The Tiger of Eschnapur (1959)

Of course I knew Fritz Lang’s directorial career ended roughly where it began, back in Germany making another Mabuse film and, before that, a two-part adventure epic he’d wanted to make in 1921 but wasn’t able to. However, though I’ve seen the original 1921 version of this story made by Joe May, I’ve never seen Lang’s until now, and it’s been so long since I saw the 1921 film I don’t recall an awful lot about it. Even at the end of the 50s I think this was considered old-fashioned stuff, not least because of its form; this sort of multi-part epic wasn’t too uncommon in 1920s Germany, Lang himself had three to his credit (The Spiders, Dr Mabuse and Die Nibelungen) within a five-year period then, but it wasn’t exactly common by 1959. And it looks even more old-fashioned now, of course, not least because of, let’s face it, the rampant darkie makeup. I have the Masters of Cinema disc, whose BBFC warning advises us the film has “mild action, violence and infrequent sight of blood”, but nothing about Germans in brownface. ANYWAY, the story of part one centres on German architect Harald Berger, invited to work for the Maharajah of Eschnapur; en route he saves a dancing girl from a tiger attack, said dancer being the impending betrothed of the said Maharajah. There’s a romantic triangle ready to cause trouble here, and people willing to exploit that trouble… and when Berger’s sister and her husband come to assist him in his work, they find their building contract has changed somewhat. It is, of course, a load of old-school orientalism, but what old-school orientalism; any fears I might’ve had about Lang having lost it at the end of his career (having been frankly washed up in Hollywood, where his welcome was long since worn out) have been pretty much dispelled just by the production design. Can’t wait to see how part two plays out…

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