Part one (Der Tiger von Eschnapur) introduces us to the leads that form the three points of the central love triangle in this 3 hour plus, two part epic, a Western architect Harald Berger (Paul Hubschmid), mixed race dancer Seetha (Debra Paget) and Maharaja Chandra (Walter Reyer). While the plot and much of the dramatic tension hangs on the friction in the relationships between these three characters there is a distinct lack of romance across the two films and it is one of the film’s few weaknesses, and perhaps one of Lang’s career in general. Although the romantic feelings between the characters may be a little lacking in its presentation the entanglements and the impact these have on the royal political machinations are utterly convincing.
Convincing though in a world that is entirely fantastical. The India of Fritz Lang’s creation in Der Tiger von Eschnapur and Das Inische Grabmal is one that is far removed from reality and it is very hard to even pin down the time in which the film is set. These films feel more in keeping with the spirit of thirties adventure film serials and a foray on Lang’s part into cultural tourism, albeit a very pleasant one. These films offer an intoxicating escapist adventure into an imagined India filled with wild beasts, secret passages and subterranean lepers. In the seventies ‘movie brats’ like Spielberg and Lucas turned the thirties fantasy serials into action blockbusters with a focus on action and spectacle but Lang’s approach rests more on the story and characters, with entangled characters and a plot filled with Shakespearian tragedy. This is all framed within a fantastical and ultimately very fun pulpy romp.
This is the heart of why Fritz Lang’s Indian epic is such an enduring and enjoyable film, it’s so much fun to watch. From a technical point of view though it’s also consistently rewarding with a skillful use of the palaces spaces in key scenes and a slow but never leaden editing approach that is satisfyingly fluid throughout.
Much can also be made of the race and sexual politics throughout, those stuck in the past and also those that seem oddly forward thinking, but these themes never really run too deep. Indeed it is the surface pleasures of Der Tiger von Eschnapur & Das Inische Grabmal that captivated audiences in the late fifties, making the films modest box office successes even as they were simultaneously being derided by critics who failed to take the pictures seriously. The more heady themes in the films and even the biographical parallels with Lang’s life are certainly of interest (these are well covered in the commentary and the booklet that accompanies this release) but it is the enjoyment one can find in these films that is ultimately what makes them worthy of strongly recommending.
Whilst similar in quality to the previous, now out-of-print, Fantoma release this new DVD package builds on that release with a new commentary from Lang expert David Kalat, a twenty minute documentary, 8mm behind the scenes footage, French trailers and a reasonably weighty supplemental booklet. The real star of these extras is the Kalat commentary which is both entertaining and informative. Kalat has a relaxed manner and peppers the commentary track with insightful interpretations and amusing anecdotes. One of the best commentaries I’ve heard in some time and a highly worthwhile addition to this release.
The feature films are presented in their original 1.37:1 aspect ratio and the quality of the transfers is for the most part superb. There are a few moments where print damage is evident and there are even a couple of instances where a few seconds appear to have been taken from a different source but these are far from serious issues. The audio tracks are good but a little lacking in depth of sound. The German audio, with optional English subtitles, is preferable but considering the fact that this choice still involves a number of dubbed performances the English track is not a bad second option.
Eureka have really delivered with this new release; an excellent archive release that highlights the importance of labels such as this.
Fritz Lang’s Indian Epic is available to buy or rent on DVD now.
It’s worth noting that rumours are circulating that there could also be a HD restoration of these films soon with Blu-rays to be released in late 2012. Whilst this certainly sounds very promising these kinds of releases are prone to delays or cancellation and these DVDs are of such excellent quality that I’ll be picking up the releases, hoping that I will be able to upgrade at some point but not relying on it.
Film – [Rating:4/5]
DVD – [Rating:5/5]