Fritz Lang’s futuristic Frau im Mond, about humankind’s first lunar expedition, follows Georges Méliès’s A Trip to the Moon by seventeen years. Ironically, the spacecraft’s name is Friede, literally, Peace; but Wolf Helius and Hans Windegger, his chief engineer, are both in love with astronomer Friede Velten, who is also onboard. (Friede is engaged to Hans.) Inside the phallic rocketship are circular components, compartments; however, the central yonic symbol is the moon itself. Friede is as competent and fiercely noble as Thea von Harbou could imagine her; von Harbou, on whose story the film is based, was Lang’s wife. Prior to the spacecraft’s return to Earth, a damaged oxygen supply requires Wolf and Hans to draw matchsticks to determine which one will stay behind. (Already two members of the crew have been lost.) What occurs is very moving: two consecutive sacrifices. Many, though, will question whether this fine conclusion justifies the film’s nearly three-hour length.
The impetus for the mission is the belief that the moon contains a fortune in gold. Through sabotage, five capitalists who want to make certain that the gold becomes theirs rather than falling into the hands of “visionaries and idealists,” are directing the mission. Here, Lang is taking a swipe at industry money men who interfere with the creation of serious film art such as his. Lang also has a dig at a fellow filmmaker by making the film’s treacherous woman resemble Louise Brooks, the star of G. W. Pabst’s Pandora’s Box (1928). But these are sidelights.
The first half is involving, but the second half, on the moon, although visually more striking, is dramatically tedious. Throughout, the acting is atrocious.
Postscript: Now I know the source of the mouse in Alain Resnais’s Je t’aime, je t’aime (1968).
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