After more than 20 years in Hollywood, the great Fritz Lang opted to return to his roots by going back to the German film industry—and this wasn’t just a trip back to Germany, it was virtually a trip back in time. What Lang made was a modern (1959) version of his ex-wife (and card-carrying Nazi party member) Thea von Harbou’s novel The Indian Tomb—a story he’d originally adapted for director Joe May back in the early 1920s. Strangely enough, he also returned to the old serial film practice—once common in Germany—of making the film in two parts: The Tiger of Eschnapur and The Indian Tomb. This guaranteed, of course, that the movie would be cut up into a compacted version by the time it got to the U.S., but it didn’t seem to matter to Lang, who simply wanted to make an old-style exotic romance. And that’s exactly what he did—and which is now available in the U.S. in the manner Lang intended.
The first of the two noncompacted films (the second shows next week) is definitely old-fashioned. It’s even rather childish as far as story and dialogue are concerned, which is part of its charm. The story is a silly affair about an architect (Paul Hubschmid) who rescues a dancer (Debra Paget) from a tiger while he’s on a trip to Eschnapur (a remote province in India), where he’s to build an elaborate project for the Maharajah (Walter Reyer), whom she is supposed to marry. Naturally, they fall in love, and you know this isn’t good news. What Lang does with this is to give us a strikingly beautiful film that takes itself so seriously that we almost manage it ourselves. It doesn’t matter much, because it’s so marvelous to look at. Complaints that the version available ought to have been matted to wide-screen are hard to swallow, since Lang appears to have ignored that idea and created a film of very vertical compositions (this is a singularly tall movie) as if it actually were an early silent. I can see no way to mask the image without lopping off heads. My guess is that its current composition is the one Lang wanted.