Metropolis (1927)

This is a film that I had seen snippets of through my entire life. In fact I remember, as a child, sitting in Mother’s Pizza, a now defunct pizza chain, at least in the incarnation that I grew up loving, the decor was all 20s and 30s and they would show clips from Laurel & Hardy movies, Chaplin, Keaton, and every now and again, there would be these clips from what looked like an amazing science fiction movie with a robot that looked like it could be related to C-3PO and giant futuristic cityscapes.

How had I never seen this?!?

It drifted in and out of my consciousness for the next bunch of years, I always recognized the film when I saw snippets of it anywhere, but had never seen it in its enitrety.

Until the blu-ray release of The Complete Metropolis, and I bought it without thinking twice, and have watched it countless times since. This is by far, my favorite silent film… EVER.! (Though I’m sure I’m not alone in that conviction).

So I was delighted as I made my way through 101 Sci-Fi Movies to see, to no surprise, that Fritz Lang’s classic was on the list!

The film, and I’m not saying anything new here, is steeped in fantastic sets, a sweeping story, and some amazing visual effects! Especially when you take into account that this film was done in 1927!! The Machine-Man, and it’s transformation into Evil Maria (Brigitte Helm), the cityscapes filled with cars and flying vehicles… it’s still a stunning watch.

In a story that depicts a class struggle, which may be even more relevant today than it was then, the workers live underground, slaving a way to keep the city running, while the rich who live above exist in the lap of luxury, enjoying all life has to offer.

Into this stumbles Freder (Gustav Frohlich), the son of the chief city planner Joh Fredersen (Alfred Abel), who has a chance meeting with Maria, who lives in works in the underground, and strives to find some way to unite the two classes, referred to in the film as the Head and the Hand. She seeks a mediator for the two, the Heart.

And along comes love struck Freder who takes up the cause.

His father, seeking to thwart Maria and recover his son, sends the Thin Man (Fritz Rasp) to recover the latter, and seeks the help of scientist Rotwang (Rudolf Klein-Rogge) with the former.

Rotwang however has his own agenda when it comes to Fredersen, intending to bring the powerful man down in an act of vengeance over a shared love.

The sets are huge, filled with hundreds of extras, and Ms. Helm seems to steal every scene she’s in, whether she’s playing Maria, or her robot likeness – and she instills each one with different movements and looks, the robot Maria, has this evil lurch to her, and this very creepy wink.

The robot Maria, under the presumed control of Fredersen, though it’s actually Rotwang, incites the workers to riot and rise up against those who live above, and destroy the city works, bringing the entire city to the edge of ruin, as Fredersen watches.

In a telling scene, ‘upper-class’ and ‘lower-class’ save the future, when Freder and Maria, save all of the workers’ children from drowning, in an incident caused by the workers’ own revolutionary actions. Only together, can we save the future. I naive, if hopeful thought.

If you’ve never seen this film, find it, it’s on Netflix, or be really bold and buy it on blu-ray. It’s 2 1/2 hours long, and it flies by! You’ll enjoy a film that didn’t need to have computer-generated effects to show its vision of the future, it’s filled with interesting and layered characters, and you’ll see why some films are classics and others are destined to be forgotten.

Metropolis will always be with us. It set the standard and helped influence so many of the movies that came after it, not the least of which Star Wars and Blade Runner.

Take a look at it.

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