CineSavant Column

Saturday May 26, 2018


“Vienna” of Vienna’s Classic Hollywood wrote the other day to praise my recent Randolph Scott review and I took a look at her blog, which is going on my permanent check-in-and-see-what’s-doing list. Her photos and graphics are great, and unlike me, she doesn’t write phone books about the movies she examines. She must have some interesting video access where she lives, because the things she profiles aren’t always readily available here.

The Warner Archives Collection’s Blu-ray of The Colossus of Rhodes not only has a date, it’s only a month away, on June 26. I think that, with this release all of the Sergio Leone- directed features will be on Blu-ray. Sir Christopher Frayling’s commentary (from 2007) connects Rory Calhoun’s happy-go-lucky Athenian vacationer-turned revolutionary to The Man With No Name, who wouldn’t ride in for three more years.

Wide-ranging CineSavant operative extraordinare Gary Teetzel has been at it again, making with the deep web research, this time hunting down mid- 1920s references to Fritz Lang’s Metropolis, a favorite subject here at CineSavant. Gary turned up a number of terrific links, with different axes to grind regarding the movie.

An article in Amateur Movie Maker (December 1926) gives home filmmakers some ideas about how to duplicated Lang’s amazing visuals, as if that were remotely possible — “go to the shop in your local school to see about making miniatures!”

Motion Picture News (August 1926) has a more in-depth article, translated from German, looking forward to an incredible picture. The author’s interview with Lang show that even before the picture was finished, Lang was crediting his visit to New York City as a key inspiration.

This Motion Picture News (September 1926) article has more discussion of the film and the differences in big-picture advertising between Berlin and New York. Among the things brought up is a possible film assignment for Fritz Lang in Russia, on a show called ‘The Panther’s Fur.’

Yet another article says that, apparently in response to Warners’ Noah’s Ark, Lang will make an Ufa picture called ‘Deluge’ — no details.

A Picture Play (Sept. ’26) ad shows how Metropolis¬†is being touted by Paramount for America. It gets special mention in a sidebar with an image. Other ads or reviews are not always particularly insightful, or treat the show as just another release: Exhibitor’s Herald, Film Spectator, Film Daily.

Finally a Variety article from October 1927 zeroes in on an historically acute controversy about Metropolis, a critical fracas in London over the versions. If you recall, the premiere version Metropolis was exclusively screened in Berlin in a very long version, between 2.5 and three hours. Then it was withdrawn and cut down in America by Channing Pollock, to a far shorter version that dropped major episodes and radically reshaped the storyline. The importer of the film, Wardour Pictures, complained that U.K. critic J. E. Atkinson gave the film a ‘very favorable notice’ and then reversed himself with a slam just the next day. Atkinson had reviewed the picture from his memory of the first version, and was shocked to see how it had been changed.

Atkinson raged in print that the new version had been ‘Filleted and Predigested,’ pointing his bitter attack directly at the hack job done by Pollock, and complaining that Paramount, which distributed the film world-wide, had done a bait-and-switch. Atkinson also says that Fritz Lang repudiates the short version, as edited by Pollock: “… the version made for American hick consumption is being forced on the British public.”

Wardour shot back an interestingly modern marketing rebuttal, declaring that the newer, shorter Channing Pollock version is ‘approved,’ and that the critic should apologize. It sounds like the kind of anti-critic bite-back we occasionally heard from George Lucas and James Cameron. The distributor probably wanted publicity but not this kind — its meek defense is that Pollock’s edition is the only one generally shown in Germany.

The official Variety review from March 16 gives a running time of 107 minutes, which means that Atkinson must have seen the movie somewhere else, perhaps in Berlin. Atkinson apparently skipped the preview, and complains that other critics also praised the film to the heavens based on a viewing of the uncut version. Assuming that Atkinson saw a longer cut earlier, it is tantalizing to think that more prints of the long version may have been circulated.

Atkinson is definitely a critic after my own heart. Ufa took reasonable care of most of its films until the American ‘ParUfaMet’ deal put the studio under American control. First order of business: massacre Fritz Lang’s film and throw away the trims. We can’t let some crazy German stay in control . . . we can handle him the same way we pulled the plug on Erich von Stroheim.

Thanks for the research, Gary. And thanks for reading. — Glenn Erickson