best film:  Destiny from Lang

Fritz Lang’s Destiny takes narrative elements from Griffith’s Intolerance (three clear and distinct narrative strands- Mideast story line, Spanish, and Chinese) and mise-en-scene elements from Caligari (see décor detail) to make a brilliant early film for the German master

  • 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

Destiny– a brilliant early film for the German master

most underrated:   Destiny is #486 on my top 500 – the TSPDT consensus is off here- they have it way down at #1650. Critics adore Lang- he has eight films in the top 1000 already- there’s no reason to miss here. Phantom Carriage seems low at #890 but that’s not as egregious as Destiny. I’d also easily be able to find a spot for Griffith Orphans of the Storm in my top 2000 and TSPDT doesn’t.

yet another belongs in an art museum shot in Lang’s Destiny

most overrated: Chaplin’s The Kid lands on the TSPDT list at #292 – it’s a fine film but it belongs closer to the #1000 spot of all-time.

gem I want to spotlight: The Phantom Carriage from Sjöström. Expressionism carries both the best film of the year (Destiny) and the second best film of the year.

color shading, sublime symmetry for a great frame in The Phantom Carriage

Sjöström’s splendid use of the dissolve edit here

trends and notables:  It’s worth noting that Lang borrows from the best film from the two previous entries on my blog for his work in 1921. Destiny has elements of Intolerance (best of 1914-1919) and Caligari (best of 1920). It’s the second year in a row that the best film of the year comes out of Germany—a trend that would continue into 1922. It is notable for being the year Chaplin made his first feature film (a good chance, along with the emotional pull of the film, that the film is overrated by the critical consensus). Valentino (The SheikThe Four Horseman of the Apocalypse) is clearly dominant in 1921 as well starring in two of the eight archiveable films.

It’s the second year in a row that the best film of the year comes out of Germany—a trend that would continue into 1922.

best performance male:  It is Chaplin here for The Kid. He may not be able to match Lang or Sjöström behind the camera, but in front of it, he and the young Jackie Coogan work all sorts of magic together.

Chaplin gives the best performance of the year in his first feature film- The Kid

best performance female: Nothing here so I’m not going to nominate someone. Perhaps I’m underrating a Gish sister—but I’ll wait to revisit to make sure.


top 10

  1. Destiny
  2. The Phantom Carriage
  3. The Kid
  4. Orphans of the Storm
  5. The Four Horseman of the Apocalypse
  6. The Sheik
  7. The Three Musketeers
  8. The Conquering Power


Archives, Directors, and Grades

Destiny- Lang MS
Orphans of the Storm- Griffith
The Conquering Power – Ingram
The Four Horseman of the Apocalypse- Ingram R
The Kid- Chaplin HR
The Phantom Carriage- Sjöström HR/MS
The Sheik- Melford R
The Three Musketeers- Niblo


*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