Master and Computer

The idea of a science fiction movie called MASTER OF THE WORLD emerging from Nazi Germany is an intriguing one… Harry Piel’s 1934 movie promises much, then delivers so slowly that most of your anticipation has curdled before its fulfilled. Every scene seems to last twice as long as it ought to: a gas explosion in a coal mine, staged with a real flame-thrower blasting fire in from out of shot, is impressive in conception, but editing so slackly that it feels like all they’ve done is take the clapperboards off, rather than generating pace so it feels like a continuous fireball spreading through the pit.

 

We’re promised robots, but for a very long time the only ones we see are inert. Finally, at the climax, the super-robot attacks — and then, afterwards, we get to see a whole army of robots working a coal mine, an impressive sight, but a weird thing to throw at us when the conflict has been resolved and the movie should be over.

The movie also has a super-naive conception of automation, with the corporations paying their obsolete workers to take it easy in bucolic comfort (it makes A NOUS LA LIBERTE look like SATURDAY NIGHT AND SUNDAY MORNING). The economics just don’t add up, here: the robots must cost SOMETHING, so the workers can’t be getting the same wages they scraped by on before… That stuff in METROPOLIS about the heart uniting the hand and head isn’t so very foolish, when you look at something like this.

Harry Piel did some decent stunt films, but his signature move as a director was real, life-size demolition of buildings. Lubitsch had his touch, Capra had his corn, Piel has his detonator.

The mad scientist (Walter Franck) is well cast, and well-lit.

 

4 Responses to “Master and Computer”

  1. Charlie Cockey Says:

    David, did you ever see Piel’s 1926 film “What’s Up at the Beely Circus”? It had none of the problems you mention with this film, or at least I didn’t see them when I saw the film in Munich in 2004. I didn’t give the film an A rating, but loved it enough to make the following entry in my database:

    “Wonderful old silent action-adventure-mystery-stunt film, starring the indefatigable Harry Piel, Germany’s answer to Douglas Fairbanks. The finale is a knockout, with our hero battling it out with the villain on a cartwheeling apparatus for bicycles on a pair of opposing wheels, the entire thing rotating madly above a cage of crazed lions and tigers (or maybe only lions). The stunt is worthy of Jackie Chan, and the filming of it is terrific. Definitely a fun film, if not a great work of art.”

  2. Yes, I liked that one. Quite zippy. I have his An Invisible Man Goes Through the City also, which hopefully may have some sparkle. I like the title.

  3. Wikipedia says Piel was a “patron member” of the SS. I guess he attended their opening night galas, maybe contributed enough to have a concentration camp named after him?

  4. “So, they call it Concentration Camp Piel, do they?”

    Jeez, what a louse. I didn’t know that about him when I saw Beely Circus, I’m glad I now I didn’t like this one.

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