This film, in English, and S.O.S. Eisberg (1933), in German, were filmed simultaneously by Universal. The rise of the Nazi party in Germany brought an end to U.S. and German co-productions such as these films. See more »
This adventure is part travel documentary and part rescue drama as a small group of explorers becomes trapped on a melting iceberg off the coast of northern Greenland where this film was actually shot. Leni Riefenstahl, Gavin Gowland and other performers are merely the supporting cast for assorted glaciers and ice floes, as well as sled dogs, polar bears and various sea planes that buzz and glide over the starkly beautiful arctic vistas.
The Kino DVD release includes both the German and English versions which differ in content as well as language. The German version (directed by Arnold Fanck) is superior in all respects from narrative cohesion to pictorial quality to musical scoring (it reaches positively Wagnerian levels in one powerful sequence that finds Sepp Rist trapped on ice floes amidst raging wind- driven white-capped ocean currents with massive ice formations in the background). The cinematography, by Richard Angst and Hans Schneeberger (what perfect surnames for this project!) is as stunning as anything else of its time.
The English-language version, credited to director Tay Garnett, seems to move in fits and starts by comparison. Most of the dialogue is cut; Riefenstahl's few lines are clumsily inserted and the role played by Gustav Diessl in the German version is taken by Rod La Rocque who speaks barely 10 lines throughout. Gavin Gowland, well known to anyone who has seen Von Stroheim's GREED, surprises with a cultivated, rather high-pitched British accent. (In the German version he speaks a sort of baby-talk dialect and is referred to as "Fatso" by another character.)
In both versions there is a beautiful scene, apparently shot in Thule, Greenland, of a whole Eskimo village, with a dog population at least as large as the human, gathering to watch a sea plane circle overhead and land. Some of the shots of human-polar bear interaction look faked but on the whole it's a visually convincing presentation, with some exciting, rapid-fire edits too.
This film brings to mind TRADER HORN (1931) which also had a documentary feel and dealt with a group of explorers entering dangerous territory to search for a missing person.
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