Archive for Der Mude Tod

In Der Mude

Posted in FILM, MUSIC with tags , , , , , , on February 25, 2008 by dcairns


I’m still reeling at the concept of a musical version of Fritz Lang’s DER MUDE TOD / DESTINY. If you recall, this was seriously mooted by producer Arthur Brauner as a project for Lang to undertake upon his return to Germany at the end of the ’50s.

Of course, this was the great era of the East German musical, but a West German song-and-dance based on Thea Von Harbou’s original “book” would be quite something. Lang, of course, had musical experience in Hollywood, having directed YOU AND ME, with music by Kurt Weill, and I guess RANCHO NOTORIOUS is pretty tuneful.

But what would a late period musical Lang be like?

I can’t help thinking that it might be something like this:

Enter a Young Woman (Elke Sommer), bereft at her loved one’s disappearance behind a great wall with no doors.

To the tune of “I’ll Build a Stairway to Paradise.”

I must find a way to the other side,
And get back my missing man!
Perhaps with an overdose of cyanide,
I can execute this plan!

(Takes poison, finds self in new surroundings.)

Now I’m within,
I must just have a look round,
To get my missing man found,
I’ll climb this stairway to paradise,
And get back my missing man!

Stairway to Heaven

Enter Death (Gert Frobe), singing to the tune of “Hi Ho”.

I’m death! I’m Death!
I’ll take your final breath!
I’ll take you all
Behind my wall
I’m Death, I’m Death, I’m Death!

Segues into “You’re my little Choo-chee Face,” from CHITTY CHITTY BANG BANG.

Destiny! Destiny!
No escaping death for me!

Hot Wax

And it seems to me,
You lived your life,
Like a candle in Berlin…

Berlin? You take my breath away!

Oh. Okay.

Observant readers will have noticed that these are THE WORST LYRICS EVER. Win unspecified goodies by writing better ones! Remember, DER MUDE TOD has several different storylines woven together, so there’s plenty of scope. You could wax poetic about the field with the 99-year-lease, the Chinese emperor’s fireworks display, or the baby in the burning building.

To make it even easier (not everyone has seen DER MUDE TOD) you can musicalize any Lang film. You could have M FOR MUSIC, METROPOLIS MELODY, or THE DANCING DOCTOR MABUSE (“If you knew Mabuse like I know Mabuse…”).

At least one rhyming couplet is necessary to qualify as a lyric. The German musical is an underappreciated genre, so come on, all you Irving Berliners and Helmut Kohl Porters. Don’t let your candor ebb! You may be a learner but you needn’t be low!

Deadline: one week from today.

Prize: the film of your dreams.*

*Normal dream-conditions apply.


For Auld Lang Syne

Posted in FILM, Mythology with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on February 14, 2008 by dcairns

A film so obscure, THIS is the best image I could find: 

Dial M for Mommy 

My old chum Christopher Weedman just reminded me about Joseph Losey’s remake of Fritz Lang’s “M”, a film maudit (cursed film) if there ever was one. Since we all love a film maudit here at Shadowplay, I have to say I’d be fascinated to see it sometime.

It’s easy to see why the film’s reputation is not high — right-thinking people were aghast at the idea of Hollywood tampering with a classic film. Also, Lang himself denounced the remake as theft — he claimed papers had been lost which proved that the original film was still in copyright, so that an unauthorized version should be illegal. In addition, David Wayne, a perfectly good actor, seems in principle an inadequate substitute for the truly extraordinary Peter Lorre. But Joe Losey was a major talent, whose reputation had not yet risen to the level of his abilities, and I think there’s a strong chance that if one could lay aside all comparisons, the Losey film might stand up as an interesting work in its own right. The IDEA of a remake was cheesy, but the film itself need not be.

Lang actually had quite a lot to do with remakes — two of his Hollywood flicks, SCARLET STREET and HUMAN DESIRE, derive from Renoir originals, LA CHIENNE and LA BETE HUMAINE. In addition to the “M” retread, several of Lang’s German classics have been remade, and Lang himself directed a sound-and-colour version of the two-part INDIAN TOMB epic which he had originally hoped to direct in the ’20s before Joe May took over the project.

During this second German period at the end of Lang’s career, producer Arthur Brauner mooted remakes of METROPOLIS and DER MUDE TOD, the latter as a musical (!) but Lang resisted.

What rhymes with

But after Lang resurrected the Dr. Mabuse franchise with THE THOUSAND EYES OF DR. MABUSE in 1960, his second Mabuse, THE TESTAMENT OF DR. MABUSE was remade by Brauner, using Lang’s cast from 1000 EYES. These Mabuse sequels and remakes have an enjoyable pop-art B-movie zing to them, but totally lose out on the darker, allegorical and political aspects of Lang’s crime-conspiracy-espionage sagas.

Also proposed to Lang at this time was a remake of DIE NIBELUNGEN. But the director saw insurmountable difficulties with such a project — the money wasn’t available to make the film as gigantic as the silent version, and then there was the issue of TALK.

“The first difficulty was: How to make the Nibelungs speak? You can’t say, ‘Hello, Kriemhild.’ Neither can you say, ‘O, noble knight,'” complained the maestro.

It’s very much the same objection as Howard Hawks’ famous, “I don’t know how a Pharaoh speaks.” Writers tend to struggle to find an idiom which can be neutral enough to work in an ancient period, without becoming completely colourless and flat.

Siegfried Sputnik

Nevertheless, DIE NIBELUNGEN was remade by Brauner, with Harald Reinl directing. Reinl had already helmed several Mabuse sequels, and had shown himself to be pacy and able, though hardly a Fritz. The remakes sound rather intriguing: future spaghetti western hero Mario Girotti/Terence Hill turns up, as does Herbert Charles Angelo Kuchacevich ze Schluderpacheru (Herbert Lom to you) as Attila the Hun, and Reinl’s wife, Bond girl Karin Dor, adds fresh sexiness to the role of Brunhild. Hanna Ralph in the original is impressively feisty, but she doesn’t have Dor’s exotic glamour.*

Oh Brunhilde, you're so lovely

I’m sure Reinl’s NIBELUNGEN films are ludicrous (the DVD packaging suggests as much) but I bet they’re fun. Probably best to see the Langs first… those hover right on the brink of ludicrosity, but if you can keep your sense of humour in check, they’re a toboggan-ride into the abyss, which is quite a thing to experience.

the hun that got away 

This period of German cinema is only just starting to get some attention. Popular in their day with German audiences, the remakes of old German classics and the Edgar Wallace-adapted krimi films have long been dismissed as kitsch und klatsch, and the New German Cinema auteurs presented themselves as the first filmmakers since pre-war days to make authentic films with meaning and a connection to the world.

Which is a sort-of justifiable claim. I wouldn’t hold up Harald Reinl as being equal to the best of Fassbinder or Wenders or Herzog or whoever. His work is in a different register altogether. But I don’t think it’s without value.

*Gee, maybe Reinl shouldn’t have divorced K.D. His next wife SHOT HIM DEAD.

Quote of the Day: DESTINY

Posted in FILM, Politics with tags , , , , , , on February 13, 2008 by dcairns


Fiona and I were discussing Thea Von Harbou, top screenwriter of 20s-30s German cinema (including DIE NIBELUNGEN) and wife of Fritz Lang.

Fi: “What did she look like?”

Me: “Like him.”

Fi: “No!”

Me: “Yes.”


From Patrick McGilligan’s Fritz Lang, The Nature of the Beast ~

‘”I was especially impressed by her ability to concentrate,” recalled [production designer Erich] Kettelhut. “She could sit amid the chaos if the studio during a shoot, knit, dictate a new novel to her secretary, and meanwhile watch her husband direct and offer him her advice. She chatted with two women visitors in French and English while she replaced the piano player, accompanying the filming with music.”‘

What especially wowed me was McGilligan’s account of T.V.H.’s death.

Stairway to Heaven

Post-war and post-Lang, she was living in an apartment with a picture of Gandhi and a picture of Hitler (this apartment is a perfect MAP OF HER HEAD). Invited to attend a screening at the Berlinale in 1954 of DER MUDE TOD, a Lang film she scripted thirty-three years earlier, she answered questions from the audience. So moved was she by the experience of seeing the film again, that she wasn’t watching her step as she left. She fell, developed a hip injury, was hospitalized, and her already unstable health declined within a few days of checking in.


Assassinated by her own film!

I know of very few instances remotely like this, although director Seth Holt died during the making of BLOOD FROM THE MUMMY’S TOMB, struck down by a fatal case of hiccups.

“No, really, it’s true! I’m not making this up.” ~ Willoughby Kipling.