As modern as Bauhaus yet as ancient as Zhuangzi, who warned that "where there are machine worries, there are bound to be machine hearts." Opposite worlds above and below linked by a mirror, Fritz Lang’s supreme vertical design (cf. M), just the monumental structure demanded by the Mecha-Babylon. Proletarian hordes trudge in the depths while the aristocracy romps in elevated pleasure gardens, the beatific prophetess (Brigitte Helm) foresees a reconciliatory Mediator and catches the eye of the princeling (Gustav Fröhlich). (Sneaking out of his privileged dome, he’s promptly faced with a steam-powered Moloch gulping down workers.) In the middle of this vast refinery is a hut out of the Brothers Grimm, in it dwells the cracked inventor (Rudolf Klein-Rogge) with a metallic arm and a vengeful obsession. "Isn’t it worth the loss of a hand to have created the man of the future?" His ultimate creation is an update of Leonardo’s robot, adorned with the blonde evangelist’s visage as part of a plan by the presiding technocrat (Walter Abel). Out of the laboratory (with consequences for every Frankenstein film) and into the nightclub for the herky-jerky odalisque, from Marinetti’s Poupées Électriques all the way to Fellini’s Casanova: "For her, all seven deadly sins!" A colossal pulp fantasia in three accelerating movements (Prelude, Intermezzo, Furioso), Lang’s allegory of allegories posits humanity’s progress as a collision not just of labor and management but of technology and sorcery. Meticulous constructions carry the sustained frenzy, all of the visual arts summoned and piled high into a fractured Tower of Babel, a panorama of pistons and gears where the camera emerges as the most ferocious mechanism of all. Modern Times and Blade Runner, The Hunchback of Notre Dame and Alphaville, Things to Come and RoboCop, the innumerable inheritors of the superproduktion that broke UFA's bank and incidentally drew the blueprint for the Third Reich. Wells ("the silliest of films") and Buñuel ("the most marvelous book of images ever composed") have their verdicts, meanwhile the tin skeleton cackles from her bonfire and the Reaper's scythe slashes the celluloid itself. Cinematography by Karl Freund and Günther Rittau. With Fritz Rasp, Theodor Loos, Erwin Biswanger, and Heinrich George. In black and white.
--- Fernando F. Croce