This also was a Train of Death

Masters of Cinema very kindly sent me a care package of Blu-Rays, including Fritz Lang’s HUMAN DESIRE. Lang films always come in pairs. This one could be doubled with SCARLET STREET because they’re both Renoir remakes, but in fact that one has to be paired with THE WOMAN IN THE WINDOW (which I’m currently working on an extra for) because of it has the same three leads. HUMAN DESIRE rightly should go with either THE BIG HEAT (it has Glenn Ford and Gloria Grahame too) or with the similarly documentary-looking CLASH BY NIGHT.

Hmm, maybe I should do the pointless exercise: pairing all of Lang’s films?


THE TESTAMENT OF DR MABUSE can be paired with THE THOUSAND EYES OF, bracketing Lang’s whole American phase.

BEYOND A REASONABLE DOUBT feels of a piece with WHILE THE CITY SLEEPS and both star Dana Andrews and they were made back-to-back, which is more typical of Lang’s double features.

Everything from ’50 to ’55 is just crazy. MOONFLEET and the vastly inferior AN AMERICAN GUERILLA IN THE PHILIPPINES (that title!) are in colour but so is RANCHO NOTORIOUS… maybe throw out AAGITP as a bad job and just pair the two colour period films. If we put HUMAN DESIRE with THE BIG HEAT then CLASH BY NIGHT couples up with THE BLUE GARDENIA, which I’m not sure about. But I guess each is what Michael Douglas would call a “sexy-type film.”

SECRET BEYOND THE DOOR and THE HOUSE BY THE RIVER exemplify Lang’s architectural concerns and they are both NUTS.


Wartime: MAN HUNT and MINISTRY OF FEAR and HANGMEN ALSO DIE and the later CLOAK AND DAGGER are all ace espionage pics. The first two have hunted heroes so I’d pair them like that.

The first two westerns, THE RETURN OF FRANK JAMES and WESTERN UNION could make a double feature, but one could instead pair TROFJ with the other Hank Fonda starrer, YOU ONLY LIVE ONCE. That might mess up my scheme.

FURY and YOU ONLY LIVE ONCE have a lot in common though.

LILIOM might be the best match for YOU AND ME because neither is otherwise a match with anything.

METROPOLIS belongs, probably, with the other sci-fi epic, WOMAN IN THE MOON.

Several of the very early ones I haven’t seen yet: but I made a video essay for DER MUDE TOD and I suspect DAS WANDERNDE BILD would be a good fit.

Listicles are silly things. But maybe there’s something here, something about Lang’s working practices, each film serving as a kind of commentary on or rebuttal of its partner. Anyway, you get a sense of how I like to waste my time (and yours).

7 Responses to “This also was a Train of Death”

  1. David Ehrenstein Says:

    There’s a lot of Lang to love. “Der Tiger von Escnapur / Das Indische Grabmal” is my all-time favorite. He and Von Habou wrote the script back in the 20s. but the silent version was directed by Joe May. It’s not bad but can’t compare to the lavish remake — a Mac-Mahonist favorite. As for his last American film “Beyond a Reasonable Doubt” it’s the subject of the strangest piece of film criticism Jacques Rivette ever wrote

    I’m very much in thrall to “House By The River” — one of Republic’s most fascinating ventures into “Art Cinema.” It’s the best Edgar Allan Poe film not based on an actual Poe story.

  2. David Melville Wingrove Says:

    Did Fritz Lang ever make a dull film? OK, I’ve never seen AMERICAN GUERRILLA IN THE PHILIPPINES (which sounds like a double bill with KING KONG or MAX, MON AMOUR) and some of these films are obviously better than others. But did he ever make anything that does not at least keep you watching?

  3. David Wingrove Says:

    I’m glad I’m not the only one who adores THE TIGER and THE TOMB.

    Do you think Debra Paget discussed those dance numbers on her Born Again Christian talk show in Texas?!

  4. Tony Williams Says:

    The late wife of a friend met a much older and broader Debra at a film convention. When asked “Have you found Jesus?” she made a witty reply that I’ve now forgotten. I presume conversion went along with signing one of her stills?

  5. chris schneider Says:

    In a recent Facebook conversation I gave RANCHO NOTORIOUS as an example of Lang I wouldn’t want to see again. (No, I haven’t seen AMERICAN GUERILLA.) Frankly, I don’t remember very much of RANCHO NOTORIOUS outside of Arthur Kennedy bugging his eyes and the brothel “horse race.”

  6. Tony Williams Says:

    I saw AMERICAN GUERILLA on TV years ago. Just an average film wasting Micheline Presle as her other Hollywood films did. RANCHO NOTORIOUS is a superb Brechtian Western as Robin Wood as pointed out with one brief shot where Marlene gets away with using von Sternberg lighting against Lang’s wishes.

  7. I saw Rancho projected in Technicolor in Bologna and it stood up well, though now I can’t remember many details.

    But I never want to see Western Union again. The comedy relief! Ugh.

    I love the Indian films, House by the River is delirious, and my favourite US Lang might be Hangmen Also Die. But there are so many good ones.

    I’m making Lang video essays right now, so expect more stray thoughts to turn up here.

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