Masters of Cinema has just released a deluxe edition of Fritz Lang's second to last film, 1959's The Indian Epic
It consists of 2 separate films on 2 discs, The Indian Tomb, (aka The Tomb of Love) & The Tiger Of Eschnapur, & runs a total of 203 minutes. This appears to be the first UK dvd edition, & as the 2003 USA Image/Fantoma appears to have gone out of print (& sells for a fortune), this appears to be the only currently available edition aimed at the English speaking market.
For those who haven't seen it, here's a brief but useful description: Combine a 1950's high budget Hollywood epic with a 1940's poverty row serial, a truly international cast (with no a-list actors) & have Fritz Lang direct, & you've got the Indian Tomb! Fans of the above genres (50's Hollywood epics, 30's & 40's cliffhanger serials & Lang) will likely enjoy this, if you don't fall into any of the above you're probably not the target audience. In my opinion, (& I've now watched it 3 times, twice in the last week), this film's allure is the tremendous scenery, great sets & camera work, & easy to digest entertainment that tends to be of a bit higher quality than most similar Hollywood films of the time.
As far as the plot, a German architect has been dispatched to India to build hospitals for the Maharajah. On his way to the palace, he saves an Indian dancer from a Tiger attack & they are instantly smitten with one another. Unfortunately it turns out the reason she is also on the way to the palace is because the Maharajah has seen her dance & is also smitten with her. Add in a plot by the Maharajah's brother to seize power in the province, tons of court intrigue, fake Snakes & Tigers (truthfully I wouldn't have noticed the Tiger was fake in places if David Kalat hadn't have pointed it out in his excellent commentary), & lots of cliff hangers & you have the Indian Tomb.
One other important point: A very different version was originally filmed in 1921 as a German silent film starring the great Conrad Veidt; fresh from his career making starring role as the Somnambulist in Dr Caligari. Lang's future wife, Thea von Harbou wrote the original story. Lang was then hired by producer Joe May to do the screen play with Von Harbou & direct. They ended up doing such a good job on the screenplay that May (who was also an experienced director) kept it & made it himself. As it was a blockbuster hit, Lang was said to have never forgiven May. Per David Kalat, when Atrur Brauner contacted Lang in 1959 & asked him to return to Germany to film a remake, Lang jumped at the chance to reclaim his work. Also per Kalat, this version has more in common with a 1938 Nazi era remake than with the original, though Lang has also changed that storyline considerably.
The cast was truly international, to the point where both the "original German" & the English versions were both dubbed, as few of the actors could talk to each other in the same language, much less act in it. The best-known actor is probably the female lead, American actress Debra Paget, but even she was mostly a b list actress. The high budget on this film (4 million Deutsch marks) went for the sets & location filming. One interesting aspect of this is that the English subtitles are quite different from the English language spoken track. Kalat mentions that the German version was what Lang intended, but he also states that due to both versions being dubbed, he does not recommend one over the other. MOC states that the subtitles for this edition are new translations from the German. Out of habit I mostly watched the German language version with English subs, though my second time through this week was to play the commentary.
Which leads us to the technical aspects.
MOC states that this is a new digital restoration with the original aspect ratio of 1.37:1 restored , as opposed to Image stating their 2003 edition was 1.33:1. I am unable to see this difference in aspect ratio on either my Television or PC. My current TV is a USA NTSC JVC 36" old style CRT & my main pc monitor is a Dell 21" LCD wide screen flat panel. On the JVC, the colors appeared slightly more vivid on the MOC than on the Image, but that was the only visual difference I could see. I also made 4 screen caps from each version, & on my computer I couldn't see any significant difference at all between the caps. My review copy was surprisingly in NTSC rather than PAL, I don't know if that had any impact. One other technical comment: In about 20% of the scenes when a new scene first fades in or transitions there is a 2-3 second period where the color lightens, darkens & lightens again to where it will end up. In comparing the MOC to the Image I found the exact artifacts on both, which says to me that it is not anything MOC did wrong with their authoring. The artifacts also show up on my pc's monitor, which says the problem is not in my TV or dvd player. Kalat surprisingly does not mention this issue, so I don't know what the cause is.
Which brings us to the commentary that is exclusive to this edition. On disc1 , it is my favorite DK commentary ever. It's pretty amazing that he can find so much information related to this film that's truly of interest. That's also likely why I wasn't as enamored of the commentary on disc 2: DK had 3 ½ hours to fill, & there's only so much interesting one can say about a 3 ½ hour long action film! I found it amusing that DK states at one point in his long commentary that in his opinion one of the reasons critics tend to not like this film is that it just doesn't have much to intellectualize about! I do recommend taking the time to listen to the commentary, but only on your 2nd watching; DK tends to wander all over the place & it's not possible (at least for me) to follow both him & the film.
The set also includes a new 20-minute documentary & a 48-page booklet. Everything about the set (well everything except the color issue at the beginning of scenes) breathes quality; MOC in my mind is the best of the UK boutique labels & 100% on par with the US Criterion imprint; though usually at more reasonable pricing!
To sum up, if you fall into one of the 3 categories of fans I mention in the opening, I recommend owning this movie. If you already own the Image, the question is do you want to spring for the commentary? I personally feel this would be worth buying just for the commentary if one is a huge Lang fan. If you do not already own the Image/Fantamo edition, & if this type of film sounds interesting to you, this one is a no brainer for Lang fans.