Although it's rarely remembered as fondly as Metropolis or M, or even the numerous B-movies he made in the US, this picture represents an exceptional return to form for director Fritz Lang. At last, after years of slumming it with little pictures in Hollywood's big pond, The Tiger of Eschnapur reunites him with the pure and unbridled sense of adventure and the grandiose splendour which characterises his earliest pictures.
Lang was famously not a fan of widescreen with which his latest American pictures were shot, and here we see just how well he could use the old fullscreen format. Depth is such an important aspect in his shots, with vast empty spaces conveyed through a downward angle that shows the floor or the ground stretching out before us, such as that shot of the deserted village during the "hour of the tiger". Much of the movement is in depth rather than across the screen, with business at the sides of the frame to create a tunnel effect. Lang, a former architecture student must have also been delighted at all the breathtaking Indian buildings and atmospheric studio recreations he gets to play with here. As usual with Lang, his characters appear trapped within the spaces they inhabit, with claustrophobic shot compositions and now even colour schemes that make people seem one with the background. There's a great and rather comical shot where the Maharajah is leaning against a pillar, in which the shape and style of his outfit mean he looks like a pillar himself. The fact that most of these rooms are real 360-degree spaces rather than backless sets also gives Lang a real advantage. Notice how in Debra Paget's lavish quarters in the gold birdcage scene, even the windows look out onto a high wall. Lang creates an impression of a palace of endless passages and no exits. It's this slightly nightmarish vision which really drives the adventure along.
With the exception of Debra Paget, who had a handful of prominent Hollywood roles over the previous decade, the cast is mainly made up of Europeans who will be unfamiliar to most in an English-speaking audience. Lead man Paul Hubschmid is not a very interesting actor, but at least he underplays his performance far preferable to awkward hamming. Ms Paget herself is not really exceptional either, but she does prove herself to be a superlative and hypnotic dancer. The real standout acting-wise however is Walter Reyer, who portrays the Maharajah as calmly authoritative, with just a hint of madness.
One final point fans of the Indiana Jones movies may find themselves recognising a few sights and scenes that remind them of stuff from The Temple of Doom. While a lot of Temple of Doom's plot comes from an older Hollywood movie called Gunga Din (1939), Fritz Lang's Indian diptych seem to have given Spielberg's picture much of its spirit. This is a comic book vision at India, barely realistic, but filled with a sense of both fun and genuine menace. Forget about Lang's reputation as a dark and cynical purveyor of film noir. Although he never got the recognition he deserved at the time, with his childlike sense of adventure and breathtaking imagery, when given his creative freedom he could be the Steven Spielberg of his era.
5 of 7 people found this review helpful.
Was this review helpful to you?