(Fritz Lang, Germany, 1924) 144 minutes


Director: Fritz Lang
Producer: Erich Pommer
Screenplay: Thea von Harbou, based on the
13th century poem Die Nibelungehleid
Design: Otto Hunte, Erich Kettelhut
Cinematography: Carl Hoffman, Gunther Rittau
Original Score: Gottfried Huppertz
Margaret Schon (Kriemhild)
Rudolph Klein-Rogge (Attila)
George August Koch (Hildebrand)
Theodor Loos (King Gunther)
Bernhard Goetzke (Volker von Alzey)
Hans Adalbert von Schlettow (Hagen Tronje)
George John (Blaodel)

Reviews and notes

Perhaps the most stately of Fritz Lang’s two-part epics, the five-hour Die Nibelungen is a courageous and hallucinatory work, a film in which every single shot might alone endure as an exemplar of visual art. In Part Two, Kriemhild’s Revenge, Siegfried’s widow travels to the remote land of the Huns to wed the monstrous Attila, and thereby enlist his forces in an act of vengeance that culminates in massacre, conflagration, and, under the auspices of Lang, one of the most exhilarating and terrifying end-sequences in all of cinema. Adapted from the myth that served as the basis for Wagner’s Ring cycle (though not an adaptation of the operas themselves), Lang’s picture employs its own counterpoint through a systematic, viral series of deranged geometrical patterns and the arresting, kabuki-like quality of the actors’ performances. The result is a film of startling expressionistic power, and a summit of Fritz Lang’s artistry.
– Masters of Cinema.

Kriemhild strikes back in the more literal, political Part Two, Kriemhild's Revenge. She responds to the marriage proposal of the foreign conqueror Attila the Hun (or Etzel, Rudolf Klein-Rogge), journeys to his Eastern Fortress and bears him a son. Attila takes time from laying siege to Rome to come home to see the boy. He gladly allows Kriemhild to invite Gunther and her brothers for a visit, but refuses her demand that he kill Hagen Tronje, because he is a guest. Gunther refuses to kill Hagen as well. At a banquet Kriemhild bribes some Huns to attack the Burgundians, and a battle begins. A general bloodbath wipes out almost everyone.

A bold title card announces that the films are "dedicated to the German People". That seems almost scary, considering that the German Burgundians seem intent on self-destruction. The unalterable will of Kriemhild dominates every step of Revenge. After the cruel tragedy of Part One, nationalities, bloodlines, familial love, matrimonial love mean nothing to Siegfried's widow. She doesn't mind if everyone and everything is destroyed. Kriemhild provokes a slaughter and a fiery siege of Attila's grand hall, and the once magical world of limitless possibilities goes up in smoke and flames.

Unlike Part One, there is much more action within the frame, especially when the story moves eastward into the land of the Huns. The rigid compositions of soldiers at Worms are replaced by Attila's ragged and informal groupings of peasant warriors, cavalrymen that aren't happy unless they're in the saddle. Producer Erich Pommer allows Lang to show hundreds of mounted Huns charging across vast hills and valleys. Attila is an old man with hideous scars, but his boundless joy and open emotions make him seem much more human than the scheming Burgundians. Gunther, Kriemhild and Hagen Tronje's seem dedicated to morbid death pacts in the name of honor. At one point Attila exclaims that he doesn't understand what the problem is with these radical Burgundians.

Fritz Lang truly bloomed as a filmmaker in these epics. His Dr. Mabuse is a Feuillade-like serial gone psychotic, using expressionism to depict a new kind of 20th century paranoia. In Die Nibelungen Lang works with cinematic contrasts. The Burgundians are all stiff poses and rigid compositions, while the fur-clad Huns creep and loiter like animals on the prowl. Critic Lotte Eisner reminds us that Lang's architectural designs extend to the use of groups of people as geometric shapes. They are stylized but not strictly expressionist, as they are never actually physically distorted for psychological effect. The enormous cathedral is credible as a real setting. Theatrical grotesquery is very much present as well. Fanciful characters like Alberich are portrayed as they might be on a stage, with plenty of exaggeration. The dreaded Hagen Tronje, the film's chief betrayer and agent of wrongdoing, is simply a grim black knight, with a long beard and an extinguished right eye. Siegfried and Kriemhild are more modern in conception, and not the heavy singers we're accustomed to seeing on stage. The only change to the 'vengeful' Kriemhild is her more severe eye makeup.

The enormous sets were built on open land, not in studio interiors. We're told that the giant trees in Siegfried's forest were wooden frames covered with sculpted concrete. The static camera setups lead us to think that many scenes are matte paintings or foreground miniatures, but when Siegfried rides through the forest, it's clear that everything we're seeing is real. Special in-camera effects also see service to depict the northern lights and 'bogs of fire' in Brunhild's Iceland, as well as Siegfried's tricks of invisibility. The virtuosity of this in-camera effects work gave German filmmaking an early reputation for technical excellence - Hollywood would import Ufa's cameramen as well as its directors.
- Glenn Erickson, DVD Savant, 14 November 2012.

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