Lang. Lang is an early master- he gave us the 4th best film of the 20’s and 3rd best of the 30’s- that’s remarkable. I think I looked past Lang initially because he doesn’t have the big third film after Metropolis and M. I’ve concluded, at least for the time being, that the body of the rest of his work (total of 22 archiveable films), particularly his brilliant work in film noir (and the partial bringing about of that entire genre), was enough for this slot and act as a surrogate third masterpiece. Unlike many of the other great silent directors, I think the Lang had a second act and that was a key difference (he has 9 films in the top 100 of their respective decade- which is tied for 9th all-time). You combine that with his two giant masterpieces that should be in anyone’s top 100 (and maybe top 50) and you’ve got the #21 director on my list.
Best film: M. Ideally I’d love to Metropolis again (it’s been 7-8 years) before making this call. M influenced everything from Seven and Fincher and the serial killer film. Metropolis influenced everything from Blade Runner to Inception (which is funny with Nolan here because I see some Dr. Mabuse in Heath Ledger’s Joker in The Dark Knight.
total archiveable films: 22
top 100 films: 2 (M, Metropolis)
top 500 films: 6 (M, Metropolis, Mabuse: The Gambler, The Big Heat, Scarlet Street, Destiny)
top 100 films of the decade: 9 (Metropolis, Mabuse: The Gambler, Destiny, Spies, M, The Testament of Dr. Mabuse, You Only Live Once, Scarlet Street, The Big Heat)
most overrated: The Tiger of Eschnapur. Lang has a couple of these late West German financed films towards the end of his career. I’ve only seen them once but I’m not high on them- especially to be at #676 all-time.
most underrated : Scarlet Street is #485 film and it can’t crack the TSPDT top 1000 somehow. It’s definitely a remake bias. This is Renoir’s La Chienne from 1931 and no this isn’t quite as good but still– Lang’s take is unique and quite spectacular. Kind of an eerie obsession/noir 40’s film with a great performance by Edward G. Robinson. Really dark depressing film. Reunites 3 principals from Women in the Window the year before. Might be Joan Bennett and Dan Duryea’s best and probably pretty close for Edward G. Robinson as well- he’s superb. It’s a magnificent masculinity study (reminded me of Blue Angel from von Sternberg)- Edward G. is verbally castrated, made to wear an apron – he does the dishes like 3-4 times in a short film here .It really shows Edward g’s range—he was Little Caesar in 1930 and then can turn around and be the softest of the soft here. Dark and painful to watch- so degrading. Streetlamp lighting is certainly a reoccurring visual- as are the window shots. The voices Edward G hears towards the end of the film are powerful- but it’s not really built up enough- that might be keeping this from a masterpiece
gem I want to spotlight: Destiny is my #486 and isn’t on the TSPDT top 1000 either so I could have easily been “most underrated”, too. It’s a mesmerizing film. Not his debut (8th film according to IMDB) but my first in the archives for Lang. Quite an epic with the story in 3 parts clearly influenced by Griffith’s Intolerance (Mideast story line, Spanish story line and Chinese story line). Post Great War pessimism “a ravaged town”. Early Lang really loves his chapter breaks like the Mabuse films- works here really well with the 3 part story. Incredible mise-en-scene work- standouts include some of the shots with 10+ large candle and some of the lighting walking up to death’s house on the stairs. Early portrayal of death- which of course is done most famously by Bergman in The Seventh Seal (1957). Love vs death clear story/narrative. The film, special effects (on display in Chinese narrative especially with magician story line) and mostly the mise-en-scene size, grandeur and detail is really a brilliant foreshadowing of the work in Metropolis to come later in 1927.
stylistic innovations/traits: If Eisenstein was known for editing and the montage and Murnau was known for moving the camera then Lang was known for his startling imagery: dark and expressionistic- a master of mise-en-scene. He’s influenced by Caligari (so was Murnau) and Murnau did more than just move the camera (he’s the guy who did Nosferatu after all) Dark films- both German expressionism and film noir—two crucial film movements. It was consistent in both stretches of his career. It’s no mistake that he was known for dark films and his early films in Hollywood are often cited as tea leaves leading to film noir (literally translating to “dark or “black” I think”). Sections of his films, Testament of Dr. Mabuse opening as an example, show a gorgeously cluttered mise-en-scene like von Sternberg. Lang also does paranoia through atmosphere so well—perhaps only Polanki and Pakula could match.
- Dr. Mabuse: The Gambler
- The Big Heat
- Scarlet Street
- The Testament of Dr. Mabuse
- You Only Live Once
- The Woman in the Window
By year and grades
|1922- Dr. Mabuse: The Gambler||MS|
|1933- The Testament of Dr. Mabuse||HR|
|1937- You Only Live Once||HR|
|1941- Man Hunt||R|
|1944- The Woman In the Window|
|1945- Scarlet Street||MS|
|1948- The Secret Beyond the Door|
|1952- Clash By Night||R|
|1952- Rancho Notorious||R|
|1953- The Big Heat||MS|
|1953- The Blue Gardenia||R|
|1954- Human Desire||R|
|1956- While the City Sleeps||R|
|1958- The Tiger of Eschnapur||R|
|1959- The Indian Tomb||R|
|1960- 1000 Eyes of Dr. Mabuse|
*MP is Masterpiece- top 1-3 quality of the year film
MS is Must-see- top 5-6 quality of the year film
HR is Highly Recommend- top 10 quality of the year film
R is Recommend- outside the top 10 of the year quality film but still in the archives