Fritz Lang’s Two-Part Indian Epic

The film industry is rife with tales about directors who struggled and failed to bring their dream projects to the screen and the subject would make a fascinating, behind-the-scenes non-fiction book about the precarious nature of moviemaking. Among the more famous examples are Orson Welles, who pitched a film version of Joseph Conrad’s Heart of Darkness to RKO executives, who instead chose Welles’ second idea, Citizen Kane,  Josef von Sternberg’s ambitious 1937 production of I, Claudius, which was started but never completed due to disagreements between the director and Charles Laughton plus the injury of leading lady Merle Oberon in a car accident, and Robert Altman, who wanted to make a film version of the 1997 documentary Hands on a Hard Body and had even cast it but died before production could begin. Yet, for all the films-that-might-have-been, there are many examples of directors who finally succeeded in making their passion projects and one of them is Fritz Lang. His lifelong desire to make a film of the 1917 novel, The Indian Tomb, written by his former wife Thea Von Harbou, was finally realized in the late 1950s when he started production on a lavish movie adaptation that would be released in two parts as The Tiger of Eschnapur and The Indian Tomb, both 1959.

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Claude Chabrol: The Eye of Evil

Among the French New Wave directors, Claude Chabrol was the most prolific filmmaker after Jean-Luc Godard but his work was always divided between personal projects and commercial vehicles which he felt obligated to make so he could finance the former. Unfortunately, most of his “for hire” projects like Code Name: Tiger (1964) and Who’s Got the Black Box? (1967) were not successful with the public and ended up adversely affecting his reputation among film critics after his acclaimed film debut, Le Beau Serge (1958). Although he enjoyed a major comeback in the late sixties-early seventies with such well-received efforts as Les Biches (1969), La Femme Infidele (1969) and Le Boucher (1970), the films he made between 1959 and 1967 were mostly regarded as minor or flawed works by French critics, which hurt their distribution chances outside of France. One title that fell through the cracks and is now being reassessed as one of his most important early works is The Third Lover (1962), which was released on Blu-Ray in late February of 2020.   Continue reading

Himansu Rai’s 1929 Indian Epic

At the 23rd San Francisco Silent Film Festival (May 30-June 3, 2018), the Castro Theater played host to a diverse program of silent era masterpieces accompanied by live music, performed by either solo musicians, small ensembles or orchestras. Some of the new restorations screened included Ernst Lubitsch’s Rosita (1923) starring Mary Pickford, Buster Keaton’s Battling Butler (1926), the 1928 version of The Man Who Laughs with Conrad Veidt and a 1929 German version of The Hound of the Baskervilles, directed by Richard Oswald. As always, the festival also unveils several lesser known titles and rarities such as a magnificent new restoration of Prapancha Pash (aka A Throw of Dice), a 1929 Indian epic produced by Himansu Rai and directed by German filmmaker Franz Osten. A key pioneer effort from the early silent years of Indian cinema, A Throw of Dice holds up beautifully after almost ninety years with its exotic mix of adventure, romance, pageantry and sensuality. And it is an excellent entry point for any silent film beginner. Continue reading