Two of Fritz Lang’s early films were not screened during the summer retrospective due to their extremely limited availability; the Harvard Film Archive is pleased to complete the series with a couple of restored silents, considered lost for decades. – Brittany Gravely
Lost for decades until the Eighties when a copy made for release in Brazil was rediscovered, Four Around a Woman exposes Lang’s swift artistic progress in his early years. Amid unsavory dealings in opulent worlds above and smoky dens below, wealthy broker Harry Yquem remains obsessed with delusions of his devout wife’s infidelity. His own crimes worry him little as he enters a proto-Langian labyrinth of doppelgängers, disguise, shifting identities, eavesdropping, paranoia, blackmail and eventually murder. While gradually unspooling the backstory, Lang also luxuriates in unrelated comic vignettes, naturalistic atmospheric flourishes and amusing, quirky characters. Though some plot points have been further obfuscated in the fragmented print, the doubles and puzzles resolve to nearly complete elucidation and signal the beginning of Lang’s uniquely inventive mastery of the newest art, the moving image.
In the first collaboration between Lang and legendary screenwriter Thea von Harbou— whom he would marry shortly afterwards—a tormented woman trudges through the Swiss Alps attempting to escape the respective grasps of various men whose identities, morals and beliefs wander as mysteriously as the statue of Virgin Mary referred to in the title. Divulged through a series of flashbacks, Irmgard’s pursuit and uncanny encounters are traced to a complex web of strange deceits which involve a staunch proponent of free love who refuses to marry, a misanthropic hermit hiding in the mountains, a helpful stranger who appears when she is in distress and a psychotic stalker out for blood. Another film lost until the 1980s and reconstructed from a heavily damaged Brazilian print, The Wandering Image shows its scars, yet retains vivid evidence of Lang’s early experiments in psychological story convolutions as well as one of his only ventures outside the studio to film extensive scenes of tense drama on the steep slopes.