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Siegfried, son of King Sigmund, hears of the beautiful sister of Gunter, King of Worms, Kriemhild. On his way to Worms, he kills a dragon and finds a treasure, the Hort. He helps Gunther to win Krimhild, a mask that makes him invisible proves to be very useful. But because Brunhild is cursing Kriemhild, she tells her what really happened. Now Brunhild wants Siegfried's head. Is Gunther going to do her that favor? Written by
Stephan Eichenberg <email@example.com>
I'll say this up front: this film can move very slowly at points. Also, I saw it in a theater with live piano accompaniment, and it's likely to be much less impressive on a smaller screen. I doubt the video print is very good, since I am familiar with other tapes that that company has distributed. Despite its slow points, when Lang and crew create the numerous set pieces, watch out: you're in for some of the greatest scenes of filmdom. I'd also like to point out that, as someone who is quite familiar with the original poem, I'll tell you that source material often moves a lot slower than this film does. As a technical marvel, I don't think some of the stuff here was surpassed until very recently, except maybe in King Kong. It's even more amazing to behold than Metropolis, Lang's next and much more famous film. All of the effects might seem dated now, but anyone who appreciates early cinema will easily fall in love.
The film opens with Siegfried's infamous battle against the dragon. A bit of trivia: this scene is not in The Nibelungenlied. It is briefly mentioned in the first lay by Hagen as having happened a while ago. However, this is the one scene from this movie which is widely remembered, and for good reason. The dragon is amazingly created, nearly on the level of the dinosaurs from The Lost World and King Kong. Unlike them, though, it is a puppet and not stop motion. As far as puppetry goes, it surpasses most of the muppets of Return of the Jedi by leaps and bounds. Unfortunately, as lifelike as they made it, the dragon is not at all that fierce. It almost looks like a friendly dog (it even wags its tail as Siegfried valiantly rushes at it, sword aloft). When it is supposed to be roaring at Siegfried, the audience was giggling; it looked more like it was yelping. As a result, the depiction of Siegfried begins to come off as satirical (probably not intended, but it makes things more interesting). There is a major strain of Niebelungenlied scholarship which sees Siegfried not as the hero, but as the aggressor.
The second major set piece involves the battle with Alberich, the Nibelung, an episode that occurs a bit later in the poem, from whom he wins the cloak of invisibility, a horde of treasure, and Balmung, his famous sword. The mythological characters in this episode are awesome to behold in their costuming (and simply in the casting, which is perfect throughout; the creatues in the film's first scene, in which Siegfried is forging his sword, are great, too), especially the dwarves who balance the pot full of treasure on their backs.
The best scene in the film occurs in the next chapter, the dream of Kriemhild, which is animation done in sand. Other great scenes in the film include the crossing of the lake of fire, the battle between Brunhild and Gunther (with an invisible Siegfried helping him), the wooing of Brunhild, the quarrel between the queens, and the hunt. As far as I remember, only the war with Denmark is left out, which happens in the poem before they go to Iceland for Brunhild. It's not missed.
Special attention must be given to the miraculous casting. Paul Richter plays Siegfried as the hero to beat all heroes. With his blonde, flowing hair, he marches across the world blindly performing great deeds and talking to birds (the look on Richter's face when he starts to hear birds talk is priceless). He's too naive to see the trouble he causes as he dishes out treasure to the poor (a wonderful touch; Lang doesn't even draw attention to how this angers the Burgundians in their dialogue, but only in their expressions). As many scholars have proposed, Siegfried's actions all suggest that Worms is in iminent danger of being usurped by him. Margarethe Schoen may not have been the best choice for Kriemhild. The actress is so manly that I assumed that an actor was playing her. She is supposed to be the most beautiful woman in the world. The actress does emote quite well, however. Now, Hannah Ralph, who plays Brunhild, exudes a manliness that her part requires. She's supposed to be a warrior maiden. Ralph does a great job conveying Brunhild's cunning, bitterness, and cruelty. Theodor Loos, who plays King Gunther, is absolutely perfect. I couldn't have imagined him better. His face exhibits both his moral predicament and his supreme inadequacy that the poem spells out so clearly. Hans Adalbert Schlettow plays Hagen. His costume may be a bit overwrought (a huge, gnarly beard, a furry eye patch, and an enormous helmet with eagle wings reaching a foot and a half upwards), but the actor's perfect for the role, although he might be too old. His age makes me wonder how he's going to fight like a demon in Kriemhild's Wrath, the second part of the film, which I'll see tomorrow. I'm very eager to see how Lang and Thea von Harbou, his wife ans screenwriter, will make the remaining half of the epic interesting on film. It's nothing but battles. Volker and Gunther's brothers are also well cast, although they'll probably be more important in the second half, that is, if the poem is followed as closely as it is here. 8/10.
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