The Sunday Intertitle: Death-Slide for Cutie

Still need to write at least two posts to finish off Chaplin’s THE CIRCUS, but meanwhile we watched DIE TODESCHLEIFE — aka LOOPING THE LOOP (although that title really means The Death-Slide), directed by the rather marvelous Arthur Robison (WARNING SHADOWS) and starring Werner Krauss, Jenny Jugo and featuring Warwick Ward and Sig Arno (“Nitz, Toto!”)

It’s worth mentioning in this context because it came out the same year as Chaplin’s film, and similarly features a lovelorn clown as protag, with an aerial acrobat rival, and the girl between. I think it’s not so much a case of direct influence as one of both films being inspired by HE WHO GETS SLAPPED, which has just those elements also.

Jenny Jugo shows how she got her name

Krauss for once is not playing an old man, and he keeps it simple and affecting. While watching, it is necessary to forget about him being such an enthusiastic Nazi, and then when it’s over, it is necessary to remember again, and sigh. He’s really good, in an entirely different mode from CALIGARI etc.

Robison’s politics are unknown to me. The Chicago-born German filmmaker made THE INFORMER in Britain the following year, but was still working in Germany in 1935, the year of his death. But then, the star of his last film, THE STUDENT OF PRAGUE, was Anton Walbrook, no Nazi. Seemingly quite a few filmmakers who were not themselves Jewish or Nazi felt able to stay in Germany for a few years after Hitler came to power: one thinks of Sirk and Lang. So Robison may have been thinking of getting out, but his early death (at 52) intervened. As I say, I know nothing of him save his birth, death and filmography: I’d love to know more.

The film is really stylish and quite involving: among the best touches is a scene where Krauss, as Botto the Clown, recalls a woman who he was romantically interested in, but who only wanted him for his clowning ability. In flashback, she demands that he laugh for her. His laugh — that of a broken-hearted man — apparently terrifies her until she backs away, and Robison stages this moment on a cunningly slanted set to give everything a delirious-vertiginous angst. You feel it in the distorted perspective but also in the straining of her legs. See also THUNDER ROCK and SCROOGED.

Elsewhere there are artful mirror shots; double-exposures, in which Krauss imagines himself grown to Godzilla size and stomping his rival beneath a titanic flap-shoe; a spectacular trick-shot following Ward all the way down and around the death-slide; a miniature journey to England, tiny landscapes rolling past as in Murnau’s FAUST or May’s HEIMKEHR or Powell & Pressburger’s I KNOW WHERE I’M GOING!

Krauss’s act involves a dummy made up just like him, allowing many uncanny moments. Does he converse with it, does it seem to come to life. Oh yes. Fascinating to see Krauss as an offbeat romantic hero. At times he’s almost cute. His hair is the only problem. That and his Nazism.

2 Responses to “The Sunday Intertitle: Death-Slide for Cutie”

  1. Lovely sequence. The moving camera anticipates Ophuls and Whale.

  2. Whale certainly absorbed the lessons of German cinema, and Ophuls of course originated there (well, in the theatre first).

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