Fritz Lang's last American work " beyond a reasonable doubt" was a commercial failure and it was panned at the time -nowadays ,and mainly in Europe ,critics are inclined to reverse their opinions.Actually "beyond a reasonable doubt " could easily be "remade" (God preserve us!) today because its screenplay with the unexpected final twist is trendy(1) .Afterward,Lang returned to Germany and began to film what was an old plan of his (it was filmed ,but by other directors),written by his ex-wife Thea Von Harbou.
The gap between "Der Tiger von Eschnapur" and "beyond a reasonable doubt" (and "human desire" "while the city sleeps" "clash by night" "the big heat" etc) seems so wide that a lot of people did not recognize "their " Fritz Lang.One could answer them that ,already in the mid-fifties ,Lang had adapted for the screen "Moonfleet" ,his first color experiment with startling results .And "Moonfleet" too did not seem to belong to Lang's canon."Moonfleet " was a tour de force because it was a whole story seen through a child's eye.Something magic was born ,and it's this magic we find again in "Der Tiger von Eschnapur".
"Der Tiger von Eschnapur" is a 4 million marks movie and the most accessible of all Lang's works:it can appeal to a child as much as to a professor .At first sight,it appears as an adventure yarn ,close to comic strip ,some kind of "Fritz Lang and the temple of doom" ,but a director like him cannot be brought down to only that.
"Der Tiger von Eschnapur" is a visual splendor ,with an unusually inventive use of color,which is not unlike his British peer Michael Powell (Black orchid,thief of Bagdad).Lang was an architect ,and it's impossible not to feel it,here more than in his entire American period. It's no coincidence if his hero (Henri Mercier/Harald Berger) is an architect too;they are always holding and studying plans .Lang's camera perfectly captures the space it describes .Mercier (Paul Hubschmid)is often filmed in high angle shot,in the huge palace of the Maharajah,in the tiger pit ,or later,in the second part ,in the dungeon where he's imprisoned.Actually,and it's obvious,it takes us back to Lang's German silent era ,particularly "der müde Tod" "die Niebelungen" and "Metropolis".
"Der Tiger von Eschnapur" is essentially a movie of exposition:some scenes which seem overlong (Paget's dance),irrelevant(the lepers ) are actually necessary to prepare the stage for part two.And this leads us to one of Lang's permanent features:the coexistence of two worlds.
Behind the lavishly furnished palace,the sumptuous clothes,the sparkling jewels ,there's another world beneath.The scene when Mercier meets the lepers scrawling on the ground ,and in a simpler but no less harrowing ,Baharani's blood seeping out of the basket are hints at a darker side of the luminous magic world of Chandra.
There's a lot to say about "der Tiger von Eschapur" :the flight through the desert recalls sometimes Henri -Georges Clouzot's "Manon" (1949),as Mercier's madness breaks out and he begins to fire at the sun.
"Der Tiger von Eschnapur" is a must.
(1) it was finally remade and as expected it was a disaster
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