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Blu-ray & DVD Review

DVD cover

Der Müde Tod (1921)
(Blu-Ray & DVD Dual Format)


Starring: Lil Dagover, Walter Janssen, Bernhard Goetzke and Rudolf Klein-Rogge
Distributor: Eureka Entertainment
RRP: £19.99 (Blu-Ray & DVD Dual Format)
Certificate: TBC
Release Date: 17 July 2017

There can be few readers of this site who have not heard of the German expressionist director Fritz Lang. In 1927 he made the influential Metropolis and while it remained a silent movie unlike its nearest rivals, in terms of style and plot it is far superior to H.G Wells’ own cinematic version of Things to Come (1936), which looks and feel dated in a way that Metropolis does not.

Lang would go on to have a successful and influential career; his film M (1931), which still remains a disturbing film about a child murderer, would influence the development of film noir as a subgenre. Before all of this his visual style and story construction would influence a generation of directors.

Der Müde Tod (The Weary Death aka Destiny, B&W. Silent. 1921. 1 hr, 38 min, 13 sec), is a romantic fantasy, directed by Lang and co-written by his partner, Thea von Harbou. It tells the story of a young couple who pick up a hitchhiker, unaware that their new travelling companion is Death. When they reach the town Death purchases land and erects a wall. Later the young couple meet Death again and when the young woman is distracted her lover disappears, distraught she visits the walled off area only to find her lover's ghost passing through the wall.

She confronts Death demanding her lover back. Instead of acquiescing he shows her three candles, each of which represents a human soul destined to die. Death makes a pact with the young woman. If she can save but one of these souls then he will return her lover to life.

The film then tells the three stories. One is set in Arabia and tells the tragic and terminal relationship between a young Muslim woman and Frank. Another moves the story to Venice and tells the story of a noble woman who is in love with a merchant. Girolamo, a jealous nobleman plans to kill his rival, but a plot hatched by Monna goes horribly wrong and her lover, not the nobleman, is murdered. Lastly the story moves to the Chinese Empire where the emperor coverts the assistant of a travelling magician.

In each of the stories the main parts are played by the same actors as the young girl tries to change the fate of each of the souls left flickering in the candles. Each time she fails a candle flame dies and the soul is claimed by death. Having failed to save any of the lovers she is given one last chance by Death. If she is, within an hour, able to find another soul to take her lover's place he will reunite them.

The film stars Lil Dagover as most of the main leading female roles, the main male roles are taken by Walter Janssen. Death is played by Bernhard Goetze, who also plays most of the villain roles. All three had highly successful careers in the German film industry.

Although not initially well received in its native land, the film did go on to inspire other directors, including Luis Buñuel (Un Chien Andalou. 1929). The idea of playing a game with Death was later revisited in Ingmar Bergman’s, The Seventh Seal (1957). The film is noted for its rich expressionist imagery and Lang’s use of cutting edge special effects.

This release sees the film having gone through a 2k restoration with original German intertitles with optional English subtitles. The film has a score by Cornelius Schwehr, performed by the Berlin Radio Symphony Orchestra. The disc includes a full length audio commentary by film critic Tim Lucas and a very informative video essay by David Cairns (15 min, 27 sec). The finished product has a 44 page booklet, but this was not supplied for review.

It’s good to see a lot of these influential films being restored and issued, adding easy access to important works of cinema's past.

The film has been constructed from all the best available prints and coloured to show its original presentation. The film is presented with an aspect ratio of 1.33:1 and while the print quality can be variable the overall effect is good with little evident damage.


Charles Packer

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