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Reviews » Blu-ray Reviews » Fritz Lang: The Silent Films (Blu-ray)
Fritz Lang: The Silent Films (Blu-ray)
Kino // Unrated // November 21, 2017 // Region A
List Price: $107.13 [Buy now and save at Amazon]
Review by Ian Jane | posted December 4, 2017 | E-mail the Author
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The Movies:

Fritz Lang is rightfully regarded as one of the most influential filmmakers of all time and many of his silent pictures are widely considered classics of their respective genres. Kino Lorber's boxed set release of Fritz Lang: The Silent Films gathers together their previously released editions into one deluxe package with the ‘early' films (The Plague Of Florence/Harakiri/The Wandering Shadow/Four Around The Woman) appearing on Blu-ray here for the first time. Here's what you'll find spread out across the twelve Blu-ray discs in this set:

Metropolis (1927):

For those who haven't seen the visionary 1927 masterpiece that is Fritz Lang's Metropolis, the story follows Freder (Gustav Frohlich), the son of a wealthy man named Joh Frederson (Alfred Abel) who controls a futuristic city where the working class are forced to basically live underground. Above ground the wealthy more or less live in a utopia but below the ground where the workers keep the machinery the city needs running, things are horrible which Freder learns when he follows a woman home to her underground dwelling.

Freder soon finds out that this woman is Maria (Brigitte Helm) and that she aims to change the way things are. Joh, however, doesn't want there to be any changes to the status quo and so he calls upon an inventory named Rotwang (Rudolf Klein-Rogge) to create a Maria robot which they hope will cause the workers to riot and basically self-destruct so that the rich can keep control over the city.

One of the most famous silent films of all time, Metropolis is entirely deserving of all the praise that has been heaped upon it over the years. It's about as visionary as a film can get and at the time it was created it stood as the most expensive film ever made. Lang's direction is strong, the performances are great (particularly when you consider that all the performers had to work with was their body language) and the visuals as impressive and haunting now as they probably were back then.

Also impressive is the design work, from the instantly recognizable robot we see in the movie to the iconic tower that represents all that the rich have and which the workers do not this is a film that makes interesting use of lines and which really broke new ground in the world of visual effects and their place in film.

Die Nibelungen (1924):

A sprawling five hour film split into two parts, (of, if you prefer, The Ring), based on a poem entitled Das Nibelungenlied, is a massive achievement by anyone's standards.

The first part, Siegfried, tells the story of the titular son (Paul Richter) of King Sigmund of Xanten. When the story begins, he learns of Princess Kriemheld (Margarete Schön), the sister of Gunter (Theodor Loos), the King Of Worms. Intrigued by her and intending to marry, Siegfried travels to Worms and on the day, after killing a dragon and defeats the dwarf king Alberich, he discovers a treasure and earns himself a cloak of invisibility. It seems that his teacher, Mime, has become jealous of Siegfried's talents with a sword and has sent him, quite unbeknownst to Siegfried himself, on a very dangerous route.

Having bathed in the dragon's blood, Siegfried becomes invincible save for one spot on his back where, during his blood bath, a leaf landed and prevented him from being completely covered. As such, he has this one weak spot. Regardless, well-armed and now in possession of a considerable dowry with which to woo Kriemheld, he continues his journey. Before he can have his bride to be, however, he must help Gunther reclaim his beloved Brunhild (Hanna Ralph), the queen of Iceland, knowing that in order to win her hand he has to complete three quests. Hagan von Tronje (Hans Adalbert Schlettow), Gunther's advisor, forces Siegfried to take Gunther's place and undergo Brunhild's ordeals, and it works… until it all ends in tragedy.

The second part is entitled Kriemhild's Revenge. After Siegfried's death, Kriemhild marries Etzel (Rudolf Klein-Rogge), the King of the Huns. His right-hand man, Ruediger (Rudolph Rittner), has promised Kriemhild that they'll help her get revenge against those that murdered Siegfried. Shortly after all of this, the winter solstice begins and so Gunther and Hagan are invited to the Hun's country to celebrate. Not surprisingly, the arrive with an army in tow, hoping to surprise and overthrow the Huns, but of course, it cannot and will not be that simple.

A sprawling work that begins as a straight fantasy film in the same vein as the Lord Of The Rings pictures quickly takes a decidedly dark turn in its second half to channel Shakespearean betrayals and palace intrigue. Both parts of the film are extremely impressive, with Lang pulling out all the stops in terms of getting his vision on the screen. The scale of what we see captured by the stark photography is amazing. Not only the effects-heavy scenes involving the fantasy creatures in the first half, but the scope of the battle sequences in the second chapter. Not everyone is going to want to sit through a five-hour epic like this, but there's so much to take in here, from the costumes to the set design to the performances to the action set pieces, that it's hard not to admire the film. And while yes, it is very long, it's not only beautiful to look at but quite well paced too. The visuals take precedence over the story, but there's enough going on with the character development and the plot twists that the picture winds up a strong mix of both style and substance.

Spies (1928):

Spies, or Spione in its native Germany, tells the story of a man named Haghi (Rudolf Klein-Rogge). He is, for all intents and purposes, an evil genius who spends his days running a large and well-connected spy agency. Somehow, Haghi's employees always seem to be a few steps ahead of not only the local police, but the government as well. The fact that he's spend countless years building a library of dirt on various officials gives him a bit of an edge here.

In order to deal with Haghi's organization, Agent 326 (Willy Fritsch) is brought onboard. He disguises himself as a street person in hopes of getting past Haghi and his crew, but 326's disguise isn't nearly as effective as he had hoped it would be. Haghi knows who he really is. To get 326 off his back, Haghi uses a beautiful Russian female operative in his employ named Sonya Baranilkowa (Gerda Maurus). He expects her to take care of this problem, but doesn't anticipate her falling in love with his handsome foe. Complicating matters further is Haghi's mission to con Doctor Masimoto (Lupa Pick) into handing over a peace treaty between his country and the Japanese. With Masimoto's sultry mistress Kitty (Lien Deyers) on his payroll, he might just be able to pull it off, affecting the balance of power throughout the world… unless 326 gets in the way.

The film starts off by exploring the different methods that Haghi and Agent 326 use in their work, showcasing the skills and talent set of the two foes. Once this is established, the different subplots are rolled out and, rather effectively, expanded upon. If there isn't a ton of character development here, there's certainly enough and the plot moves at a pretty strong pace, making the film's almost three hour running time less of a chore to endure than most would probably expect. In fact, Spies is not only a fairly ambitious picture (it isn't on the level of Metropolis, made just before) and quite an entertaining picture. If it doesn't provide any startling glimpses into the future or over the top set design, it's got some solid action set pieces, fine performances and good camera work.

Not the director's best silent picture but still a very good one, certainly worth seeking out for fans of the director.

Dr. Mabuse The Gambler (1922):

Fritz Lang's 1922 silent epic Dr. Mabuse The Gambler was originally released as two separate films, The Great Gambler and Inferno, which is how the project is presented on this new two disc Blu-ray release from Kino Lorber (one film on each disc). Although Lang would revisit the character in 1933 with The Testament of Dr. Mabuse and then again in 1960 with The Thousand Eyes of Dr. Mabuse, this earliest take on bringing the character cinematic life remains a high point in the director's storied filmography. It holds up remarkably well. Clearly influenced by the serials coming out of France at the time (think Les Vampyres or Fantomas), this epic saga of a master criminal is loaded with thrills, chills and quirky characters and put together with a great eye for composition and mood.

Set in the period in which it was made, the film introduces us to the titular Dr. Mabuse (Rudolf Klein-Rogge). He is, for all intents and purposes, a gangster. He lusts after money and power and would seem to have no qualms about doing whatever it is that needs to be done to boost his own bank account. If that means he's to pull the strings and cause a stock market collapse, so be it. Scores of people will lose everything, but if it allows him to buy at pennies on the dollar, then that's all that he really cares about. He also runs gambling dens, drug smuggling operations and counterfeiting rings. Truly, he is a master criminal, the kind that will stick his finger into any pie worth tasting, morality and legality be damned.

Of course, Mabuse's criminal ways cannot and do not go unnoticed by the authorities in Berlin. Prosecutor Norbert von Wenk (Bernhard Goetzke) would love nothing more than to see him rot in a cell. He and the local police set out to do away with the gambling dens and hopefully piece together the puzzle that will lead them to the top. Helping von Wenk is a wealthy man named Edgar Hull (Paul Richter), a man who was once wronged by the doctor when he was unknowingly put under hypnosis and cheated at cards. It gets off to a good start until Mabuse realizes that they're determined to bring him in. At this point he uses all of his powers of disguise, his control over the small army of peons - Spoerri (Robert Forster-Loagginaga), Georg (Hans Adalbert Schlettow), Pesch (Georg Jon), Hawasch (Károly Huszár), Fine (Grete Berger) and a beautiful dancer named Cara Carozza (Aud Egede-Nissen) - who do his bidding. And then of course there are his powers of hypnosis, his natural cunning, all of which he will use to outwit von Wenk and Hull seemingly at every turn. But when Mabuse's kidnapping of the beautiful Countess Told (Gertrude Welcker) goes awry, it seems he may not hold the upper hand after all…

Based on the character that originally appeared in the series of novels penned by Norbert Jacques, this nearly five-hour long film is as impressive as it is daunting. As you'd imagine, it's best digested as intended, in two parts, rather than in one marathon session. Either way, viewers are rewarded with an immensely entertaining production from Lang and company. The plot moves at a very quick pace. Any time it seems like things are slowing down a bit there's a backstabbing or a murder or a bombing or some sort of daring criminal act committed on the part of the doctor. The cast of characters is intriguing, particularly the different operatives that Mabuse employs (he's kind of like an evil version of The Shadow in that regard) and the different disguises that the various characters use (which would seem to be culled from the aforementioned Fantomas films).

The visuals are fantastic. Lang's use of shadow and light, not to mention all manner of quirky and unorthodox camera angels, results in an impressionistic work of pulp fiction wherein the imagery up on screen would seem to indicate just what the characters are experiencing. Given that the film is silent, obviously he couldn't just have the characters talk to each other (intertitles are used but they're far from constant) so this tactic goes a long way towards making the film as involving as it is. It also results in a lot of startlingly bizarre images, the most obvious example happening towards the end of the film where Mabuse is confronted by those poor souls he's been responsible for doing away with all this time.

Rudolf Klein-Rogge is fantastic in the title role. His deep-set eyes look almost dead inside thanks to the frequent use of a lighting tactic that paints circles below them and it gives him an eerie presence. The rest of the cast are quite interesting to watch as well, but Klein-Rogge is unforgettable in the lead.

Destiny (1921):

First Lang's 1921 feature Der müde Tod which translates to The Tired Death is better known in English speaking countries as Destiny, the title that Kino have chosen to reissue it under for this Blu-ray release. The premise of the film is simple enough: a beautiful young woman (Lil Dagover) does not want her fiancé (Walter Janssen) to die, though he does. She kills herself to enter death's domain and there, Death (Bernhard Goetzke) gives her three chances to hopefully stop three candles from going out, that will in turn prevent her fiancé's death from happening.

As this plays out, we witness three stories involving love and death. The first takes place in the Baghdad of years past where a young man (Janssen) is condemned by the Caliph (Eduard von Winterstein) for attempting to get romantic with his sister (Dagover). The second story takes place in the Venice of the seventeenth century where a man named Girolamo (Rudolf Klein-Rogge) schems to murder another man, Giovanfrancesco (Janssen), so that he and he alone can win the heart of the lovely Monna Fiametta (Dagover). The third and final story takes place in Imperial China. Here a wizard named A Hi (Paul Biensfeldt) abducts a couple, Liang (Janssen) and Tiao Tsien (Dagover), to use for the amusement of the Emperor (Charles Puffy) who is otherwise far more intrigued by A Hi's shapely apprentice. Of course, all of this plays into the conflict that was set up in the opening.

If this isn't Lang's most riveting feature from a narrative perspective, it's nevertheless a pretty interesting look at the technique he'd go on to perfect in the coming years. The visuals here are very impressive, with Lang placing the camera in unexpected locations and using some very bizarre looking gothic inspired backdrops to create some inspired mood and atmosphere. Case in point? When our heroine initially enters Death's domain, we see her climb a huge stairway lit from the top down. Lang uses this in each of the stories to interesting effect. We also see some early special effects work here and there, the best example being the scene where she spies her departed fiancé amongst a collective of spirits that walk through a wall.

The movie doesn't really subscribe to one particular genre. It mixes elements of romance, drama, fantasy and horror and gives everything a very folksy feel. Each of the three ‘exotic' locations used in the trilogy of stories of love versus death are beautifully rendered in the picture. If nothing else, this is a feast for the eyes. The art direction, handled for this picture by Walter Rohrig and Hermann Warm who had previously made The Cabinet Of Dr. Caligari, is top notch and the lighting employed in pretty much every shape does an amazing job of accentuating all of this.

As it is in many silent films, the acting in Destiny is very exaggerated. This doesn't take away from the movie's effectiveness and it is in keeping with the acting styles of the day. Lil Dagover is quite fetching as the female lead and it is interesting to see how she brings different quirks and personality traits to the other female characters that she plays in each of Death's vignettes. Likewise, Walter Janssen follows suit, giving each of the male characters he plays his own traits. The rest of the cast are also interesting to watch but it's Bernhard Goetzke who really steals the show here. As Death, he's an eerie figure but not entirely without feeling for the plight that Dagover's character is coping with. He's quite expressive with his body language, his eyes seemingly sunken back in his head, occasionally covered under the darkness of his wide-brimmed hat. If Destiny isn't as gripping or suspenseful as some of Lang's thrillers like M, The Big Heat or the Dr. Mabuse films nor as massive in scope and scale as something like Metropolis there's still a lot to appreciate here, particularly for those who appreciate revisiting films from the early days of cinema.

The Spiders (1919):

Fritz Lang's Die Spinnen (The Spiders) is actually a collection of two feature length serials made in 1919 and 1920. While two other films were planned to follow, they never materialized. Kino presents the two films together on one Blu-ray disc.

In the first film, Der goldene See (The Golden Sea), we journey to San Francisco where we meet an adventurer named Kay Hoog (Carl de Vogt). When he finds a bottle with a message in it from a professor who mysteriously disappeared some time ago, he reports his findings to the fellow members of his club. The letter also happens to contain a map that, the note says, will lead to a long-hidden stash of ancient Inca gold somewhere in Peru! Armed with this knowledge, Hoog decides he himself will head to the jungles and find this treasure, unaware that a group of criminals known as The Spiders have sent a beautiful woman named Lio Sha (Ressel Orla) out to beat him to it.

Shortly after his arrival, Hoog saves Sun Priestess Naela (Lil Dagover) from danger and soon enough, the two are quite the item. When none other than Lio Sha also decides Hoog is the man for her, things get complicated. Even more so when diamonds come into the equation!

The second film, Das Brillantenschiff (The Diamond Ship), finds Hoog once again on the hunt for treasure. This time around he's looking for a diamond shaped like a Buddha reported to give the right ‘princess' the power to rule over all of Asia. Hoog's quest for the diamond brings him first to the underbelly of San Francisco's Chinatown and then across the pond to London. Here The Spiders assume a man named John Terry holds (Rudolf Lettinger) the key to the diamond's location. To get it from him, they kidnap his daughter Ellen (Thea Zander). Hoog and Terry team up to get her back and along the way uncover some interesting clues as to the diamond's actual location.

What neither Hoog nor Terry counted on was a man named Four-Finger John (Edgar Pauly) psying on them and reporting their findings back to The Spiders. Once they know what Hoog and Terry know, they send none other than Lio Sha and her army of goons out to get to the treasure before our heroes.

Made in a vein very similar to French serials like the Les Vampires and Fantomas films, The Spiders is an impressive mix of Lang's penchant for artistry and all the tropes of a typical adventure serial. We get all sorts of dastardly criminal types for our hero to deal with, a few beautiful women, exotic locations, hidden treasure, criminal cabals, fights aplenty and some well executed shoot outs as well. These are adventure films that basically play by the rules of the day, so they're maybe not necessarily breaking new ground thematically but Lang ensures that at the very least they're quickly paced and that they always look very good. The camerawork here is consistently impressive and the sets and production values are quite strong. Logic may not be the order of the day and the movies never seem particularly concerned with realism at all, but they are fun.

The cast are pretty decent here too. Carl de Vogt makes for an appropriately dashing hero. He's strong and he's smart and his as quick with his pistol as he is with his wit. The ladies can't help but love him and de Vogt plays the part well. Edgar Pauly is memorable in his role in the second film, playing the nefarious type well, while beautiful Lil Dagover (who also starred in Destiny which Lang would direct in 1921) is gorgeous as the princess, even if she's not really all that believable based on her looks. Ressel Orla tends, more often than not, to steal the scenes she's involved with. She has an exotic look to her and her character is probably the most interesting of the two films as you never really know if she's going to kill our hero or try to talk him into running off with her. Lang worked with her on another film in 1919, Halbblut, his directorial debut which unfortunately seems to be lost and which also starred Carl de Vogt.

Woman In The Moon (1929):

Directed by the great Fritz Lang in 1929, Woman In The Moon would be the last silent picture that the filmmaker would direct. The story follows Wolf Helius (Willy Fritsch), a business man and a veritable captain of industry who, through a series of events, winds up befriending an aging scientist named Professor Georg Manfeldt (Klaus Pohl). There's a reason for this, however. Years ago Manfeldt was essentially ostracized from the scientific community for putting for the theory that the moon was loaded with gold! Of course, his fellow scientists scoffed at the idea but Helius, when he heard about this, figured maybe Manfeldt wasn't so crazy after all.

Helius was also a man of significant wealth and resource, the type of man who could conceivably build a rocket capable of taking a man from the Earth to the moon, and that's exactly what he's done. This will be much easier said than done, however. Not only is there the issue of proving the technology but the men who hold most of the gold reserves in the country are none too keen on Helius throwing the balance of power out of whack. They set out to sabotage him first by stealing his schematics for the rocket and then by destroying the hanger where he was building the first prototype. They wind up agreeing to let him move forward with his project on the condition that their man, Turner (Fritz Rasp), is allowed to accompany him on the maiden voyage. With no other choice, Helius agrees and Turner joins Manfelt, Hans Windegger (Gustav von Wangenheim) and his fiancé Friede (Gerda Maurus), and himself in the rocket.

Of course, once the damn thing actually launches, there's no way that this trip is going to go smoothly. Turner has a job to do, after all.

Woman In The Moon isn't as tense or as riveting a watch as some of Lang's other silent pictures. It is longer than it needs to be with a running time only a few minutes shy of three hours in length and it takes a while to really hit its stride. Having said that, the movie is nothing if not impressive. What really stands out here are the lengths that the filmmakers weren't to in order to make the space travel aspect of the story as realistic as possible. Of course, in 1929 no one had actually put a man or woman on the moon yet, so there's still plenty of conjecture involved in how all of this fits together, but Lang's eye for detail and accuracy really pays off in big ways (so much so, in fact, that when the German military started experimenting with rockets in the years to come they confiscated the models used for the movie!). It's hard not to question certain choices made here, the most obvious being that the moon would have breathable oxygen, but everything else… it's pretty spot on. The lift off sequence, the fact that the human's inside the rocket experience the effects of zero gravity, and just the science behind this brought to life in the film, it's all amazing to see.

The performances are also pretty fun. Willy Frit is decent as Helius, the man who puts all of this into motion, but it's Klaus Pohl as Manfeldt that we really like here. His wild hair and crazy eyes give him the look you'd expect a nutty professor type to have but he really runs with it, exaggerating things just enough to compensate for the lack of sound, really making the character a memorable one. Fritz Rasp is delightfully devious as Turner, the heavy in the film. We know not to trust him, his shifty eyes and sneaky mannerisms doing a poor job of hiding his intentions, but it works, it's all art of the character and the way that Lang lets the audience in on what they're really up to. Gustav von Wangenheim and lovely Gerda Maurus in supporting roles are fine too, but it's Pohl and Rasp who really stand out.

If the pacing issues hurt the first half of the movie a bit, the second half completely redeems the film. Sure, it might be the visuals that save it more so than the story itself but that's not necessarily a bad thing. The detail put into the sets and miniatures and effects work that play such a big part in the film is consistently impressive and very much ahead of its time, while the science fiction aspect of the film is entertaining enough. You have to set aside a good chunk of time to get through this one properly, but it's well worth it.

Four Around The Woman (1921):

This eighty-four minute picture tells the story of Mr. Yquem (Ludwig Harteau). On the surface at least, he would seem to have it all. He runs a successful business and is quite wealthy and he's married to a beautiful woman named Florence (Carola Toelle). His life, however, is complicated. When Yquem sees a man that he assumes once carried on a love affair with his wife, he trails him to a local hotel. This man, presumed by Yquem to be William Krafft (Anton Edthofer), is, unbeknownst to him, actually his twin brother and is talked into heading to the hotel so that Yquem can prove what he suspects to be true: that his wife is having an affair.

What Yquem doesn't know is that this man, Werner (Edthofer again), is actually a jewel thief out to make a move on Florence's friend, Margo (Lisa von Marten). As Werner gets close to his target and Yquem's suspicious ways start to get the better of him, a mysterious male stranger comes into the picture with the truth about what Florence really got up to before she and Yquem were wed.

A fairly standard melodrama revolving around infidelity and mistaken identity, Four Around The Woman has its moments but it is, for the most part, fairly pedestrian. Lang manages to employ some interesting camerawork and conjure up a decent amount of atmosphere but the storyline isn't engaging enough to really grab us and as nice as the film looks, compared to the director's more extravagant and adventurous endeavors, it just doesn't really impress. Having said that, the performances are engaged and enthusiastic. This is a middling picture, but worth seeing for devotees of the director interested in seeing some of his earlier works, before he really and truly found his style.

Harakiri (1919):

This eighty-seven minute picture from 1919 follows O-Take-San (Lil Dagover), a Japanese woman that falls in love with Olaf Anderson (Niels Prien), a military man stationed in her homeland. Olaf responds in kind and they are soon wed, but when Olaf has to return to his homeland and leave O-Take-San on her own, she is forced to deal with the impending birth of their child alone. Regardless, she soldiers on and holds out hope that one day, he will return for her and they'll be a family.

As time goes on, O-Take-San is pursued by Prince Matahari (Meinhart Maur) and, at the same tie, pressured by a monk (Georg John) to give up her child for adoption so that the baby can be raised by both a mother and a father. Then, four years later, Olaf returns to Japan, but this time with his Caucasian wife alongside him.

Essentially an unofficial take on Madame Butterfly, this picture isn't particularly concerned with getting the details of Japanese culture correct and it's clear that the Japanese characters are being played by European actors but there's some appreciable artistry on display here. Lang does a nice job with the visuals, capturing the ornate costumes and sets quite nicely, but even at less than ninety minutes (short by Lang's standards) the glacial pacing hurts the effectiveness of the picture. On top of that it's also very melodramatic and, at times, overdone. Worth seeing for Lang devotees, of course, for many of the same reasons that'd want to watch Four Around The Woman.

The Wandering Shadow (1920):

Also known as The Wandering Image, this early work from Lang tells the story of Irmgard (Mia May), a lovely but pious and conservative woman who travels from her town by train through the mountains of her native Germany. As she travels we learn through flashbacks that she's leaving a complicated past.

Before she left, Irmgard worked in the employ of Georg Vanderheit (Hans Marr), a charming young man who plays fast and loose with the opposite sex. Soon enough, they have an affair which results in Irmgard becoming pregnant. To hide her shame, she schemes to marry Georg's twin brother John (Marra again). The hope here is to keep up appearances and hide the fact that the child would otherwise be born out of wedlock. As her travels in the present day continue, she meets a monk who may have the key to what she's looking for.

With a running time of just under seventy-minutes, The Wandering Shadow is presented in as complete a form as possible but it does appear that portions of the movie are lost. As such, it's choppy and a bit tough to follow in spots. It's also interesting more as a curiosity item than anything else. Like Four Around A Woman it deals with a love affair gone wrong and a set of twins, but unlike that picture there's very little style on display here at all. It's interesting to see what survives of Lang's second directorial feature, but the fact of the matter is that it's essentially a dull, stagey melodrama.

The Plague Of Florence (1919):

Written by Lang and adapted from Poe's The Masque Of Red Death, this film was actually directed by Otto Rippert. The story takes place in Florence where an evil but seductive woman named Julia (Marga von Kierska) manages to seduce not only the town's mayor, Cesare (Otto Mannstaedt), to fall head over heels in love with her, but his handsome son Lorenzo (Anders Wikmann) as well.

Soon enough, the son has killed his father who, prior to his death, had ordered that the woman be tortured. When the murder stops the order from being acted upon, the city soon falls into chaos. Churches become houses of ill repute and evil runs rampant through the streets, culminating with the arrival of Death (Julietta Brandt) herself and a plague soon to be unleashed…

An interesting if imperfect film, The Plague In Florence peaks earlier than it should, making the finale involving the spread of the titular plague less intense than maybe it should have been. Still, this is impressively dark in tone throughout, and it Lang's story takes us in some interesting and unexpected directions. The film, thematically, is not kind to woman, treating them as if they are the plague itself in terms of how it presents its metaphors, but from a visual standpoint the movie is quite successful. The camerawork does a nice job of capturing the architecture of the sets and buildings used in the film while some of the stages on which the interiors were shot are quite ornate and interesting. The morality may be very much one-sided, but this is a product of its time and quite a fascinating one at that.

The Blu-ray

Video:

Each of the films in this set is presented in AVC encoded 1080p transfer framed at 1.27.1, most using restorations that come courtesy of the Friedrich-Wilhelm-Murnau-Stiftung. These are presented with good bit rates and as such, there aren't any compression artifacts to note. Print damage is obvious throughout the films but they are good looking transfers all things considered. Contrast on the black and white images does occasionally bloom but that's an occasional issue rather than a constant and it would look to stem back to the photography. Black levels are strong here but there are spots where this buries a bit of the shadow detail. Detail is about as good as it's likely going to get here and it varies from scene to scene but is generally speaking pretty decent. Harakiri is the worst looking of the bunch, for whatever reason it is noticeably softer and in rougher shape than the other pictures. It looks like it might have been taken from an SD master. Otherwise, however, the presentation quality is strong given the age of the films in question.

Sound:

Each film is presented in LPCM 2.0 format and typically, they sound excellent with strong clarity, proper balance and some very clean, clear sound music with nice depth and resonance. The intertitles in the films are presented in German with English subtitles and are clean, clear and easy to read.

Extras:

Extras in the set are spread out as follows:

Metropolis (1927):

The most impressive extra for this film is a fifty-minute documentary entitled Voyage To Metropolis. This piece covers not only the creation of the film and its impact and influence, but also what went into restoring the picture. It's very interesting stuff and a must-see for anyone who appreciates the film and wants to know more about its history.

Also included is an interview with Paula Felix-Didier, the curator of the Museo del Cine in Buenos Aires, who talks about the discovery of the missing footage and what went into getting it incorporated back into the film.

Die Nibelungen (1924):

The main extra for this film is a seventy-minute documentary entitled The Legacy Of Die Nibelungen. Told in ten parts, and produced by The Friedrich-Wilhelm-Murnau-Stiftung in collaboration with The Filmmuseum Potsdam, this is a thorough and extensive look at what went into creating Lang's epic picture. We cover the pre-production and design work, some of the film's more memorable set pieces, the film's release in both its native Germany and in the United States and the, of course, the infamous way that the Nazi's used the film as propaganda during the Second World War and how this affected its director. We also learn about what went into restoring the film to get it into the condition in which it is presented on Blu-ray. It's all very interesting stuff and a great addition to this release.

Additionally, the disc includes a two minute short piece called Fritz Lang On Set that offers a quick but interesting look at Lang working at the Ufa Studios where he makes sure one of his extras removes a wristwatch before shooting. Also included on the disc is a BD-Rom accessible essay by film scholar Jan-Christopher Horak.

Spies (1928):

Spies: A Small Film With Lots Of Action is the main extra on this disc. It's featurette that runs seventy-two minutes and it covers the genesis of the project which was meant to be commercial endeavor after Metropolis failed to set the box office on fire for Lang's producers. There's insight from the children of some of the cast members here and a lot of detailed information on Lang's sense of visual style and how he employed his unique vision in Spies. Aside from that, we also get a trailer for the feature.

Dr. Mabuse The Gambler (1922):

There are no extra on the disc outside of static menus and chapter selection save for an excellent three-part featurette entitled The Story Behind Dr. Mabuse. This fifty-two-minute documentary does a pretty thorough job of covering the music in the film, the origins of the character of Dr. Mabuse, how this filmed take on the character came to be, how the socio-political climate of its German homeland may have played a role in how it turned out, and a fair bit more. There's some interesting archival material used in here in which Fritz Lang himself talks about making this particular film, it's quite interesting.

Destiny (1921):

The main extra on the disc is an audio commentary by film historian Tim Lucas. It is a well-researched track (Lucas quotes interviews conducted with the late director) that offers up a lot of interesting information in regards to the history of the film and the different themes and motifs that Lang explores here. There's also a fair bit of talk about bringing ‘Death' to life the way that Lang does in this film and what studio lots were used for the sets (he's able to tie the movie into the far more recent Captain America: Civil War in this regard!). He also provides plenty of interesting background information on the key cast and crew members as well as some anecdotal information about the shoot. He also offers up plenty of critical analysis and insight into some of the film's key scenes. All in all, this is thorough and very well put together and quite a nice addition to the disc.

Aside from that the disc also includes a 2016 re-release trailer for Destiny, a sixteen minute long restoration comparison that shows how the elements were cleaned up and what went into the color tinting, static menus and chapter selection.

The Spiders (1919):

There are no extra on the disc outside of static menus and chapter selection.

Woman In The Moon (1929):

Aside from static menus and chapter selection, the disc includes a featurette called Woman In The Moon: The First Scientific Science Fiction Film that clocks in at fifteen minutes in length and was made by Transit Film and the F.W. Murnau Estate. It's in German with English subtitles and it talks about how the moonscape was built, how the sets were constructed, how Lang's directorial vision made this adventure story into something more than just another adventure story, and how the filmmakers tried to use as much actual science in the movie as was possible given when it was made and what was known about space travel at the time. It's quite interesting and while a commentary from a Lang expert might have been a nice addition to the disc, this still adds some definite value to the package.

Four Around The Woman (1921):

There are no extra on the disc outside of static menus and chapter selection

Harakiri (1919):

There are no extra on the disc outside of static menus and chapter selection

The Wandering Shadow (1920):

There are no extra on the disc outside of static menus and chapter selection

The Plague Of Florence (1919):

There are no extra on the disc outside of static menus and chapter selection

As to the packaging, the discs all fits inside a book-style holder, one disc per page. This fits inside a reasonably sturdy glossy black box that also holds a decent thirty-two page booklet that includes an essay on Lang written by Tom Gunning, some filmography information, and plenty of stills and poster art from his films.

Final Thoughts:

Fritz Lang: The Silent Films is an excellent set, presenting a collection of the director's classic silent works in, mostly, excellent shape, with lossless audio and a nice selection of extras. The movies themselves hold up remarkably well, shining examples of just how interesting, creative and adventurous silent cinema could be.

Ian lives in NYC with his wife where he writes for DVD Talk, runs Rock! Shock! Pop!. He likes NYC a lot, even if it is expensive and loud.

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