Fritz Lang's Indian Epic
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Long dismissed as the last gasp of a great directing career, Fritz Lang's two-part saga of India needs to be rescued from cinema's dustbin. While it has clear limitations, notably the listless actors and shoddy special effects (hard to overlook the fake tiger), this opus is marked by an awesome sense of formal design, immaculate camera composition, and the creeping sense of fate messing up the characters' lives. In the first part, The Tiger of Eschnapur, we delve into the political and personal intrigue that results from a maharaja's infatuation with a temple dancer (sawed-off, sexy Debra Paget). Lang's pacing is deliberate; sometimes the movie resembles an Indiana Jones yarn slowed to a stroll. But as Lang brings the many threads together, the scheme emerges, and the crisp location shooting in India presents a storybook exoticism that, admittedly, has little to do with reality.
In the second part, The Indian Tomb, a lovesick maharaja exacts his vengeance. Auteurists will recognize Lang's impeccable eye for screen space and his obsessive concern with the price of tempting fate. Even non-auteurists will appreciate the revolt of the underground leper colony and the cobra dance performed by Paget, who wears something less than a bikini. This is melodrama served up without apology by a director more interested in patterns than psychology. --Robert Horton --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.
The superbly transferred DVDs offer both German- and English-language versions of the film. As the English is awkwardly dubbed and poorly spoken, and the dialogue is of a comic-book variety anyway, the German version is smoother and less stilted to watch. --Robert Horton --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.
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While I would give the story and film quality a 4 ½ - star rating, I was so pleased with this box set in general, the notes on each film inside, the bonus photo gallery and in particular the option of the English-dubbed or original German version (with or without English subtitles) that I'm giving it the full 5 stars. For anyone who speaks German as I do, I'd like to point out that the German language spoken in these two films is absolutely top-class quality and a delight to hear. I'm sure anyone who enjoys 50s and 60s movies will be delighted by this box set and the restored full-length versions of both films (they were previously released in a much condensed version entitled "Journey to the Lost City") and for anyone who has enjoyed the silent 1921 version, this set would surely also be of interest to compare and have a nice change.
No doubt the film would have greatly benefited from being silent: These actors can not deliver their lines within a range of believable possibility and this is the main drawback of the film.
However, Debra Paget, mostly remembered for her role as Lilia the water girl partnered with John Derek as Joshua in de Mille's "The Ten Commandments" is here in the role of Seetha absolutely stunning to look at, her sacred temple dance is a culmination of a film genre that depicts female sensuality in an exotic setting and starts with Pola Negri in "The Eyes of the Mummy", (1922) is developed most by Garbo in her sacred dance rendition in Mata Hari (1931) given an added musical comedy twist by Marlene Dietrich in "Kismet" (1944) and finally reincarnates here in its 'ultimate' version. To watch Ms. Paget dance for Shiva, here conveniently transformed into a female deity for the benefit of the atomic-sized breasts of the monumental sculpture that stands as the perfect erotic counterpoint to Paget's curvaceous excess, is a memorable, I dare say unforgettable, experience in cinematography, but one that has no connection to spiritual revelation, and thankfully, everything to do with the libido. The costume is scarcely present as three pieces of heavily embroidered cloths, strategically distributed in Ms. Paget's perfect physique, a glorious tribute to the pre-silicone, pre-steroids era that has remained unsurpassed to this day in visual impact. This costume barely manages to disguise the dancer's nudity, and would have doubtlessly been the envy of Versace or Roberto Cavalli at their most risqué. How it is mantained in place throughout the long, acrobatic dance, is a miracle of early suction-fabrics that pre-date licra that should be studied in detail by specialists. The fact that this exquisite kitsch eroticism was allowed to exist at all in a mass marketed movie is a miracle that could not be repeated or even approximated today, in our much more retrograde and provincial era. As a matter of fact, this is as good a reason as any to watch the film!
Please note that high definition will unfortunately spoil the effect of the cobra in the temple dance, as you will be able to see the thread that was holding it above its head. It will also tarnish some of the shine of the jewels, which will look keenly platic or crystal-like, but are abundant to an insane degree even within the standards of exotica. The opposite of Ms. Paget's grace and good looks is Sabine Bethmann, playing the architect's sister who arrives late to the scene and is a character study in what should be avoided in acting, at all costs. Her demeanor is so out of place in the Indian palace that she gives the impression of a mid size dinousaur trying to get to the food in a diner, also her extreme 'whiteness' which has a tinge of the ideal model for Hitler's idea of a superior race, is so much more schoking and foreign in an Oriental setting, that it seems to jump at us like a flaming torch through the film. These are the only hard scenes to watch. The film was shot on location in Udaipur, one of the most beautiful cities in Rajahstan which gives it a perfect background in all the long shots and a grandeur in the interiors that would have been impossible to replicate in a set.
Every other expected visual treat of the exotic realm makes an appearance: The wise yogi, endless royal processions on elephants, tiger hunts, leper-stampedes, mysterious caves, underground passagess and temples, and brocade and gold embroidered cloth everywhere! This movie in both parts is highly entertaining and perfect for fans of "Indiana Jones" which must have copied lots of scenes from this movie. An absolute must-see for scholars of kitsch aesthetics and fashion historians who should particularly concentrate on the turbans, which reach here unbelievable proportions and designs.
The great surprise is Debra Paget, an actress I had never paid attention to before. She is fabulous in the movies and her erotic dances, particularly in the second movie, are enough to cause the onset of puberty in a five year old. She is entirely convincing as an Indian princess.
I can recommend the movie for her performance and for the great Saturday afternoon matinee feel to these films. After all, Lang was one of the originators of the cliff hanger serial and this was a return to that style. Great fun!
The movie was butchered for its American release (it was reduced to 90 minutes) and released here as JOURNEY TO THE LOST CITY. I vaguely remember seeing it on TV as a young boy and I can see how it must have made an impression on future directors Steven Spielberg and George Lucas. I can also clearly see what was cut from the American release considering the year was 1959.
The film features a stalwart cast of German actors with one notable exception, the American actress Debra Paget. She was criminally underused in American movies and here gets a chance to shine in the pivotal role of Seetha the temple dancer around which the film revolves. Her 2 dances and costumes (or lack of them) are remarkably erotic in an old fashioned way yet they can still raise your spirits 50 years later.
Much has been made in other reviews about how cheesy some of the effects are (the Fakir's decapitated head is especially bad although I thought the Cobra was deliberately meant to be unrealistic) but that's unimportant. The overall look of the film and the way the narrative moves along are vintage Lang and it manages to draw you in despite its shortcomings. It's also a first class look at a German production from around 1960 which is exceedingly rare.
The packaging by Fantoma is absolutely top notch and is how Criterion would do it in this country. Not only is the print beautifully transferred but you get the original German soundtrack along with the English dubbed one (the German is way better, trust me) and booklets in both DVDs that tell you all about each film. If you love old fashioned exotic adventures which are meant only to entertain then you can't go wrong here. In fact you may be surprised at just how much you enjoy it.
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