Category Archives: Silent
The Hunchback of Notre Dame (1923) | Universal’s silent classic starring Lon Chaney gets a 4k restored release
The Hunchback of Notre Dame is without doubt one the greatest, most spectacular, silent films of all time. A ‘Super Jewel’ adaptation of Victor Hugo’s epic 1831 novel, this lavish Universal production was a huge success for the studio and features a breakout performance from Lon Chaney, which made him a global superstar.
Now fully restored in 4K, it has been released on Blu-ray in the UK as part of The Masters of Cinema series from Eureka! It’s a must-have for any cinephile.
Chaney is at his most feral and uninhibited playing Quasimodo, the deaf, half-blind hunchback bell-ringer of Notre Dame, who unwittingly becomes the protector of street performer Esmerelda (Patsy Ruth Miller) – the adopted daughter of beggar king Clopin (Ernest Torrence) – when she attracts the lusty attentions of the dashing Captain Phoebus (Norman Kerry) and Jehan (Brandon Hurst) – the evil brother of Notre Dame’s archdeacon (Nigel de Brulier).
Universal spared no expense in bringing Victor Hugo’s novel to the big screen, and it certainly shows with the magnificent sets (like the life-size reproduction of Notre Dame) and 2500 extras (which required a public address system to get them all into position) on display.
Director Wallace Worsley covers the full scope of Hugo’s epic story, delivering drama, romance, action, spectacle and horror in equal measure. Then there are those set pieces which have become cinema legend: Quasimodo being lashed in the city square, the beggars storming the cathedral, and Quasimodo decanting vats of molten lead onto their heads.
While very much an ensemble piece, the film is really all about Chaney, who imbues his grotesque dispossessed character with so much light and shade – and comedy. Indeed, it taught Universal a valuable lesson – that human monsters can inspire both terror and pity. So great was the power of Chaney’s performance that, following a Quasimodo impersonation competition staged during the film’s London run, it became a benchmark for young British actors to aspire to.
The Universal 4k restoration is fantastic (and best viewed on a really big screen so you can witness Chaney’s incredible make-up and facial expressions). The score is impressive, as are the informative and well-researched extras that accompany this MUST-HAVE release. The only thing that can better this is someone finding the missing 15-minutes of footage (only seen in the original 1923 35mm release print).
- 1080p presentation on Blu-ray from a 4K restoration conducted by Universal Pictures
- Score by Nora Kroll-Rosenbaum & Laura Karpman (presented in uncompressed LPCM stereo)
- Audio commentary with author Stephen Jones and author/critic Kim Newman (the fanboys let loose again! Always a fun listen)
- Interview with Kim Newman on the many adaptations of Victor Hugo’s novel (Did You Know? Lionel Bart of Olivier! fame wrote a stage musical called Quasimodo! that was only performed at London’s Kings Head theatre?)
- Interview with film historian Jonathan Rigby (loved his story about the London impersonation competition)
- Collector’s booklet featuring a new essay by journalist Philip Kemp illustrated with archival imagery
Outside the Law (1920) | Tod Browning’s silent gangster thriller starring Lon Chaney sure packs a punch
From the director who gave us Dracula (1931) and Freaks (1932) and the legendary silent screen star who was the Man of a Thousand Faces, comes the gritty 1920 American crime drama, Outside the Law, on Blu-ray (from a 4k restoration) as part of Eureka! Entertainment’s The Masters of Cinema Series.
While under contract at Universal Studios (1919-1923), director Tod Browning crafted a string of melodramas with strong female protagonists, including nine features with the studio’s leading actress of the era, Priscilla Dean, who was best known for her anti-heroine tough girl roles. Following his breakout role in 1919’s The Miracle Man, Lon Chaney became America’s foremost character actor thanks to his acting prowess and his incredible make-up skills.
Chaney and Dean first paired together in Browning’s 1919 melodrama The Wicked Darling, and on the back of that film’s success were reunited for Outside the Law, which not only showcases their talents but also Browning’s burgeoning aesthetic for melodrama and the grotesque. It also heralded the beginning of Chaney and Browning’s 10 picture collaborations which would result in some of their finest work on screen.
Set in San Francisco’s Chinatown, Outside the Law sees Dean playing tough gangster Molly Madden, the daughter of mob boss Silent Madden (Ralph Lewis) who is trying to go straight with the help of Confucianist philosopher, Chang Lo (E Alyn Warren). When he is framed for murder by notorious hoodlum Black Mike Sylva (Lon Chaney), Molly seeks out safecracker Dapper Bill (Wheeler Oakman) to stage a double-cross to get revenge. Let the chase begin!
Boasting elaborate set design, stylised camera compositions, meticulous editing, and thrilling action sequences, including a very bloody and violent climax that gives even today’s big-budget crime dramas a run for their money, Outside the Law is one of the most exciting, intelligent, psychological driven American silent crime dramas that makes it a certified genre classic.
While Dean is certainly the star of the film, it’s Chaney who steals every scene, and he gets to show his range and make-up skills in two very diverse roles: that of the vicious Black Mike and as Ah Wing, the heroic Chinese servant who ends up saving the day. Now, I know this is a [SPOILER], but Chaney gets to shoot himself in a cleverly-constructed scene that took two weeks to film. For that scene alone, it’s worth seeking out this gorgeous restoration release.
Now while much effort has gone into the preservation of the film, two short sequences were impossible to repair – and while it is unfortunately this happens during a crucial moment in the film, it is still great to see Outside the Law restored and made available to a new generation of cinema lovers more than a century after it was released.
- 1080p presentation on Blu-ray from a 4K restoration conducted by Universal Pictures
- Musical score by Anton Sanko
- New video interview with author/critic Kim Newman
- 1926 re-release alternate ending (from a rare Universal Show-At-Home 16mm print)
- A collector’s booklet featuring an essay by Richard Combs
Available to order from: Eureka Store https://eurekavideo.co.uk/movie/outside-the-law/
The Indian Tomb | The ambitious 1921 German silent epic on Blu-ray
One of the grandest, most expensive films of the German silent era, The Indian Tomb – producer/director Joe May’s 1921 two-part adaptation of Thea von Harbou’s 1918 novel Das indische Grabmal – is an exotic mystical epic and an artistic wonder. It’s now out on Blu-ray in a 2k restoration print from Eureka Entertainment as part of The Masters of Cinema Series.
A menacing Maharajah, marauding tigers and a mystical yogi all come to play in this captivating adventure. Conrad Veidt takes centre stage as Ayan, the dominating Maharajah of Bengal, who commissions architect Herbert Rowland (Olaf Fønss) to build a mausoleum for the great love of his life, the princess Savitri (Erna Morena).
But when Rowland accepts, he soon discovers the prince is a cruel tyrant whose real agenda is to entomb his wife over her affair with a British officer, Mac Allen (Paul Richter). Infected with leprosy and unable to escape the palace, Rowland’s only hope lies with his concerned fiancé Irene (Mia May), who sets out to save him – and the princess.
The Indian Tomb (Das indische Grabmal) should have been directed by Fritz Lang, who had co-written the screenplay with Harbou and had hoped to helm the project. Producer May, however, took charge citing Lang as inexperienced, which infuriated Lang and ended their working relationship. While this heady fusion of Weimar cinema and pulp serial was a success in Germany, it didn’t take off elsewhere and reviews were mixed. It’s only recently that May’s film has been reappraised.
Lang, however, did end up making his version, in 1959 (you can read about it here), and its success led to him returning to his most memorable cinematic creation (the master criminal Dr Mabuse) in what became his cinematic swansong (my review can be found here). May, meanwhile, emigrated to America in 1933 where he ended up specialising in mainly B-features for Universal (including 1940s The Invisible Man Returns and The House of the Seven Gables, both starring Vincent Price).
May’s take on Harbou’s tale is indeed impressive, mainly for its opulent sets (although the titular tomb isn’t as grand as you’d expect – it reminded me of a pimped-up Tardis) and some haunting imagery (especially the leper colony, the crypt of yogis buried alive, the tiger attack and Veidt decked out in an elaborate ritual costume worthy of Andrew Logan’s Alternative Miss World), but it loses points with the action sequences, where May’s camera remains static.
Regardless, it’s Veidt that we’ve all come to see. Resplendent in a turban, white suit and jodhpurs, he’s in fine, chilling form and he certainly acts up a storm in the second part when Savitri finally escapes the palace.
Giving Veidt a run in the sinister stakes, however, is Bernhard Goetzke, as the icy and impassive yogi Ramigani (Ayan’s Rasputin-styled advisor who seems to possess genuine supernatural powers). He’s so compelling. No wonder Lang cast him as Death in Der müde Tod the same year. Playing the unfortunate Mac Allan is Paul Richter. He would go on to play another legendary character, Siegfried, in Lang’s Die Nibelungen.
The two-parter may run around 3hours 40minutes in total, but it passes in no time thanks to the imagery and stylised performances. The ambient, avant-garde is quite good at first. But comprising of what seems to be just two thematic structures played on a loop it becomes rather repetitive. The video essay is very informative, especially about the creative talents involved in the production. But damn it, I now have to see Joe (and Mia) May’s eight-part 1919 serial, The Mistress of the World.
SPECIAL EDITION FEATURES
• Presented in 1080p HD, across two Blu-ray discs from 2K restorations undertaken by the Murnau foundation (FWMS)
• Musical score (2018) by Irena and Vojtěch Havel
• Optional English subtitles
• Video essay by David Cairns and Fiona Watson
• Collector’s booklet featuring new writing on the film by Philip Kemp
The Hands of Orlac | The thrilling 1924 silent classic shudders onto Blu-ray
From Eureka Entertainment comes director Robert Wiene’s silent horror The Hands of Orlac (Orlac’s Hände), starring Conrad Veidt, on Blu-ray as part of The Masters of Cinema Series.
Veidt plays Paul Orlac, a concert pianist whose hands are amputated after a train crash. Shocked to learn they have been replaced with the hands of a recently executed murderer named Vasseur, Orlac obsesses over the idea that he too will turn violent.
When Orlac’s wealthy father is murdered and fingerprints match the dead man’s hands, Orlac fears seem manifest. However, Orlac’s nightmare reaches new heights of terror when a man claiming to be Vasseur threatens to blackmail him.
Blending grand Guignol shudders with German Expressionism visuals, this 1924 Austrian adaptation of Maurice Renard’s 1920 thriller novel, Les Mains d’Orlac, reunited the director and star of Das Cabinet des Dr Caligari (1920).
Featuring a wonderfully modernist set design, expressive performances and tightly executed scenes, this a silent cinema gem. And near-on a century from its release, many of the tropes conceived here continues to be used in many a film and TV thriller.
With his cadaverous looks and masterfully mannered characterisation, Veidt (who plays his playing his Orlac in a permanent state of fright) proves himself one of the true original Masters of Terror, while Wiene directs each scene like grand theatrical tableaux du dance.
There’s also excellent support from Alexandra Sorina (as Paul’s wife) who stilted movements reveal her character’s inner turmoil. While more mystery thriller with psychological overtones than straight-out horror, the film does boast a couple of very human monsters – most tellingly Paul’s horrid, unlovingly father, whose creepy house resembles a mausoleum.
Kudos to Johannes Kaltizke’s excellent avant-garde music score – which greatly reminded me of Les Baxter’s suite in the 1970 Vincent Price TV special, An Evening of Edgar Allan Poe. Among the excellent highlights is an alternate 110-minute presentation of the film from 2008 with alternate takes and a music score by Paul Mercer.
• 1080p presentation on Blu-ray from a restoration of the original film elements by Film Archiv Austria
• LPCM 2.0 audio
• Original German-language intertitles with optional English subtitles
• Audio commentary with Stephen Jones and Kim Newman
• Video essay by David Cairns and Fiona Watson (30min)
• FW Murnau Foundation alternate presentation [SD, 110 minutes]
• Scene comparisons highlighting some of the differences between the two versions of the film
• Collector’s booklet featuring new writing by Philip Kemp, and Tim Lucas
The Last Warning | Paul Leni’s 1928 cinematic swan song gets a Blu-ray restoration release
From Eureka Entertainment, comes Paul Leni’s murder-mystery The Last Warning, presented on Blu-ray from a 4K restoration as a part of The Masters of Cinema Series.
Based on a 1922 play of the same name and the 1916 Wadsworth Camp novel The House of Fear, 1928’s The Last Warning centres on a Broadway producer attempting to reopen a theatre, that was closed after one of the actors, John Woodford, was murdered during a performance, by staging a production of the same play with the remaining members of the original cast and crew. But strange things are afoot. Could Woodford’s ghost really be haunting the theatre or is someone playing nasty tricks?
This was Waxworks director Paul Leni’s fourth film for Universal (following The Cat and the Canary, Chinese Parrott and The Man Who Laughs) – and it proved to be his cinematic swan song before his untimely death. The scenario spoofs the musty murder-mystery genre, while the casting features Leni’s trademark gallery of eccentrics (like the scary-looking Ella McKenzie) as well as Universal’s leading lady of the day, Laura La Plante (who also starred in the director’s The Cat and the Canary).
But what makes this 1928 film special is how the German-born Expressionist director lets loose his camera to create highly inventive and highly energetic visuals (montage, shadows, titled angles, distorted perspectives, etc) and how the reused theatre set from The Phantom of the Opera becomes one of the characters in the film.
If Leni had not died (in September 1929 from blood poisoning at the age of 44), one can only imagine how his next project, Dracula starring Conrad Veidt, would have turned out. It marked an end of era as Hollywood bid goodbye to the silents and said hello to sound.
Restored as part of Universal’s silent film initiative, The Last Warning was originally release with talking sequences, sound effects, and a Movietone music score (much criticised on its release) and as a silent feature with musical cue sheets for orchestral/piano accompaniment. Eureka’s release features the later, with a new score from composer Arthur Barrow.
Extras include a commentary from Stephen Jones and Kim Newman (on the film and Universal’s early years), a visual essay by film historian John Soister (who tracks the film’s production), stills gallery and a 24-page booklet with essays by Philip Kemp (on Leni and the film) and Arthur Barrow (on his score).
Waxworks | Paul Leni’s 1924 anthology masterpiece gets a stunning restoration
Hot on the heels of Eureka Entertainment’s 4k Blu-ray release of Paul Leni’s The Man Who Laughs comes the German director’s seminal 1924 anthology, Waxworks, presented in a new 2K restoration print on Blu-ray as a part of The Masters of Cinema Series.
This was Leni’s final directorial effort in Germany before he moved to Hollywood where he would helm not only The Man Who Laughs in 1928 but also The Cat and the Canary, The Chinese Parrot and The Last Warning before his premature death, aged just 44, in 1929.
Waxworks is expressionism in its purest form, featuring highly-stylised sets (all designed by Leni), chiaroscuro lighting, and stunning, early performances from future legends: William Dieterle, Emil Jannings and Conrad Veidt.
Leni’s silent (Das Wachsfigurenkabinett) centres on a writer (Dieterle) who is hired by the owner of an amusement park wax museum (John Gottowt) to pen some backstories of his key exhibits: Caliph Harun al-Rashid (Jannings), Ivan the Terrible (Veidt), and Jack the Ripper/Spring Heeled Jack (Wener Krauss). Adventure, history and horror then unfold, with the writer and the museum owner’s daughter (Olga Belajeff) also becoming characters within each ‘startling’ tale.
As there is no surviving original negative of the German print of Waxworks, this newly-restored presentation is composed of the 1926 British print from the BFI and additional film materials (all scanned in 4K and restored in 2K). It’s amazing how much effort has gone into this 2019 restoration, and the end result is truly stunning.
There are also two soundtrack options: a traditional silent movie piano score by composer Richard Siedhoff, or an avant-garde instrumental one by the Ensemble Musikfabrik (which is the one I prefer, check it out in the trailer below).
Amongst Eureka’s special features is Leni’s short films Rebus-Film Nr. 1 (1925-1926). These were animated crossword puzzles originally shown in German cinemas before the main feature. The one presented here comes with English translations, so you can try them out yourself.
BLU-RAY SPECIAL FEATURES:
- 1080p presentation on Blu-ray from a new 2K restoration, with stereo and 5.1 surround sound options
- Audio commentary with film critic Adrian Martin (this scholarly presentation is a perfect primer for students studying Weimar cinema)
- Paul Leni’s Rebus-Film Nr. 1
- In search of the original version of Paul Leni’s ‘Das Wachsfigurenkabinett’ – An informative interview with Julia Wallmüller (Il Cinema Ritrovato, Bologna 2020), who looks at the film’s production and restoration
- Kim Newman on Waxworks: The film critic and fiction writer explores the legacy of Waxworks within cinema history
- Booklet featuring new essays, notes on the restoration process, production photographs and promotional material
Georges Méliès A Trip to the Moon | The pioneering 1902 sci-fi gets a deluxe release
Illustrator, magician, filmmaker and inventor – Georges Méliès (8 December 1861 – 21 January 1938) was one of the true pioneers of early cinema, and Le Voyage dans la Lune (AKA A Trip to the Moon) remains his most celebrated efforts. Inspired by Jules Verne’s classic writings, Méliès’ 1902 short (which runs for 13-minutes on this release) follows a group of scientists who blast off to the Moon where they are captured by the local inhabitants, the Selenites.
With Méliès taking a lead role, this is not only one of the earliest examples of sci-fi cinema but one of the most influential films in the entire history of cinema. The story itself might be slight, the set designs and simple special effects are a revelation.
Arrow Academy presents Méliès’ seminal classic in a limited edition, accompanied by a host of fantastic supplements. You get both the original black and white and the hand-painted colourised version (which also dates from 1902), plus there are a number of options over which soundtrack to listen to. They are a bit of a fiddle to get to (they’re located in the Special Features section) but worth checking out – particularly the prog-rock Dorian Pimpernel score for the colourised version. Also included is Georges Franju’s 1952 short Le Grand Méliès which is a something of a time capsule as it features both Melies’ second wife (aged 90) and his son, André (who plays his father).
A huge amount of effort has gone into the restoration of the hand-coloured version of Méliès’ masterwork and it’s all chronicled in the illuminating feature-length documentary that’s included here. Considering its age and the fact the original master negatives were destroyed, it looks pretty good. But I can only wonder what it would look like if it was given the same kind of remastering magic that Peter Jackson weaved on the archival World War One footage that transformed in his 2018 documentary They Shall Not Grow Old?
• High Definition Blu-ray (1080p) presentation
• Original uncompressed Stereo 2.0 and 5.1 surround audio
• Optional English subtitles
• Multiple scores: Black and White Version (Robert Israel score, Frederick Hodges piano accompaniment, Frederick Hodges piano and actors accompaniment); Colourised Version (Jeff Mills score, Dorian Pimpernel score, Serge Bromberg score, Serge Bromberg narration)
• The Innovations of Georges Méliès: video essay by Jon Spira exploring the short and Méliès’ career
• An Extraordinary Voyage: Serge Bromberg and Eric Lange’s 2011 documentary on the film featuring interviews with Costa Gavras, Michel Gondry, Michel Hazanavicius, and Jean-Pierre Jeunet (80min)
• Le Grand Méliès: The 1952 short film directed by Georges Franju about the life and work of Méliès
• 2020 re-release trailer
• The Long-Lost Autobiography of Georges Méliès – Father of Sci-Fi and Fantasy Cinema: Available for the first time since 1961, previously unpublished in English, with annotations and supporting material
Buster Keaton: Three Films – Volume 3 (1923-1927) | Our Hospitality, Go West and College on Blu-ray
Congrats once again to Eureka Entertainment for bringing another trio of classics from the silent comedy genius that is Buston Keaton on Blu-ray for the very first time in the UK. And once again it’s packaged with a host of extras and a fantastic collector’s booklet.
Our Hospitality (1923) – 2k restoration
In this gag-filled take on the infamous Hatfield and McCoy feud, Keaton stars as the luckless William McKay, who is lured into a trap by a rival clan, the Canfields. But knowing that he won’t be killed as long as he remains inside their homestead, he tries to stay put against all obstacles. This was one of Keaton’s most significant features and a breakthrough in his career – it also features a rather scary climax involving some dangerous rapids. Included is a new audio commentary by silent film historian Rob Farr, and the shorter (55min) work-print, Hospitality, presented with a commentary by film historian Polly Rose. Plus, the video essay Making Comedy Beautiful by Patricia Eliot Tobias.
Go West (1925) – 4k restoration
In this one, Keaton plays the penniless Friendless who ride the rails to work on an Arizona ranch. But when his beloved cow, Brown Eyes (who gets her own credit), seems set for the slaughterhouse, Friendless intervenes… The stand-out scene in this little beauty is a cattle stampede. You also get an audio commentary by film historians Joel Goss and Bruce Lawton, a video essay by John Bengtson on the filming locations, and another one, A Window on Keaton, by David Cairns. Plus, the short film Go West [1923, 12 mins], and a stills gallery.
College (1927) – 2k restoration
Keaton followed up 1926’s The General with this higher education comedy in which he plays the scholarly anti-sports Ronald who tries to win the heart of schoolgirl Mary (Anne Cornwall) by becoming the one thing he is not – an athlete. But when Mary’s jock beau Jeff (Harold Goodwin) tries to force her into marriage, Ronald comes to the rescue… Filled with inventive physical gags, this is my favourite in the set. Also included is a video essay by John Bengtson on College’s filming locations, The Railrodder [1965, 24 mins] starring Keaton in one of his final film roles, optional audio commentary with director Gerald Potterton and cameraman David De Volpi, and an audio Q&A with Potterton [55 mins]. Plus, the documentary Buster Keaton Rides Again [1965, 55 mins], and stills galleries.
Out now on Blu-ray as part of Eureka’s The Masters of Cinema Series.
The Man Who Laughs | The influential silent classic starring Conrad Veidt gets a lauded 4k restoration release
From Eureka Entertainment comes 1928’s The Man Who Laughs on Blu-ray for the first time in the UK, and presented from Universal’s 4K restoration, as part of The Masters of Cinema Series.
Following the success of The Hunchback of Notre Dame (1923) and The Phantom of the Opera (1925) which turned Lon Chaney into a superstar, Universal chief Carl Laemmle decided the studio’s next Gothic film super-production would be drawn from another Victor Hugo novel, The Man Who Laughs.
Set in England in the 1680s, the story centres on a young nobleman, Gwynplaine (Conrad Veidt), whose face was mutilated into a permanent grin when he was a child by his executed father’s royal court enemies. Joining a travelling carnival as The Laughing Man, the now-adult Gwynplaine falls in love with his blind companion Dea (Mary Philbin), but his disfigurement causes him to believe he is unworthy of her love. When his royal lineage is discovered and he is granted a peerage, he must choose between marrying a duchess (Olga Baklanova) or fleeing with Dea.
When Lon Chaney became unavailable to play Gwynplaine, Laemmle brought in the ideal alternative – Conrad Veidt, who was also a master at physical performance as witnessed by his iconic turns as Cesare the somnambulist in Das Cabinet des Dr Caligari (1920) and as Ivan the Terrible in Waxworks (1924).
At the helm was German Expressionist director Paul Leni and cinematographer Gilbert Warrenton, who had scored a big hit with Cat in the Canary the previous year. Also on board was Jack Pierce, whose startling makeup on Veidt would echo through the decades – becoming the inspiration for The Joker in the 1940 Batman comic.
Tragedy, romance, and even swashbuckling swordplay all have their part to play in this incredible piece of silent cinema, which features excellent performances from Veidt (whose mannerisms are paid homage to by Joaquin Phoenix in 2019’s Joker), Philbin and Baklanova (who would go on to play another sleazy character in Tod Browning’s Freaks in 1932) and some truly astonishing imagery (especially the fantastic character faces that Leni assembles).
A silent classic that needs repeated viewings, and a great addition to Eureka’s The Masters of Cinema Series
• 1080p presentation on Blu-ray from Universal’s 4K restoration
• Uncompressed LPCM 2.0 (stereo) score by the Berklee School of Music
• Uncompressed LPCM 2.0 (mono) 1928 Movietone score
• Kim Newman on Paul Leni (informative as usual)
• The Face Detectives: video essay by David Cairns and Fiona Watson (well-researched with some arty editing – a highlight)
• Paul Leni and The Man Who Laughs – video essay by John Sioster (also well researched)
• Rare stills gallery
• Collector’s booklet featuring new writing by Travis Crawford, and Richard Combs
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.
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.
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 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.