Fritz Lang’s final silent movie is a remarkable one on many levels: it’s one of very few actual genuine hard-SF movies, it’s an important one in the development of the genre, it’s an important step in the development of actual rocketry, and it’s also a masterpiece of the German film industry.
The film actually starts off as a sort of industrial spy thriller, with rivalries between different groups getting involved in the building of a rocket to go and plunder the moon of its mineral wealth – in particular its deposits of gold. The espionage tone follows on nicely from Lang’s previous film, Spione, which shared this film’s romantic leads, Willy Fritsch and Gerda Maurus.
Frau Im Mond follows a clear political line from Lang’s previous SF film, Metropolis, by having the hero (Fritsch as Wolf Helius) be the Capitalist boss who works with the labour force, as the climax of Metropolis recommended. The villain here is a representative of the bankers, played by Fritz Rasp, who had been the chief henchman in Metropolis, and is a symbol of finance for its own sake. Gerda Maurus, meanwhile, is not as memorable as Brigitte Helm in Metropolis, but her character is surprisingly forthright and feminist for a film of the era, demanding – and mostly getting – equal treatment and opportunity.
Alongside the intrigue, the film also details the design and building of the rocket to take the characters to the moon. This is where the movie goes beyond being a simply a landmark in the history of film to becoming a landmark in the history of science – and, in fact, in history proper. Lang had recruited a number of scientists interested in rocketry to help make his film as realistic as possible. These included Willy Ley and Werner Von Braun, who came up with ingenious details like having the interior of the rocket covered in handholds to assist with zero-G movements, having the rocket exhausts in water for launch, and even inventing the countdown which rocket launches in real life still use today. All of which led to the film being banned and declared a state secret by the Nazis, when they co-opted many of the same scientists and members of the film’s crew to work on the V2 rocket programme…
Once the rocket actually reaches the moon, it does fall rather flat, as the Moon turns out to have a breathable atmosphere, boiling mud pools, and nuggets of gold lying around. This is a shame, given how right the science was beforehand, right up to the landing sequence, whose precise prediction of the Apollo 11 landing footage is downright spooky.
Lang’s visual sensibilities are shown at their best here, whether it be in the minimalist but pristine offices and stairwells, the ingenious partical rocket interior, and the stylish spies and gangsters. The lunar production design is also impressive, regardless of its accuracy. Performance-wise, most of the cast are fine, though Klaus Pohl loses it a little as the scientist who, while he may not be mad as such, definitely gets a few twitches. The boy stowaway is also a disappointing idea that drags the story.
This new 1080p edition really does look amazing, and there’s a nice short documentary about the film’s making and legacy (especially where the Nazi ban is concerned), and the release includes a 38-page booklet on Lang and the film. The booklet is a little pretentious places, but filled with fascinating behind-the-scenes details that give context that many modern viewers might not otherwise get.
Verdict: This is a must buy if you have an interest in either Fritz Lang, hard SF, film history, rocketry history, or Weimar cinema. 10/10
David A McIntee