This review is not of the anime film I have yet to see, but of Fritz Lang’s silent masterpiece from 1927.

Cast, Crew, and Other Info

Alfred Abel as Joh Fredersen
Gustav Frohlich as Freder Fredersen
Brigitte Helm as Maria
Rudolf Klein-Rogge as Rotwang
Fritz Rasp as the Thin Man
Theodor Loos as Josaphat
Erwin Biswanger as Worker 11811
Heinrich George as Grot

Written by Thea von Harbou

Directed by Fritz Lang

Complete information is available from the IMDB.

Buy from: Amazon.com or Amazon.ca.
Note that there are several versions of this on DVD, but Kino obtained an excellent restoration. This version looks better than the version I watched in a film studies class. The original orchestral score has been included, as well. This is the version you want to own. Note also that, while I have linked to Amazon.ca above, you can see by the prices that Canadian customers will want the DVD imported from the US, particularly given the current strength of the Canadian dollar.

Premise

In the far future, the ruling class lives in a utopia, while the working class lives deep underground and maintains the machines that keep things working. Unfortunately, the working class is starting to realize the problem, and the upper class wants to maintain the status quo.

High Point

The view of the workers on the machine before the explosion. They appear to be a part of the machine, driving things like clockwork.

Low Point

Large portions of this film are lost forever. This restoration includes intertitles describing the portions that are missing, but when you’re talking about a Fritz Lang film, words can’t do what the images can.

The Scores

It’s an adaptation of a novel, which is itself remarkably similar in theme to H.G. Wells’ The Time Machine from a few decades before, so the story certainly does little to improve the originality of the film. The mechanics of the film’s construction, however, are remarkable for its time. Lang was one of the most innovative directors film has seen, and he deserves credit for the way he put this film together. I give it 4 out of 6.

The effects often look convincing today, which is truly astounding given that the film is older than many grandparents who are around today. Some of the effects do not hold up, but the fact that so many do is a remarkable achievement. I can only fault some of the transformation scenes, in which it would have been obvious even in 1927 that double exposures were used to get a passable job done. I give it 5 out of 6.

The story, though not terribly original, is very well told. It was difficult for a silent film director to tell a story well. Intertitles disrupted the flow of the story, and detached the audience from what they were seeing, reminding them it was only a movie. Lang’s visuals did an excellent job of telling the story on their own, greatly reducing the need for such disruptions. (Intertitles are available in English, French, and Spanish though. Strangely, German intertitles are not listed on the packaging.) We have a solid, poignant plot, with excitement, deeper meanings, and true emotional resonance. Lang managed to include moving cameras mounted over a portion of the set which had no floor in order to create an accurate sense of urgency and desperation. I give it 6 out of 6.

The acting from Abel was remarkably subtle for the era. Before sound, actors still over-emoted in the stage tradition, though they did so on screen to compensate for the lack of sound. Abel did not give in to this temptation, and he provided a remarkably modern acting turn. Frohlich and Helm did work to the extremes through much of the film, but that was the norm of the era. I give it 5 out of 6.

This film has the power to produce a strong emotional response, in spite of the failings of many of its contemporaries to do so. The power of the images is so strong that you can’t help being drawn into the world. I give it 6 out of 6.

The production was fantastic. Fritz Lang is my favourite director, and this was one of his greatest achievements. The scale of the film, the visual style, the subtle imagery (such as the faint pentagrams on the doors of Rotwang), and the remarkably advanced camera work all demonstrate a director who refuses to let the technical limitations of his time limit his work. Even though sound film wasn’t available, Lang commissioned a musical score specifically for the film, and had this played at the premier. (This score has been restored for this DVD edition.) Lang was a master of the medium, for reasons that should be clear in this work. I give it 6 out of 6.

Overall, despite the unoriginal story, overly emotive acting, black and white film stock, and silent film status, this is still an incredible film. I’ve never seen a Lang film that I didn’t love. I give it 6 out of 6.

In total, Metropolis receives 38 out of 42.

Additional Notes and Comments

The greatest film I’ve ever seen is not a genre film. It is, however, directed by Fritz Lang, and is available from the Criterion Collection. Do yourself a favour and pick up M
if you haven’t already. It is the first film noir, the first German sound film, the first starring role for Peter Lorre, and the first movie that made me wonder if I wanted the police to arrive in time.