Directed by Fritz Lang
Written by Fritz Lang, Thea von Harbou
Produced by Erich Pommer
Starring Lil Dagover, Bernhard Goetzke, Walter Janssen, Eduard von Winterstein, Rudolf Klein-Rogge, Paul Biensfeldt, Károly Huszár, Hans Sternberg, Karl Rückert, Erika Unruh
Upon his visitation in a pastoral town, stern, somber Death (Goetzke) pays handsomely to lease a parcel alongside a cemetery that’s been designated for its graveyard’s expansion, where he erects a sepulchral stronghold inaccessible to all save a doughty, doleful damsel (Dagover) whose young fiancé (Janssen) he’s consigned to the hereafter, and for whose restoration she obtests. So moved is the Grim Reaper by her impassioned impetration that he challenges her for a chance at her wish: incarnated as treble doxies of as many men soon to meet their end, they may be reunited if she can rescue but one of them. In a Persian city of strident muadhdhins, whirling dervishes and veiled beauties, the sister (Dagover) of a cruel caliph (Winterstein) struggles to rescue her secret lover, a Frank (Janssen) pursued by authorities after daring to visit her in a mosque during Ramadan. Lusty, conspirative Venice is the backdrop of a tragedy whereby a corrupt councilman (Klein-Rogge) designs to dispatch during Carnival the sweetheart (Janssen) of a noblewoman (Dagover) to whom he’s hatefully engaged. Finally, Dagover and Janssen are enamored assistants to a preeminent magus (Biensfeldt) who’s commissioned to entertain China’s tyrannical Emperor (Huszár) on the occasion of his birthday in exchange for his life; when the despot claims her and imprisons her man, she may need more than magic to save them both. For its innovatory set design, Orientalist and Italian charms, dated yet vivid special effects and Lang’s captivating composition, his fatalist, fabular fantasy is nearly as impressive as it was a century ago. Moreover, its presentation of morbid theurgy is among the medium’s first and best, serving to influence many posterior. Creating her woebegone, mettlesome maiden in broadly histrionical strokes, Dagover inhabits another of many sacrificial heroines prevailing in Weimar cinema, and Goetzke’s implacably forbidding as a solemn foil to her often hysterical fervor. Exciting, funny, touching, poetic and rich with symbolic auspices, Lang’s centennial classic evokes a bittersweet poignance reliant on the verity of its burden: ever salvational, love may endure a quietus that it can never defeat.
Recommended for a double feature paired with The Seventh Seal.