The Wandering Image (1920)
Released seven years before Lang was a star with Metropolis, and I know those years represented some major developments in filmmaking, but I notice this wasn’t very Metropolis-like. It’s not letting the image tell the story, but seems like a string of wordy intertitles with brief motion images between them. I guess this is partly because half the film has been lost and some of these were explanation title cards added during the restoration, but I didn’t pay attention which were the originals and which were summaries.
The plot is convoluted, justifying all those title cards. Wil Brand is trying to claim the inheritance of his deceased cousin George, is about the sue the cousin’s wife Irmgard, though he has never met either of them (a weird way to introduce the characters, methinks) when he unexpectedly meets the wife on a train and offers to help her, as she’s desperately trying to escape John, her late husband’s brother, who is stalking her by telegram. It’s immediately impressive that this 1920 movie seems to be shot on moving trains and boats and in the woods and the mountains, not at a film studio.
Irmgard says farewell to helpful Wil Brand:
John maliciously tells strangers that Irmgard is his mentally unstable wife so they’ll help him locate her, so Wil sends her into the wilderness. She looks totally miserable, passes a hermit shepherd who decides not to help her, then goes off into the mountains where John catches up and steals some dynamite, getting serious with the death threats now. The hermit comes to her rescue and buried in rubble together, he admits he’s her husband George who faked his own death.
Death tolls a bell for the avalanche victims:
Flashback! She married George after becoming his secretary as he wrote books about free love. He could never marry lest he be seen as a hypocrite by his fascinated readers, since he’s about the only man in 1920 willing to live by his late-1960’s ideals. So John helped them marry in secret, but now that George is “dead”, John threatens to expose the whole sham and prove she’s legally married to him in order to claim the inheritance.
Hans Marr as John:
Hans Marr as George:
Anyway, back in the avalanche, John is atop a mountain cavorting like a madman, tossing rocks at the heads of would-be rescuers, when Wil Brand helps the couple escape. Later, a massive extended contrivance involving the virgin Mary convinces George to return to civilization, but he only stays long enough to retrieve his wife, and take her to live by his side in the mountains, leaving Wil with his promised inheritance – a happy ending, I suppose, given how the Germans used to worship mountains.
Seems like Wil Brand would barely need to have been part of the story, but then Irmgard would’ve had to be stronger and more self-sufficient in the early scenes (she still does pretty well). He was Rudolf Klein-Rogge, Thea von Harbou’s wife at the time, who also had a part in Four Around a Woman and would become Lang’s Dr. Mabuse. George and John are both played by Hans Marr, which probably seemed like some awesome cinematographic trick in 1920. Irmgard was Mia May, Joe May’s wife, who starred in his film of Lang and von Harbou’s Indian Tomb/Tiger of Eschnapur the following year.
Four Around a Woman (1921)
I watched this the next day. Watched it for real, paid it my full attention, not just screwing around on the computer while it was playing. But then how come I couldn’t make any sense of it, or keep track of any characters? Perhaps I’d had too much wine.
Harry Yquem (Ludwig Hartau of Lubitsch’s Anna Boleyn) has the most beautiful wife you could imagine, someone tells us, but then we see the wife and I could imagine better. She is Florence (Carola Toelle), who later tells a friend that “a beautiful woman need not necessarily be true to her husband.” There’s an exchange of fake jewels, rendezvous at an underground tavern, somebody’s long lost brother, a murder and a police investigation. Anton Edthofer (also of Murnau’s Phantom) either plays twins (like in The Wandering Image) or plays one guy who pretends to have a brother, I never figured which. Charles Meunier (Robert Forster-Larrinaga of Dr. Mabuse, The Gambler) is after Florence for a while, and she’s friends with someone else named Werner, and I think it turns out she was a spy and has actually remained true to Harry. Based on a play by Rolf Vanloo, who was also adapted by Joe May for Asphalt.
Florence and one of the twins, I believe:
Opens with a tracking shot around a gambling table – hello, Dr. Mabuse. If the movie wasn’t such a lo-res gray blur, and ironically if there were more intertitles, I might know what is happening. There was zero music on my copy so I played “The World of Shigeru Umebayashi,” which I loved but probably didn’t help my attention level since it wasn’t meant for this kind of film. The only parts I got really excited about were when I saw a 1920 Boston Terrier, some film leader and a test pattern between the first two acts, a man with a monocle, a couple of neat shadowy camera shots, and when this happened: