The Hang Fire Books Blog

The rantings of a bookdealer in Brooklyn, New York.

Thursday, November 15, 2007

Movie Break: Fritz Lang's Indian Epic

In the process of moving I tried to pare down some of the shamefully unopened DVDs that've been sitting on my shelf (for--in some cases--years) so I finally got around to Fritz Lang's Indian Epic; a two-disk set released by Fantoma comprising The Tiger of Eschnapur and The Indian Tomb (1959).

This is very late Lang working in Cecil B. DeMille mode: exotic adventure, beautiful location shooting, massive and elaborate sets, and authentically-costumed cheesecake.

The films follow a dramatic triangle between a dashing German architect, a young Maharaja, and the temple dancer they both love. The architect is summoned to Eschnapur in India to build hospitals and schools based on ideas the Maharaja picked up during his European education. While traveling to Eschnapur on a caravan the architect saves the temple dancer (Debra Paget) from a man-eating tiger. This earns him the love of the dancer and the gratitude of the Maharaja, who desires the dancer but is unaware that her heart's been stolen away by the handsome foreigner. That's about it. Lots of drama ensues.

These films--reworkings of a script Lang wrote with Thea von Harbou, originally filmed in 1921--have an extremely retro feel, even for 1959. They're most reminiscent of a Buck Rogers serial (there's even a title card at the end of the first film to the effect of "Stay tuned to see if our lovers prevail"). Despite this innocent format, the films are shot through with Lang's traditional cynicism, sinister yet complicated villains, and some surprisingly racy bump-and-grind from Debra Paget.

Both films have dance numbers. In the first Paget wears transparent chain mail, in the second, practically nothing:

According to IMDB Debra Paget (35 1/2 - 21 1/2 - 35 1/2) tested for the lead role in the 1955 TV series, "Sheena: Queen of the Jungle". One of the great missed opportunities in pop culture history IMHO.

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