Henry Hathaway’s Legend of the Lost (1957) and Peter Bogdanovich’s Daisy Miller (1974), as well as a clutch of 1960s sword-and-sandle epics – think Mediterranean party music. Here he juxtaposes the tried-and-tested elements of alternately grating and twanging electric guitar chords, haunting whistle and flute, menacing tom-toms and piano runs, delicate orchestrated passages, obligatory, doom-laden chimes and the light, harpsichord-like touch and offbeat vocals of the mellow but unmistakenably Euro theme tune.

This intriguing offering may not be on the same level as Sergio Leone’s Dollars trilogy or Once Upon a Time in the West (1968) – and it didn’t come out in the UK until 1973 – but it certainly gives Django, Silence, Trinity and Sabata a run for their money. It also contains satisfyingly obvious nods to most of the genre’s eccentric iconography, in which devotees will luxuriate, and boasts unusual locations and strong turns from an out-of-the-ordinary European cast, topped by a towering performance from charismatic rock god Hallyday. Incroyable!

The Specialists is now available for the first time on home video in the UK as part of the Eureka Classics range from Eureka Entertainment with the following special features…

• 1080p presentation on Blu-ray from a 4K restoration
• Restored Italian and French audio options with English subtitles
• Rarely heard partial English dub track
• Original English script
• Audio commentary by filmmaker Alex Cox (OMG! This is fantastic. Apart from the film, this is the reason why you should add this release to your collection as you get loads of insides about the film, but Cox is also very entertaining)
• Cultural historian Austin Fisher on The Specialists (this is an insightful overlook from the Bournemouth University associate professor of popular culture about the film’s themes, legacy and parallels)
• French and Italian trailers
• Collector’s booklet featuring new writing by Western authority Howard Hughes on both the film, and the ‘French-western’ sub-genre

[Editor’s note]: This piece was written by Jeremy Isaac, whose knowledge of the Western genre is unsurpassed. A brilliant features writer and sub-editor, he can be contacted via the following links for any possible freelance work: uk.linkedin.com/in/jerryjourno1 and jerryjourno58.wordpress.com/

Hagazussa | This arthouse folk horror tale will totally creep you out!

From debut filmmaker Lukas Feigelfeld comes Hagazussa, a bleak and disturbing folk horror tale that echoes Robert Eggers The Witch, but is still very much its own pagan beast.

If you think we’ve got problems self isolating in the midsts of the Covid-19 pandemic, imagine being a young child growing up all alone in an isolated alpine hut back in the 15th-century (where there’s no running water, electricity, or even the internet) and you just have your mother’s decorated skull for company? Well that’s what happens to a young girl called Albrun (Celina Peter) after watching her mother’s painful death – which haunts her as the years pass.

Rejected by her deeply superstitious community (they marked her mother as a witch), the now adult Albrun (Aleksandra Cwen) struggles to make a living for herself and her young child selling milk from a small goat herd. But when she is sexually assaulted by a woman and her husband, and is seemingly visited by her mother’s restless spirit, Albrun sets out on a path of self-empowerment – and it is a very dark path indeed…

You really have to invest yourself in this visually-arresting, dialogue-light arthouse, horror where a sense of creeping dread bubbles beneath its very quiet surface, culminating in a haunting halluncinatory sequence involving magic mushrooms, blood sacrifice and rebirth through fire. Nature is very much the other big character here, with the snow-covered alps dominating, while its dense woodlands and stagnant pond represent the cycle of life and Albrun harnesses their power to complete her own cycle.

It’s all beautifully shot (which ideally counterpoints the film’s bleak tale and increasing violence), with an intense performance by Cwen, and capped by atmospheric score from the Greek dark ambient duo MMMD. An amazing achievement from first-time director, Lukas Feigelfeld, it also features a fantastic ossuary chapel (shot at St Bartholomew’s Church in Kudowa, Poland).

Hagazussa is out on DVD and Blu-ray in the UK from Arrow Films

 

SPECIAL FEATURES
• High Definition Blu-ray™ (1080p) presentation
• Original DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 surround and LPCM Stereo 2.0 Audio
• Optional English subtitles
• Reversible sleeve featuring artwork by Adrian Baxter
• Booklet featuring new writing on the film by Kier-La Janisse, illustrated with original stills
• Double-sided fold-out poster featuring two artworks
• Slipcover featuring original artwork by Adrian Baxter
• Audio commentary by critic and author Kat Ellinger
• Select scene audio commentary by writer-director Lukas Feigelfeld
Beton [Concrete] (2013, 55 mins) and Interferenz (2013, 48 mins), two short films by Lukas Feigelfeld
• Deleted scene with optional commentary by Feigelfeld
• MMMD Music Video
• Theatrical trailer
• Teaser
• CD containing the complete Hagazussa Soundtrack by MMMD

 

Rio Grande (1950) | Jeremy Isaac revisits John Ford’s final entry in his Cavalry Trilogy as it hits the Blu-ray trail

Rio Grande is the third entry in director John Ford’s Western ‘Cavalry Trilogy’ (the first two are Fort Apache and She Wore A Yellow Ribbon, released in 1948 and 1949 respectively), and features all the Fordian obsessions found in the earlier films: duty, community, the loneliness of command, career versus family, savagery versus civilisation, the ‘romance’ of the Confederacy, Irish stereotypes, fist fights, and Ford’s customary heavy humour and rollicking adventure scenes. Yet the film eschews both the prickly intensity of Fort Apache and the aching nostalgia of Yellow Ribbon to emphasise the troubled romantic relationship between its two principals, played by John Wayne and Maureen O’Hara.

Based on James Warner Bellah’s short story Mission With No Record, the tale is a simple one: young trooper Jeff Yorke (Claude Jarman of The Yearling fame) arrives at a remote cavalry outpost to find the command headed by no-nonsense Lieutenant Colonel Kirby Yorke (Wayne), who also happens to be his estranged father. Yorke has been separated from the boy’s mother Kathleen (O’Hara) since duty to the Union led him to burn her Southern estate during the Civil War 15 years earlier.

Shortly afterwards Kathleen also arrives at the post with the intention of buying Jeff out of his commitment to the army, to which both son and father are vehemently opposed. As the trio struggles over this issue, Yorke and Kathleen try to rekindle their shattered love, something they both want but which they wrestle with because of their tragic past.

This plays out against the backdrop of an Indian rebellion involving several gripping action scenes and the kidnapping by Apaches of the post’s children (one of which is played by 10-year-old Karolyn Grimes, best remembered as George Bailey’s youngest daughter Zuzu in It’s A Wonderful Life; the Apaches are played by members of the Navajo tribe employed by Ford in most of his ‘Indian’ Westerns). Can Yorke and his trusty troopers succeed in rescuing the beleaguered youngsters?

As always, the director’s preoccupations are accompanied by his famous use of the ‘John Ford Stock Company’: Wayne was a longtime favourite of Ford’s; O’Hara had appeared in his Oscar-winning How Green Was My Valley, and would later join him and Wayne for The Quiet Man, as well as appearing in Ford’s The Long Grey Line and Wings Of Eagles in 1955 and 1957. Other Ford regulars include the boozy Victor McLaglen as Irish Sergeant Quincannon, Ken Curtis (lead singer of featured vocal group the Sons of the Pioneers, originally founded in the 1930s by Roy Rogers), former silent actor Jack Pennick, who appeared in all bar two of Ford’s 14 sound Westerns, and – importantly – lifelong Tinseltown pals Harry Carey Jr and Ben Johnson.

Harry Carey Jr’s father had been Ford’s biggest Western star during the silent era. Following his dad’s death the previous year, the director gave the young Harry an early movie break by casting him with Wayne and Mexican actor Pedro Armendariz in his allegorical 1948 oater 3 Godfathers, the opening titles of which dedicated the film ‘To the Memory of Harry Carey, bright star of the Western sky…’. Carey Jr went on to appear in dozens of movies over the next 60 years, many for John Ford, until his death in 2012 aged 91.

Raised on an Oklahoma ranch, Ben Johnson was a gen-u-ine cowboy and rodeo rider who was hired by producer Howard Hughes to ship horses to the West Coast for his controversial 1943 Western The Outlaw starring Jane Russell. In Hollywood Johnson worked as a stunt man in Westerns, and it was while working on Ford’s Fort Apache, the first in the Cavalry Trilogy, that he caught the director’s eye. During shooting, a horse team pulling a wagon bolted with three extras aboard. Seasoned horseman Johnson reacted immediately, racing after the wagon, reining in the team and saving the men’s lives.

Ford cast him as former Confederate officer-turned-US Cavalry Sergeant Travis Tyree in She Wore A Yellow Ribbon. Not only did the role give Johnson a chance to exercise his acting skills, it also allowed him to show off his superb horsemanship, filling the film’s action sequences with scenes of unparalleled equestrian pyrotechnics. His career with Ford seemed set, and he was cast in the lead in the director’s next venture, Wagon Master, in 1950. However, the film failed to make Johnson a star in the John Wayne mould and he returned in Rio Grande, this time as Trooper Tyree, as though demoted for his failure. He continued to make movies (mostly Westerns such as George Stevens’ Shane) for the next 40 years, winning the Best Supporting Actor Oscar for his iconic portrayal of Sam The Lion in Peter Bogdanovich’s The Last Picture Show in 1971, before passing away in 1996 aged 77.

Harry Carey Jr was no mean horseman himself, as he (as Trooper Sandy Boone) and Johnson demonstrated in Rio Grande in a series of breathtaking scenes, notably one in which the pair rode ‘like them ancient Romans’, that is to say, standing upright atop two horses and straddling the gap between them with one foot on the back of each horse, racing and even jumping fences. However, it wasn’t all bareback for Johnson and Carey Jr, as the pair also played a crucial role as ever-present comedic guardians and protectors of the young Jeff.

Filmed in wild majestic locations in Moab, Utah, Rio Grande is not as intense as its predecessors Fort Apache or Yellow Ribbon. Certainly, it lacks the stress and tension surrounding Henry Fonda’s unyielding Colonel Owen Thursday of the first film, who pays the ultimate price for his relentless adherence to duty and the rituals of social convention, or the sense of mission failure and emasculation by being put out to pasture through retirement as experienced by Wayne’s Captain Nathan Brittles in the second.

Instead, Rio Grande‘s lower-key approach chronicles the angst-ridden contradictions of love, parenthood, family commitment and responsibility. The chemistry between the popular Wayne and O’Hara pairing is engaging and beautifully played as Kirby woos Kathleen all over again; the family is healed and reunited and, amid much galloping, massed war whoops and rapid gunfire, the rebellion providing the action-adventure background is put down, bringing peace to the frontier. It may not be John Ford’s best Western (no pun intended), but it’s still one of his finest, and a more-than-worthy closing volume to the classic Cavalry Trilogy.

[Editor’s note]: This piece was written by Jeremy Isaac, whose knowledge of the Western genre is unsurpassed. A brilliant features writer and sub-editor, Jeremy can be contacted via the following links for any possible freelance work: uk.linkedin.com/in/jerryjourno1 and jerryjourno58.wordpress.com/

Rio Grande is out now on Blu-ray in the UK from Eureka Entertainment as part of The Masters of Cinema Series.

BLU-RAY SPECIAL FEATURES

  • Limited Edition O-Card (2000 units only)
  • 1080p presentation on Blu-ray, from a new transfer completed by Paramount’s preservation department in 2019
  • Optional English subtitles for the deaf and hard-of-hearing
  • Brand new and exclusive feature-length audio commentary by western authority Stephen Prince
  • Scene specific audio commentary with Maureen O’Hara
  • A video essay on the film by John Ford expert and scholar Tag Gallagher
  • Along the Rio Grande with Maureen O’Hara – archival documentary
  • The Making of Rio Grande – archival featurette
  • Theatrical trailer
  • PLUS: a collector’s booklet featuring a new essay by western expert Howard Hughes; a new essay by film writer Phil Hoad; transcript of an interview with John Ford; excerpts from a conversation with Harry Carey, Jr.

The Thousand Eyes of Dr Mabuse | Your heart might just miss a beat watching Fritz Lang’s thrilling cinematic swansong

From Eureka Entertainment comes The Thousand Eyes of Dr Mabuse (Die 1000 Augun des Dr Mabuse), the final instalment in Fritz Lang’s trilogy and the director’s cinematic swansong on Blu-ray for the first time in the UK, as part of The Masters of Cinema Series.

After enjoying success with 1959’s Indian Epic (AKA The Tiger of Eschnapur and The Indian Tomb), German producer Artur Brauner signed Fritz Lang to direct one more film back in his home country. The result would be a picture that brought Lang’s career full-circle and become his final celluloid testament.

Why does it hurt when my heart misses the beat?
The character of megalomaniac criminal mastermind Dr Mabuse (who I will always associate with Propaganda’s 1984 debut song – catch the music video below) was originally made famous by Lang in his pre-Hollywood years. First in the four+ hour long 1922 silent Dr Mabuse (based on the novel of the same name by Norbert Jacques), then in the 1933 sound crime thriller Testament of Dr Mabuse (based on Jacques’ unfinished novel, Mabuse’s Colony). Both films starred Rudolf Klein-Rogge as the titular villain and both were set in the period of the Weimar Republic.

The Thousand Eyes of Dr Mabuse is set in 1960s at the start of the Cold War, and while it is not a direct sequel, it does exist in the same universe. When a TV journalist is killed in his car on his way to an important broadcast, Inspector Kras (Gert Frobe) gets a call from blind psychic informant Peter Cornelius (Lupo Prezzo), who had a vision of the crime but not the perpetrator.

Meanwhile, at the Luxor Hotel (where every room has been bugged), industrialist Henry Travers (Peter Van Eyck) comes to the aid of the mysterious Marian (Dawn Addams), when she attempts to commit suicide in a bid to escape her abusive. Meanwhile, salesman Hieronymus B Mistelzweig (Werner Peters) always seems to be lurking about. Together, these disparate characters come together to work out just who is channelling Mabuse (Wolfgang Preiss).

This is a thrilling, action-packed crime thriller where Nazi survellious tech, sex crimes, paranoia, psychic powers and classic car chases collide, and its undoubtedly Lang’s final film masterpiece – and your heart might just miss a beat watching it. It also a spawned six Mabuse films in competition with the poplular German Edgar Wallace Krimi films. A must see.

The Masters of Cinema Series Blu-ray is available to order from: Eureka Store and Amazon

SPECIAL FEATURES
* 1080p presentation on Blu-ray
* Original German soundtrack
* Optional English audio track, approved by Fritz Lang
* Optional English subtitles
* Feature-length audio commentary by film-scholar and Lang expert David Kalat
* 2002 interview with Wolfgang Preiss (this is a wonderfully informative piece, and quite poignant as it was filmed two weeks before Preiss’ death in November 2002)
* Alternate ending
* Reversible sleeve featuring newly commissioned and original poster artwork
* Collector’s booklet featuring a new essays; vintage reprints of writing by Lang; and notes by Lotte Eisner on Lang’s final, unrealised projects

Fritz Lang’s Indian Epic is a ravishingly kitsch 1950s adventure

Best known for his 1920s and 1930s masterpieces Der mude Tod, Die Nibelungen, Metropolis, Women in the Moon and M, and his forays into Hollywood film noir in the 1950s, Fritz Lang was all set to call it a day in 1959 when he was offered the opportunity to remake a film that he and his former wife Thea von Harbou had worked on back in the 1920s. Ahead of the Eureka Entertainment! release of Fritz Lang’s final feature, The Thousand Eyes of Dr Mabuse, on 11 May 2020, I thought it timely to revisit his penultimate picture.

Indian Epic comprises two films – Der Tiger von Eschnapur (The Tiger of Eschnapur) and Das Indische Grabmal (The Indian Tomb) – that tell the tale of a tyrant who turns his fairy tale palace into a prison for the woman who refuses his affections.

In the first film, Chandra (Walter Reyer), the Maharaja of Eschnapur, falls for Seetha (Debra Paget) a young temple dancer who only has eyes for a visiting German architect, Harald (Paul Hubschmid). The couple attempt to flee, but are captured: for Seetha, the palace becomes a gilded cage, while Harald is imprisoned in a secret dungeon.

In the second film, Harald’s sister Irene (Sabine Bethmann) and her husband Walter (Claus Holm) arrive at the palace in search of Harald. Walter is then coerced into building a grand tomb – not for the maharaja, but for Seetha, who has been sentenced to die after she is married to Chandra. With no time to loose Irene and Seetha plot to free Harald, but first they must find their way through the palace’s maze of tunnels, caves, secret temples and leper-filled dungeons, whilst trying to evade Chandra and his palace courtiers.

Wanting to prove to the Hollywood fraternity that a large-scale movie, shot in Europe on the cheap, could return a healthy profit, Lang put his retirement on hold to film his grand exotic adventure. The result is a lush, over-the-top fantasy that recalls old-fashioned Saturday morning serials and Arabian nights adventures.

Kitsch in design, yet totally serious in tone, Indian Epic is a huge departure from the man who wowed us with his mad, futuristic visions in Metropolis and thrilled us with perfectly executed thrillers like Hangmen Also Die! (1943), The Woman in the Window (1944) and The Big Heat (1953). Lang’s double-bill certainly doesn’t attempt to reflect a realistic India, but the films do offer a ravishingly beautiful homage to the exotic East, as seen through Western eyes of the day.

Standing in for Chandra’s palace are the real-life island palaces and gardens of Udaipur in Rajasthan, and it is these shots which give the film its depth. Call it a guilty pleasure, but watching Paget dance in a revealing diamond encrusted G-string (check it out below) while taking in these vibrantly colourful locations is all I needed to be sucked, body and soul, into Lang’s twisted tale about mad love.

Indian Epic is available on DVD, from Eureka Entertainment in the UK with restored transfers of the films; a choice of German and English soundtracks; a making of documentary; vintage 8mm location footage; trailers; and an informative booklet about Lang and his vision.

Fritz Lang’s epic Die Nibelungen is The Lord of the Rings of the silent era

Drawn from German myth, and the basis for Richard Wagner’s Ring cycle of operas, Fritz Lang‘s expressionistic five-hour 1924 epic Die Nibelungen is a must see. And in the lead up to Eureka Entertainment’s Blu-ray release of Lang’s final feature, The Thousand Eyes of Dr Mabuse on 11 May 2020, I thought it timely to revisit his silent fantasy adventure.

The Story
In Part One, prince Siegfried (Germany’s answer to Arthur) acquires the power of invincibility after slaying a dragon and sets out to win the hand of the daughter of the king of Burgundy. But his marriage to Kriemhild is cut short when her brother Gunther conspires with a fierce warrior called Hagen to bring about his death. In Part Two, the grieving Kriemhild weds the mighty Attila the Hun in a bid to seek revenge against Hagen and the Burgundy knights, resulting in a terrifying apocalypse.

The Lowdown
With the horrors of World War One still very much alive, Lang filmed the epic legend of Siegfried in a bid to bring a little pride back into a country suffering from pessimistic malaise. But this would be no re-staging of Wagner’s popular 19th-century operas. Instead, the visionary director created a totally new universe. Using massive sets and breakthrough visual effects, nature and myth collided in a highly stylised world that, although kitsch but today’s standards, was a revelation in its day.

Why the Nazis loved it?
The two films, which took nine months to make, were met with huge success in both Germany and wider Europe, and became hugely influential on filmmakers of the period, like Sergei Eisenstein, who drew on the film’s scale and look for 1938’s Aleksandr Nevsky. The film’s images and the epic poem it was based on were also ripe for another kind of appropriation. The rising National Socialists (the film was greatly admired by Hitler and Goebbels) would late re-cut Lang’s film, adding in new titles, dialogue and music by Wagner (also Hitler’s favourite) to give voice to the Nazi race-elimination doctrine.

The upshot
The inspiration for nearly every screen fantasy adventure from The Lord of the Rings to Game of Thrones, Die Nibelungen is an extraordinarily ambitious visual piece of cinema history that is must-see for all cinephiles.

Die Nibelungen is available on DVD and Blu-ray from Eureka Entertainment!, featuring a HD restoration of the film by Friedrich-Wilhelm-Murnau-Stiftung, with its original frame-rates and in its original aspect-ratio; newly translated optional English subtitles for the original German intertitles; a one-hour documentary on the film restoration, and collector’s booklet.

%d bloggers like this: