Lang. Lang is an early master- he gave us the 4th best film of the 1920s and 3rd best of the 1930s- 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
Man, what an incredible genius. Lang’s films are truly incredible. I just saw Dr Mabuse (testament) today. What an incredible gangster film. Lang truly is the master of darkness. He has a very distinct style that is hard to describe. I guess ‘dark’ would be the only word to describe his movies. I think M is his masterpiece. But all his films (that i have seen) are good or great.
m from Argentna and discover This genius a century before , no bad picutres in the hands of Fritz Lang , Amazing !!! M its based on the history of Peter Kurten , The Vampire Seriall Killer !! Amazing , The Daddy of Scorsese And Coppola , The Gran Daddy of Tarantino , This Films ARE TRULY AMAZING
For those of you who have not yet seen it – Metropolis, on YouTube:
https://imgur.com/a/9UwUOjP some of my favorite shots from The Big Heat; I’m going to put this one ahead of I Vitelloni (which is also a masterpiece) as the best film of 1953 for me, since I haven’t seen Ozu’s or Ophuls’ films.
@Zane – yeah I made a case for The Big Heat (1953) as an MP on the 1953 page, here it is:
I wanted to know if you think The Big Heat has a case for being a MP.
I watched it for the 3rd time yesterday and was again thoroughly impressed for several reasons:
– Glen Ford is a bad ass (maybe that’s not a normal grading metric haha but seriously he’s
awesome to watch the way he calls people thieves to their faces and doesn’t back down to
anyone and keeps his moral compass)
– It has a similar dynamic to The Untouchables, both of which examine good and evil in a way
that at least initially seem straight forward but are more complex as Ford’s Bannion causes
extraordinary collateral damage to those around him even if he’s always doing what he
believes is morally correct, this is also an interesting twist on the standard film noir in which
it is a female who is the cause of deaths or character’s misfortune
– The film is a cross being a noir and a gangster movie (obviously those genres have a lot of
– Great use of symbolic visuals for example Wilks orders Bannion to stop going after Duncan
as Wilks washes his hands in the bathroom, essentially washing himself from any
– Truffaut was a big fan of the movie and noted how this movie fit into a common worldview
of Fritz Lang which was good/moral people struggling against a world that is either directly
evil or at the very least indifferent
– At an hour and a half flat there are no unnecessary or wasted scenes
@James Trapp- You make a great case for it. I haven’t seen it in some time. This makes me excited for a revisit. But currently I would have it outside the masterpiece range (I have it at #454) which is about 100 slots above where the consensus has it (#563).
Metropolis (1927) was quite a treat, its mind blowing to think Lang was able to conceive a film with such spectacular visuals nearly 100 years ago. Interesting to read Lang initially was torn between pursuing film or painting (like Kurosawa). Recent viewings of Brazil (1985) and Blade Runner (1982) made Lang’s enormous influence quite clear.
What are some other must see films for German Expressionism?
@James Trapp– The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari, Nosferatu, Destiny (also from Lang) are a few to get you started if you have not seen them yet.
@Drake – I saw Nosferatu (amazing) but not the other 2, thanks for the suggestions. I watched Nosferatu the original 1922 version and the Herzog 1979 version back to back on Halloween last year, awesome Halloween!
@James – There’s a box set full of Fritz Lang silent films that you could look into: https://www.kinolorber.com/product/fritz-lang-the-silent-films-12-blu-ray-set-blu-ray
@Zane – thanks for the suggestion, have you done a Fritz Lang study?
@James – No, but I have thought about it.
@James Trapp- that is a nice Halloween for sure!
@James Trapp- thank you for the help here
Why is Die Nibelungen not here ?
@Nihilist- Thank you for the commend. This one has eluded me to this point so far unfortunately
My ranking of Lang`s films that I`ve seen:
1. M MP
2. Metropolis MP
3. Die Nibelungen MS/MP
4. The Big Heat MS
5. Dr. Mabuse the Gambler MS
6. Scarlet Street MS
7. Destiny MS
8. The Testament of Dr. Mabuse MS
9. Spies MS
10. You Only Live Once HR/MS
11. Fury HR
12. The Woman in the Window HR
13. Manhunt R
5 Best Performances
1. Lorre- M
2. Robinson- Scarlet Street
3. Klein-Rogge- Dr. Mabuse the Gambler
4. Tracy- Fury
5. Fonda- You Only Live Once
@RujK – Nice, I definitely need to do a full on Lang Study eventually. He essentially had two great careers, obviously with German Expressionsim and then in the US with several great noirs.
Question for anyone –
Aside from Hitchcock who had a great run with British films (although no clear cut MP) and then one of the greatest careers ever in the US, if not THE greatest. But Hitchcock aside are there any other directors who had two successful careers in different countries?
Although Luis Buñuel failed to make a career for himself in Hollywood, he was very successful in France, Italy and Spain.
Does Leone count? Making masterpieces in both Spain and later in the US
I guess Louis Malle would count, with the first part of his career being in France (Elevator to the gallows, The fire within…), and the second part in the US (Atlantic City, My Dinner with Andre..)
But the best example is probably Max Ophuls, which had a very international career to say the least (Germany, France, Italy, then the US with a couple of Must See/Masterpieces and France again with that incredible final four films run)
Maybe not so clear cut since his 90s films are more international coproductions, but Kieslowski’s earlier films are very distinctly Polish while Double Life and Three Colours are much more French.
I think that both Josef von Sternberg and Ernst Lubitsch had great German and American runs, similar to Lang.
@James Trapp- great list here- not exactly the question but still http://www.tasteofcinema.com/2017/the-20-most-successful-foreign-directors-in-hollywood-history/ and the two I thought of right away were Bunuel and Polanski
@Harry – yeah, Leone is one I thought of, kind of tricky since most of his movies were filmed in Italy and I think at least one was filmed in Spain yet Clint Eastwood, his biggest star, is American so many people probably think of them as American films. Once Upon a Time in America is appropriately considered an American film.
@Jeff – good call on Malle
Polanski would actually be a great example if you thought of Europe as a single country. He actually didn’t make that many films in the US but 2 of them are his 2 best films and all time greats
Knife in the Water (1962) – Poland
Repulsion (1965) – United Kingdom (Britain)
Rosemary’s Baby (1968) – US
Chinatown (1974) – US
The Tenant (1976) – France
Tess (1979) – France/United Kingdom
The Pianist (2002) – France/Poland
The Ghostwriter (2010) – United Kingdom
Have you seen Ministry of Fear (1944)?
@James Trapp- I have, but it has been 20 years on a VHS copy. Good catch here- I should make sure I nab it again the next time it is on TCM or something
@Drake – yeah it was on Criterion Channel for a while, I meant to get around it it but missed it. I am thinking of doing a full on Fritz Lang Study. I’m about to start a David Lynch one then will probably do Lang after.