Rare German sci-fi thriller gets the SHOCK review.
Calling director Karl Hartl’s 1934 German sci-fi film GOLD “lost” is a bit of a misnomer. It’s long been streaming on YouTube and has been freely available on video elsewhere for sometime. What makes it lost is that no one really talks about it in regards to early German cinema. Certainly, if Fritz Lang had directed it that would not be the case. But the shadow of Lang’s METROPOLIS looms large over GOLD; it’s a feeling that goes beyond the casting of that film’s unforgettable female lead Brigitte Helm. It’s in the thrust of the movie, of science and industry moving faster than it should and it’s alive in the startling production design by Otto Hunte (incidentally, some of the footage was later recycled for the ’50s monster mash THE MAGNETIC MONSTER).
And while GOLD will never touch METROPOLIS as far as being a classic Teutonic future-shock fantasy, it’s still an interesting, fierce little film, a strong product of its period that demands some respect.
The movie follows the creation of a monolithic machine that uses electricity and “atomic fracturing” to convert lead into gold, the creation of a benevolent scientist name Holk. But other eyes are prying and, after the machine is wounded and his friend killed, Holk aligns himself with an evil British industrialist who backs the experiments with greed as his motive. Holk eventually gives his head a shake and devises a plan to get revenge against the manipulative tycoon, using his daughter as his “inside girl”.
The horror elements in GOLD are minimal on the surface, but the tale pulsing beneath its tech-noir sheen is terrifying. It was in fact one of the first- if not the first – film made when the Nazi’s had taken over film production in Socialist Germany. The politics aren’t overt and it’s not propaganda, really. But there’s a really grim feel to the movie. It’s not like the beautiful, fluid expressionist films of the 1920s, when artists lived in fear of the advent of the Nazis and made films that warned of the horrors to come. No, this is a “product” and there’s a coldness here; something harsh, mean, sharp-edged and angry. And the villain is the only British guy in the movie, of course. A none too subtle tool to propel the rabid xenophobia that served as the Nazi manifesto.
Kino Lorber makes a strong presentation of GOLD, rendering the ancient film in industry standard 1080p high definition, presumably remastered from a scratchy print that is likely the best one they could find.
It’s a curio to be sure, but GOLD is also an incredibly handsome looking film and its central espionage narrative is compelling. It’s a shame KL couldn’t get their mitts on the French version of the film, shot simultaneously and also starring Helm. It would have made for an amazing comparison as reportedly, the narrative is radically different.