METROPOLIS. (1927) DIRECTED BY FRITZ LANG. SCREENPLAY BY FRITZ LANG AND THEA VON HARBOU. MUSIC BY GOTTFRIED HUPPERTZ. STARRING BRIGITTE HELM, GUSTAV FRŐHLICH, ALFRED ABEL AND RUDOLF KLEIN-ROGGE. REVIEW BY SANDRA HARRIS. ©
‘The Mediator Between the Head and the Hands Must Be the Heart.’
When you leave the cinema so awe-struck by the film you’ve just seen that you’re unable to even discuss it with the people who accompanied you there, that’s usually an indication that you’ve seen something extraordinarily special.
That’s what happened to me recently when I went to see a one-off special screening of Fritz Lang’s METROPOLIS at the Irish Film Institute here in Dublin. The film was being shown for two reasons.
Firstly, it was April 2016’s choice for the monthly Bigger Picture presentation, which argues for a film’s place within the canon. I think everyone there was of the opinion that this legendary silent film speaks for itself…!
Secondly, METROPOLIS formed part of the FUTURES PAST: HOW CINEMA OF THE PAST HAS IMAGINED OUR FUTURE season being held in the IFI this month. Other films being shown included THE DAY THE EARTH CAUGHT FIRE, STANLEY KUBRICK’S 2001: A SPACE ODYSSEY, SILENT RUNNING, SOYLENT GREEN, GATTACA and GEORGE LUCAS’S THX 1138. There’s enough material in there to satisfy even the hungriest fans of futuristic movies…!
Because of the scientific content of this dystopian film, it was introduced by Lynn Scarff, the Director of the Trinity Science Gallery here in Dublin. Mercifully, Ms. Scarff kept it brief! She acknowledged herself that we were all dying to see the film, a mostly fully restored version of which was being shown to us, complete with the English subtitles and German intertitles, as they’re called.
Do we all know that METROPOLIS is a film about a terrifying futuristic slave nation, in which miserable workers toil endlessly underground manning the machines which keep the city above-ground ticking over for the overlords who live there? Well, it is.
It sounds nightmarish, doesn’t it? It truly is a dystopian nightmare, at least for the poor drones who risk life and limb in the hellish steam pumping out of the monstrous machines around the clock.
Fritz Lang (1890-1976) apparently was inspired to make this epic German expressionist science-fiction movie after observing the skyscrapers of New York. His above-ground city certainly resembles this famous American city in its towering buildings of glass and steel and the endless flow of traffic back and forth across the intricate interlocking network of roads.
The choreography of the workers as they march to and from their horrible duties is superb. One shift clocks off as the next clocks on, with everyone so downtrodden and depressed you can just about tell which shift is which. The music accompanying their defeated trudge is out of this world. When it’s being blasted out at you full-blast from the big screen, it’s positively mind-blowing.
The machines and the gigantic geometric sets are both fantastic and terrifying. How Fritz Lang could make a film of this magnitude way back in 1926 is incredible. He co-wrote it with his wife, Thea Von Harbou, from whom he separated in 1933.
Thea had begun to sympathise with the Nazis in the early 1930’s whereas Lang, Jewish by birth, would have had much to fear from them as the war approached. He left Germany in 1934 and started up a career in Hollywood not long after.
The main character in METROPOLIS is Freder, the son of Joh Fredersen, the wealthy ruler of the above-ground city of light, comfort, leisure and pleasure. One fateful day (as they say!), Freder follows a beautiful young woman called Maria deep down into the underground world of the workers. What he finds there makes him sick to his stomach.
Finding out that his father is forcing thousands of workers to slave away in the bowels of the earth under appalling working conditions does not sit well with the foppish young womaniser. Before our very eyes, Freder transforms from a slightly ridiculous playboy in splendid knickerbockers into a man of real courage and compassion.
He joins with the sweet and kind-hearted Maria to save the workers from the devious machinations of his father and Rotwang, a crazy inventor. Rotwang has created a Maschinenmensch or robot-human and has given it the physical appearance of Maria, whom the workers trust implicitly.
This Maschinenmensch has been described, incidentally, as ‘a brilliant eroticisation and fetishisation of modern technology.’ I couldn’t have put it better myself. If a robot can be sexy, then this robot-human is as sexy as Marilyn Monroe mashed together with a young Diana Dors, if you can imagine such a magnificently-bosomed, doe-eyed sex-bomb. Or you can use your own ideals of feminine beauty to create an equally apt analogy, if you prefer. But whatever way you slice this tomato, boys, she is hot, hot, hot…!
Joh Fredersen wants the Fake Maria to be used to incite the workers to an ill-advised revolution, which will give him the excuse he needs to use force against them in turn. Can Freder and the Real Maria, with whom he has fallen truly, madly, deeply in love, avert a disaster for the whole city?
Is Freder really the Mediator (der Mittler) for whom the workers have been waiting for so long? Can Maria help him to be the Heart that unites the Head (his father) and the Hands (the workers)? Maybe, but the clock has already started ticking…
The underground caverns are wonderfully scary. Check out the Seven Deadly Sins. They’re positively chilling, and doesn’t Death have a lovely big scythe…? The scenes of luxury and decadence when the Fake Maria is performing her (virtually!) topless dance are so very ‘Twenties, although of course the film is meant to be set somewhere around the year 2027. We laughed our heads off at the gurning, drooling, lustful faces of the watching males. Men sure don’t change much over the centuries, do they…? Snigger snigger.
Speaking of Maria, she’s far and away the most interesting and animated character, especially when she’s being the Evil Maria. Those delightfully hammy expressions she puts on when she’s being Evil! She’s great fun when she’s Evil, but as the Real Maria she displays almost superhuman strength and courage when she’s trying to save the poor little kiddies from the flooding of the underground city.
What a gal! It’s weird to think that she (Brigitte Helm) lived all the way to 1996, especially when she’s the very epitome of that gorgeous ‘Twenties dame with the big eyes and the Cupid’s Bow lips. Fritz Lang himself made it to the mid-‘Seventies. That feels weird too, doesn’t it?
It’s just about conceivable too that some of the children in the film might be alive today, though of course they’d have to be in their nineties and older. Imagine having that on your CV. ‘I was in Fritz Lang’s ‘METROPOLIS…!’ It’s a bit like being able to say that you were in F.W. Murnau’s NOSFERATU. That’s really something to brag about.
I’ll leave you with a thought. It’s what makes this film a horror movie for me, as well as a superb sci-fi epic. There’s a scene early on in it when the autocratic Joh Fredersen dismisses his man, Josaphat, from his service. To be dismissed means to be sent underground forever without hope of reprieve.
The very thought of this exile-slash-virtual death sentence sends Josaphat reaching for his gun with the intention of blowing his own brains out. If you’ve seen the film, you’ll understand perfectly why he would prefer death to a life below ground-level. And if you haven’t seen the film, you need to rectify such a grievous error post-haste. Whaddya mean, what do I mean? Go and see the film, that’s what I mean…!
AUTHOR BIOGRAPHY OF SANDRA HARRIS.
Sandra Harris is a Dublin-based novelist, poet, short story writer and film and book blogger. She has studied Creative Writing and Vampirology. She has published a number of e-books on the following topics: horror film reviews, multi-genre film reviews, women’s fiction, erotic fiction, erotic horror fiction and erotic poetry. Several new books are currently in the pipeline. You can browse or buy any of Sandra’s books by following the link below straight to her Amazon Author Page:
Her debut romantic fiction novel, ‘THIRTEEN STOPS,’ is out now from Poolbeg Books:
The sequel, ‘THIRTEEN STOPS LATER,’ is out now from Poolbeg Books:
THE QUATERMASS XPERIMENT. (1955) DIRECTED BY VAL GUEST. BASED ON THE 1953 BBC TELEVISION SERIAL ‘THE QUATERMASS EXPERIMENT’ WRITTEN BY NIGEL KNEALE. PRODUCED BY HAMMER FILM PRODUCTIONS.
STARRING BRIAN DONLEVY, RICHARD WORDSWORTH, JACK WARNER AND MARGIA DEAN.
REVIEW BY SANDRA HARRIS. ©
This excellent British sci-fi horror film was one of the productions that gave Hammer its reputation for making terrific horror movies. I love their three Quatermass films, and couldn’t really choose a favourite out of the three as they’re all so top-notch. Films one and two are black-and-white and have a deliciously ancient feel to them. The third film is more modern and is even made in colour, and features a different actor playing the eponymous Quatermass.
THE QUATERMASS XPERIMENT tells the story of a rocket ship, that’s been on a tour of outer space, crashing one dark night into an English country field. If the ship was unmanned, it might not have been such a catastrophe, but there were three men aboard that ship.
Professor Quatermass, the abrupt-to-the-point-of-rudeness academic responsible for launching the rocket, orders the craft opened. Out staggers, amid much tension, the one member of the crew who’s still alive… the astronaut Victor Carroon. Something horrible has killed his two companions, and all Carroon is able to say on the subject are two little words: ‘Help me…’
Aside from giving a superb performance as the poor tormented Carroon, the distinctly aristocratic-looking actor Richard Curwen Wordsworth who plays him comes from very interesting and exalted stock indeed.
He is the great-great-grandson of one of England’s best-loved poets, William Wordsworth, the chap I remember from my schooldays as being the ‘daffodils poet,’ and he also founded the famous Wordsworth Summer School, a week of poetry, lectures and walking tours in England’s lovely Lake District. It’s a bit like being descended from old Willie Shakespeare or Charlie Dickens, is that.
Anyway, it quickly beomes clear to Quatermass and the medical staff caring for Carroon that he has undergone a trauma in outer space that we down here on earth would be hard pressed to understand. Strange markings and even changes on and to his face and shoulder indicate that the trauma might be more than just emotional and mental. It’s probably physical as well…
The poor guy is undergoing an horrific mutation, through no fault of his own, that could have serious implications, not only for Carroon and his ‘Fifties wife Judith (tight skirt, high heels, short modern hairstyle, smokes cigarettes and even knows how to drive), but for the rest of the human race as well.
And, speaking of races, the film turns into a tense-as-hell race against time when Carroon escapes from his hospital room with the help of Judith, who, if she hadn’t been so unnaturally modern and inclined to think thoughts about things and have opinions of her own in such a distinctly unfeminine fashion, would never have aided and abetted in something so law-unabiding!
Quatermass and his chum in the police force, Scotland Yard’s Inspector Lomax, have to find Carroon before the gross mutation that’s taking him over can finish the job, killing Carroon while, more importantly from Quatermass and Inspector Lomax’s point of view, managing to multiply so quickly that it’s only a matter of time before the alien life force takes over the world and everyone in it…
There are some truly memorable, stunning-looking scenes that occur during the search for Carroon, including a rather frightening interlude in an olde-style apothecary and some distressing scenes in Chessington Zoo, a lovely, old-fashioned zoological gardens like the one in Val Lewton’s CAT PEOPLE.
There’s also some light comedy from British actress Thora Hird as a homeless, gin-soaked old dear (not unlike some roles we’ve seen Joan Hicks from the CARRY Ons play) who turns up at her local cop-shop and unwittingly gives the police a lead to Carroon.
There’s also a beautiful scene, reminiscent of James Whale’s 1931 horror classic FRANKENSTEIN, in which a blonde-haired little girl (played by child actress Jane Asher) asks Carroon to play with her, unafraid of him and completely unrepulsed by his physical appearance. This scene is filmed at the old defunct, history-steeped East India Docks.
The film climaxes in that grand old bastion of Britishness, Westminster Abbey (not the real one, sadly, but a really smashing set!). Gordon Jackson, better known as the Scottish butler Angus Hudson from the original UPSTAIRS, DOWNSTAIRS, turns up here as a BBC TV producer.
Marianne Stone from the CARRY ON films and Lionel Jeffries also have small roles in THE QUATERMASS XPERIMENT, a film so good it spawned many imitators. Enjoy it. It’s the real deal all right. But if you’ve been wondering what to get me for Christmas (the year’s flying; it’ll be here sooner than you think!), I have just one caveat. No cacti, ta. I’m prickly enough…
AUTHOR BIOGRAPHY OF SANDRA HARRIS.
Sandra Harris is a Dublin-based novelist, poet, short story writer and film and book blogger. She has studied Creative Writing and Film-Making. She has published a number of e-books on the following topics: horror film reviews, multi-genre film reviews, women’s fiction, erotic fiction, erotic horror fiction and erotic poetry. Several new books are currently in the pipeline. You can browse or buy any of Sandra’s books by following the link below straight to her Amazon Author Page: http://www.amazon.com/-/e/B015GDE5RO
Her debut romantic fiction novel, ‘THIRTEEN STOPS,’ is out now from Poolbeg Books.
NIGHT OF THE BIG HEAT, AKA ISLAND OF THE BURNING DAMNED. (1967) RELEASED BY PLANET FILM PRODUCTIONS. BASED ON THE SCI-FI BOOK BY JOHN LYMINGTON. DIRECTED BY TERENCE FISHER. STARRING CHRISTOPHER LEE, PETER CUSHING, PATRICK ALLEN, SARAH LAWSON, KENNETH COPE AND JANE MERROW.
REVIEW BY SANDRA HARRIS. ©
This is very similar to another Planet film I reviewed recently called ISLAND OF TERROR. It starred Peter Cushing on a remote island off the Irish coast with a lone pub on it, and he was trying to save the islanders (and also, I presume, the pub!) from a breed of artificially created monsters called silicates, who made a funny whirring noise and moved along the ground like the Blob from THE BLOB.
In NIGHT OF THE BIG HEAT, Peter Cushing and Christopher Lee are on a remote island off the Scottish coast with a lone pub on it, and they’re trying to save the islanders (and also, I presume, the pub!) from alien beings from another planet who make a funny whirring noise and move along the ground like the Blob from THE BLOB.
This film has tremendous heat in it as well though, a heat caused by the aliens which, if it’s allowed to continue, will turn Earth into a scorched wasteland like the planet Mars, and humans will no longer be able to survive on it. You can see, therefore, why the situation is somewhat pressing and why the aliens need to be eliminated post-haste.
At first, Christopher Lee, tall and dark and devastatingly handsome in his white shirt with the sleeves rolled up, dark slacks and professorial glasses, is the only person on the island who realises that there’s a problem. He plays Godfrey Hanson (Godfrey Handsome, more like!), a scientist with an abrupt and rude manner who’s staying at the island’s one pub. (Which is why it’s so crucial to save it from the aliens, lol.)
He strides around the island by day, being abrupt and rude and scientist-y, trying to find proof that the island is, in fact, being targeted by aliens. Everyone else just thinks he’s nuts at first, but the terrible increasing heat on the island, unheard-of for winter, gradually forces the islanders into a communal change of mind. The island itself is heating up, and if the islanders don’t want to end up as barbecue, they’d better start listening to crazy old Professor Hanson…
Peter Cushing plays the suave and sociable intellectual, Dr. Vernon Stone, who proves an ally of the right intelligence for Professor Hanson. Which is just as well, as I don’t know how much help the womanising novelist Jeff Callum will be.
Beefcake Jeff (not for me but I can see why some women would) and his wife Frankie (Sarah Lawson; THE DEVIL RIDES OUT) own the Swan pub, the village’s one inn, and this cheating bastard Jeff is carrying on a sizzling affair with his hussy of a secretary Angela Roberts, right under his wife’s nose.
Sexy saucepot Angela has come to the island against his wishes, but now she’s here I don’t exactly see him fighting her off. And his wife Frankie is a real diamond as well. It’s a clear case of going out for hamburger when you’ve jolly well got steak at home. Tsk tsk, Jeff.
And in the meantime, telephone wires are melting in the ever-increasing heat, the bottles containing the precious booze are exploding (nobody tell Homer Simpson…!) with the high temperatures and the villagers are going mad. How long before their eyeballs melt and their blood begins, literally, to boil…?
One villager in particular, Tinker Mason (Kenneth Cope; CARRY ON, MATRON and CARRY ON AT YOUR CONVENIENCE), previously of good character, is driven to commit a heinous rape by the sweltering heat. Let’s hope that, once again, a good clout around the ear-holes with a giant ashtray will bring a man hell-bent on crime to his senses before too much damage to virtue has been caused, heh-heh-heh…
If you encounter the aliens yourself, here’s what will happen. You will see a great light on a lonely road and be drawn to it. Your eyes will widen in horror. You’ll take a few steps forward, then draw back in terror, your arms in the air. You will scream at the top of your lungs as the blinding white light envelops you in its deadly heat.
The next time we see you, you will look worse than the pizza I accidentally left in the oven for an hour and a half when the proper heating time was seven minutes. In short, you will be cremated. Not happy? Sorry, but them’s the breaks. The film is called NIGHT OF THE BIG HEAT, after all, not NIGHT OF THE MILD DISCOMFORT.
A poor old tramp is burnt to a crisp in this film. He looks like one of the tramps I used to read about in my beloved Enid Blyton books, one of those auld lads who used to ‘tramp’ the highways and byways of Britain in the good old days, living off the land and the goodwill of the folks who resided on it. Whatever happened to these poor old guys, anyway?
They adhered, of course, to a strict dress code: straggly long hair and beard, old torn mackintosh belted at the waist, several layers of grimy shirts and cardigans and, naturally, the shoes with the holes in the soles and that flapping effect at the front that no self-respecting tramp would be seen dead without. A wide-brimmed hat was optional, but only if the crown was completely missing. They kipped in hay-ricks and under hedges with a piece of straw in their mouths and told anyone who’d listen that this was the life for them.
They’d sniff around the bins of any given household and, in Enid Blyton’s THE FIVE FIND-OUTERS books, Pip or Larry or Fatty’s mum would give them a pair of old but still good shoes belonging to the man of the house. And if the auld lad was really lucky, he might be told to go round the back of the house to the kitchen door where Cook would give him a hot meal or a cup of tea. I presume this stuff doesn’t happen any more in real life. I really do wonder what happened to these staples of children’s fiction from the ’50s, the ’60s and the ’70s. Answers on a postcard, please.
Anyway, the ending of NIGHT OF THE BIG HEAT kind of annoyed me. Handsome people who should have lived are shockingly permitted to die, and big cheating bastards, who should be spending eternity in the flames of hell with little devils poking them in the arse with red-hot pokers, are allowed to live. Grrr. It’s still a great film though, and very similar to ISLAND OF TERROR, lol. Catch it if you can. How does that song go again? Hey, it’s getting hot in here, so take off all your clothes…
AUTHOR BIOGRAPHY OF SANDRA HARRIS.
Sandra Harris is a Dublin-based novelist, poet, short story writer and film and book blogger. She has studied Creative Writing and Film-Making. She has published a number of e-books on the following topics: horror film reviews, multi-genre film reviews, women’s fiction, erotic fiction, erotic horror fiction and erotic poetry. Several new books are currently in the pipeline. You can browse or buy any of Sandra’s books by following the link below straight to her Amazon Author Page:
You can contact Sandra at:
THE FLY. (1958) BASED ON A STORY BY GEORGE LANGELAAN. SCREENPLAY BY JAMES CLAVELL. PRODUCED AND DIRECTED BY KURT NEUMANN.
STARRING VINCENT PRICE, PATRICIA OWENS, AL HEDISON AND HERBERT MARSHALL.
REVIEW BY SANDRA HARRIS. ©
This is no common or garden B-movie or sci-fi shocker. It’s a genuinely disturbing and moving film that makes you feel a terrible empathy for the stricken characters contained within it.
It also really makes me wish I’d been a rich glamorous ‘Fifties housewife married to a wealthy, successful and generous man, because all Helene Delambre seems to do is change from one spectacular outfit to another, give instructions to the maids and lie in bed waiting for her husband to, well, come and make love to her. (As Scarface says to Michelle Pfeiffer just before she leaves him, lol.) I could do that. I could very easily live like that, being some rich guy’s sex-Barbie and clothes-horse.
The Jeff Goldblum version of this film (1986) is pretty much unbeatable, but THE FLY (1958) holds its own remarkably well too, even today. Vincent Price plays Francois Delambre, a French-Canadian electronics millionaire who co-owns his business with his brother Andre.
Andre is the genius scientist-inventor who spends all his waking moments in his laboratory while Francois is most likely the brains behind the business side of things. Francois is suave, single, sophisticated, sexy as hell and, sadly, disappointed in love. Can you guess who disappointed him? Come on, guys. There are only three main characters, after all…!
One night, Francois is lounging about at home in his magnificent red satin smoking-jacket when he receives a phone call from Helene, saying rather bizarrely that she’s just killed Andre in their factory. Francois thinks she’s kidding at first, but this is no freakin’ joke.
A horrified Francois calls an acquaintance of his, a police inspector called Charas, and the two of them high-tail it over to the factory to find that Andre has indeed been killed, and in a particularly horrific way as well, with his head and arm crushed in an industrial press designed to squish heavy metals. I know, it’s gruesome, right?
Then the two men nip over to Helene and Andre’s house to find Helene quite composed and in control of herself. Immaculately dressed and playing the hostess, she admits quite calmly to having killed Andre but she won’t say that she ‘murdered’ him because that’s a different matter entirely. She also categorically refuses to say why she did it. End of story.
I daresay that if she were ugly, ancient and impoverished instead of a millionaire scientist’s beautiful young wife, Inspector Charas would probably throw her in jail without a second thought. As it is, he lets her stay at home on house arrest with a nurse catering to her every whim while they try to puzzle out her mental state.
When she gets hysterical one day over the squishing of a common housefly by the attending nurse, however, the floodgates open. Helene Delambre is ready to talk. Francois is permitted to fetch Charas over to the house (‘I can’t tell this story twice,’ Helene says) and the two men hear a tale from her that seems to belong more in the realms of science fiction and science fantasy than the real world of cold hard scientific facts to which they’re more used.
Do they believe her? Not at first, of course. It’s just too fantastical. But when Helene’s cute little ‘Fifties son Philippe points out the existence of a rather unusual fly in the garden to his dear Uncle Francois, it gives some credence- just a little- to Helene’s story.
Francois rushes like a mad thing to grab Inspector Charas, who’s right this minute busy arranging for Helene’s committal to an insane asylum, and hurries him out into the garden to see this fly. Is this the dramatic eleventh-hour corroboration the distraught Helene needs before the white-shirted orderlies cart her away to the funny-farm for the rest of her life?
Helene’s story is indeed fantastical, but it’s heartbreaking too. I was in floods of tears by the end. Naturally I can’t divulge the details but may I be so bold as to suggest that you add THE FLY (1958) to your Halloween viewing this year? Team it with the absolutely brilliant Jeff Goldblum version from 1986 and you’ve got yourself a nice little party going. And for God’s sake don’t forget the sugar. Flies love sugar…
AUTHOR BIOGRAPHY OF SANDRA HARRIS.
Sandra Harris is a Dublin-based novelist, film blogger, poet and book-and-movie reviewer. She has studied Creative Writing and Film-Making. She has published a number of e-books on the following topics: horror film reviews, multi-genre film reviews, womens’ fiction, erotic fiction, erotic horror fiction and erotic poetry. Several new books are currently in the pipeline. You can browse or buy any of Sandra’s books by following the link below straight to her Amazon Author Page:
You can contact Sandra at: