That’s All, Volk!

Oh Bwunhilde, you'we so wuvvwy... 

From Chuck Jones’ unauthorized remake of Lang’s DIE NIBELUNGEN, and indeed the whole Ring Cycle, condensed into seven minutes for easy consumption, WHAT’S OPERA, DOC? “The only epic we ever made.”

Once more I turn the dog-eared pages of Patrick McGilligan’s Fritz Lang, The Nature of the Beast. In the early ’70s, an elderly Fritz goes out to dinner with his young friend (or “friend”?) Howard Vernon ~

‘The headwaiter scurried over, whispering to Howard Vernon, “Mr. Lang…Mr. Lang…isn’t he connected with the cartoons?” Vernon whispered back, “No, that is Walter Lantz. This is Fritz Lang, the director.” “Because,” said the headwaiter, “I really wanted to tell him how much I love the Woody Woodpeckers.” “Oh,” said Vernon, “don’t tell him that.”‘

Cloak and Pecker

But damnit, Lang WAS involved with the cartoons!

Here is a frame from DIE NIBELUNGEN, which features an animated dream sequence by another Walter, Walter Ruttman.

Woodpecker

This is only the most obvious bit of Langian cartoonery. Later in the saga, Kriemhild commands her troupe of Huns to “throw fire” upon the Nibelungen.

But the firebrands must have been insufficiently fiery to satisfy the perfectionist Lang, for in this shot they appear to have been enhanced by the artist’s hand. Certainly the flames have an altogether more “artistic” quality than those seen in most of the later shots.

I wouldn’t be so sure of this if there wasn’t abundant evidence of Lang’s ‘toon tendencies elsewhere in his oeuvre.

The traffic gliding along the elevated roadways of METROPOLIS is animated frame by frame. Filmed in Dynamation!

In WOMAN IN THE MOON, considerable use is made of animated charts plotting our Teutonic astronauts’ course moonwards.

Now here’s an explosion from THE TESTAMENT OF DOCTOR MABUSE:

Flame on!

It’s a thrilling, bizarre, surprising moment — a rolling metal drum full of petrol ignites and flies into the air, scratching the celluloid with slashing action lines that swirl about and bear the canister upwards out of frame.

The Human Torch

America, America. Lang acclimatized himself to the American way of talking, and of viewing the world, by reading the funnies — like Chester Gould’s Dick Tracy, a model of film noir style and content, with some of the same intrigue and rapid plotting as Lang’s earlier thrillers.

Spione

Flash-forward to Lang’s seventh American film, HANGMEN ALSO DIE, written by “Bert” Brecht. Taxi driver and Czech underground freedom fighter, played by the glorious Lionel Stander, is taken to be tortured by the Nazis. He flings himself through a window, gaining a quick death and robbing his captors of the chance to find out what he knows.

Lang startled Stander by demanding he throw himself through a REAL window. (“Listen, all directors want to kill actors,” ~ Wallace Beery) 

Stander, a man who very much knew his own mind, resisted defenestration.

Lang, just as stubborn, insisted that fake sugar glass Would Not Do. He compromised, surreally, on NO GLASS, forcing the special effects department to add little flying shards of cartoon window-pane in post-production:

The Defenestrator

…Connected with the cartoons…

…Connected with the cartoons…

Perhaps Lang, like Hitchcock, envied Walt Disney for his ability to “tear up his actors.”

Th-th-that's all folks!

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6 Responses to “That’s All, Volk!”

  1. And then there’s the great moment in Die Tausen Augen des Dr. Mabuse where Peter Van Eyck goes thorugh the mirror. Very Jean Cocteau, but with a difference. We’re not in a dream world but a very real one — a hotel where everyone is under observation through video cameras.

  2. And the hotel is inspired by the real Hotel Adlon, bugged by the nazis.

    Perhaps Lang’s friendship with Peter the toy monkey (glimpsed in 1000 Eyes) also reflects his cartoon sensibilities?

  3. Yes. And there’s a decidedly cartoonish quality to the sublime Der Tiger von Eschnapur / Das Indische Grabmal

  4. That’s true, especially the fake snake, which has eyes in the front of its head, unlike all lizards but just like the dragon in Siegfried!

  5. [...] is it with Shadowplay and these unpleasant Viennese? First Fritz Lang (above) rampages through here (mentally, I picture him gallumphing in one of those party costumes where it’s supposed to [...]

  6. About the cartoons, I’ve mistaken him with Friz Freleng. Shame! What a lack of culture on my part…

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