Although written by Fritz Lang's wife Thea von Harbou, 'Metropolis' was originally Lang's idea: he was inspired by the sight of New York's skyscrapers when he sailed to America in 1925. During his American trip, he visited the set of 'The Phantom of the Opera' and met Lon Chaney! Too bad the encounter wasn't filmed.
Despite its epic power, 'Metropolis' makes very little sense. The two major male characters are a father and son named Freder and Fredersen, so why is the one named Freder*sen* the father (not son) of the one cried Freder? Why does the master of Metropolis deliberately connive to destroy the city that he built? Why is Rotwang's crude little cottage the only pre-Fredersen building that wasn't demolished during the construction of this city? (Von Harbou's very long and unwieldy novelisation of her script establishes this fact but never explains it.) How and why did Rotwang's high-tech laboratory manage to get constructed BENEATH that cottage without disturbing it?
For modern viewers, some of the plot's incoherence can be blamed on missing footage, particularly in American prints. The distributors for this film's original Stateside release commissioned playwright Channing Pollock to translate the German titles. A major subplot of the backstory features a deceased woman named Hel, who was married to Rotwang but left him to marry Fredersen and give birth to Freder. This unseen woman's name could not easily be changed for the American version, due to a couple of shots of her memorial, engraved with the Teutonic name HEL. Apparently, Pollock feared that American viewers would be offended by this word's similarity to 'Hell', so he simply excised the entire subplot from this long movie.
The real-life drama on the set of 'Metropolis' must've been quite interesting in itself. Mad scientist Rotwang (alias Doctor Strangeglove) is played by actor Rudolf Klein-Rogge, who had been married to scenarist von Harbou before she left him to marry Fritz Lang, the mastermind of this film. In 'Metropolis', Rotwang's wife left him to marry the master of Metropolis. I'd love to know how Klein-Rogge felt about the fact that his real-life marital (and sexual) situation was the inspiration for key plot elements of this movie ... and I wonder how Klein-Rogge felt about knowing that the entire cast and crew knew this as well.
Most astonishing about this gargantuan production is the fact that nearly all of 'Metropolis' was actually built to scale, with just a couple of miniatures.
Trivia tidbit: actress Brigitte Helm was cast in the dual female role largely because she was flat-chested, and therefore she could easily fit inside the mechanical suit for the Robotrix. A more busty actress would have suffered constant discomfort inside those galvanised bosoms of the metal costume. I learnt this more than 20 years ago from an eldery Austrian stagehand who worked on the film.
For all its flaws, 'Metropolis' will always be my favourite movie. I've enjoyed writing all these reviews for IMDb. The joy of posting my reviews on this site has brought me many friendships and a few enemies. Well, you can't win 'em all.
Nitrate film stock doesn't last forever, and all good things come to a happy ending. This is my last review here. I'll keep watching movies, but other passions are important to me as well. Thank you, IMDb, and thank you to everyone who has read my reviews. I will happily rate 'Metropolis' a full 10 out of 10.