Fritz Lang's Indian Epic: The Tiger of Eschnapur/The Indian Tomb [Blu-ray]
Blu-ray ALL - America - Film Movement
Review written by and copyright: Eric Cotenas (8th December 2019).
The Film

The Tiger of Eschnapur: Arriving ahead of his brother-in-law by invitation of the Maharaja Chandra (Sissi: The Young Emperess' Walther Reyer) to embark on a massive public works program, German architect Harald Berger (The Beast from 20,000 Fathoms' Paul Hubschmid) lights upon the ravishingly beautiful Seetha (The Ten Commandments' Debra Paget), a dancer at the Temple of Benares also on her way to Eschnapur at the Maharaja's command to dance for him. She thanks him for his kindness in defending her maid Bharani (Thunderball's Luciana Paluzzi) against the improprieties of soldiers at a rest stop, but feels that she owes him her life when he saves her from the attack of an unearthly man-eating tiger that has preyed upon dwellers and travelers along the road to Eschnapur. Upon arrival, Harald is welcomed into the palace while Seetha takes rooms at the local inn. Chandra's elder brother Prince Ramigani (The Mysterious Magician's Renι Deltgen) wants the throne for himself and resents European-educated Chandra inviting "foreign devils" into the kingdom while brother-in-law Prince Padhu (The Face of the Frog's Jochen Brockmann) believes Chandra is sullying the memory of his beloved sister the Maharani by his plans to marry Seetha. Seetha is unaware that Chandra when she dances for him in the local temple during the annual festival and comes to believe even more that Harald might be fated to her when he inadvertently wanders into the temple while exploring the hidden tunnels beneath the palace – a trespass that would mean a death sentence for any foreigner – and is only seen by her, but she soon feels like a caged bird when Chandra invites her to stay in the palace and gifts her the Maharani's jewelry. When Padhu abducts Seetha and Chandra rescues her from violation by his soldiers, however, she also feels obligated to him even though she is uncomfortable with his romantic overtures. Ramigani plans to use Chandra's marriage to Seetha as an offense to justify him seizing power, but his plans are derailed when the high priest Yama (Samson and the 7 Miracles of the World's Valιry Inkijinoff) informs Chandra that Harald has been meeting Seetha in secret. After Harald's "betrayal" is confirmed, Chandra traps him in the tiger's den where he must fight for his life. When Harald triumphs over the tiger, Chandra gives him his freedom but orders him to leave Eschnapur. Although Seetha is under heavy guard, Harald manages to effect her escape and they flee into the desert trying to meet up with an Arab caravan but the elements are against them. Chandra learning of Seetha's escape coincides with the arrival of Harald's sister Irene (Dr. Mabuse versus Scotland Yard's Sabine Bethmann) and her brother-in-law Walter (Berlin Alexanderplatz's Claus Holm); whereupon Chandra orders Rhode to set aside his public works program in order to build a tomb, the luxury of which is unheard of, for his lost beloved who will die once it is completed.

The story continues in The Indian Tomb when Seetha and Harald are rescued from death in the desert by the caravan and taken to a nearby town. Unfortunately, Ramigani under orders from the Maharaja announces a reward for Seetha's recovery and Harald's death, threatening to burn down any village that offers the couple shelter and to hang all its citizenry. When a young farmer means to violate the village's laws of hospitality, however, the village elder and the farmer's wife warn the recovering couple to flee and seek a hiding place in the gorge. They find a crevasse where Seetha discovers a hidden shrine to Shiva and makes on offering to the goddess to protect them; however, Harald's disbelief leads to Seetha's recapture and his apparent death in a fall. Ramigani tells Chandra that Harald was killed and eaten by crocodiles; however, he reveals to Seetha that Harald is still alive and threatens his life in order to force Seetha to accept Chandra's proposal even though it will mean her own death by immurement within the tomb once completed. Rhode and Irene are also trapped in the palace after his having refused to build the tomb – which he has surmised is actually to be an "execution site" – however, Rhode subsequently agrees to buy them some time once they realize that the story about Harald being accidentally killed on a tiger hunt is a lie and that he could still be alive. While Rhode tries to work out a means of escape, Irene attempts to find to see Seetha and learn the truth. Meanwhile, Padhu and his soldiers have arrived in the city to exact revenge upon Chandra, Yama the high priest insists that Seetha must face the judgement of the goddess, and Ramigani must find a means to win over the priests and Chandra's army for his coup; but Chandra in his jealous may play into Ramigani's hands when he is willing to abandon the gods out of his love for Seetha.
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Although seemingly an even more pulpy, escapist bit of entertainment – although undertaken on a grand scale – from director Fritz Lang after his earlier silent and sound Weimer Republic triumphs (Metropolis, Dr. Mabuse, the Gambler, M) and his American noir masterpieces (Human Desire, The Secret Beyond the Door), the duo The Tiger of Eschnapur and The Indian Tomb (known collectively as Lang's "Indian Epic") was actually a passion project originating in the original novel and screenplay by his late ex-wife Thea von Harbou (The Finances of the Grand Duke) which was to be his first major directorial effort in 1921 – a substantially more expensive and high-profile production than his previous two-part epic The Spiders or his official first von Harbou collaboration The Wandering Image until producer Joe May (Asphalt) decided to direct the massive epic himself (leading to Lang splitting with May and taking von Harbou with him to UFA where he made his name and reputation) as The Indian Tomb: Part I: The Mission of the Yogi and The Indian Tomb: Part II: The Tiger of Bengal. After the dissolution of his marriage and his decision to flee the rising Nazi regime for Hollywood, the two-part production was remade in 1938 by Richard Eichberg as The Tiger of Eschnapur and The Indian Tomb, once again to great success. It was the chance to remake the series to his own specifications that had Lang returning to Germany and partnering with producer Artur Brauner whose company CCC Filmkunst was flooding the market with mostly trendy product, piggybacking on Rialto Film's hugely popular Edgar Wallace series with a competing Bryan Edgar Wallace series (starting with The Strangler of Blackmoor Castle but also incorporating giving Wallace titles to unrelated co-productions like The Bird with the Crystal Plumage, Seven Bloodstained Orchids, and The Etruscan Kills Again) as well as a series of Karl May adaptations like Old Shatterhand to compete with Rialto's Winnetou series, following up Lang's The 1,000 Eyes of Dr. Mabuse with a quintet of unrelated sequels in the sixties and another one in the seventies as part of his contract with Jess Franco in The Vengeance of Doctor Mabuse (along with a post-Rialto series Wallace "adaptation" in The Devil Came from Akasava and another supposed Bryan Edgar Wallace with The Corpse Packs His Bags, and even Virgin Report to piggyback on the success of Rapid Film's Schoolgirl Report series and its many spinoffs). With an international cast necessitated by the co-production funding needed that the sets and the location shoot would require without taking into account Lang's zeal for perfectionism, the epic is hellishly beautiful even if it must already have seemed old-fashioned in 1958 with its serial-like thrills, stodgy romance – spiked with some eroticism that, although striking, probably would have been transgressive a decade earlier – and an images of India steeped in nostalgia for the exoticism of pulp novels rather than the jet set backdrops of contemporary productions from the Bond-inspired Eurospy thrillers and Italian photo comic adaptations to come in the sixties (although the discs' extras posit a reason for this). If the male performances feel serviceable, the female ones are merely flashier, with Lang in love with Paget's face (and body) and more a range of expressions than a demonstration of range for the former Fox contract player yet easily overshadowing Bethmann and future Bond girl Paluzzi. Although the film is really no more pulpy than Lang's more acclaimed adventure films from his earlier German period, it may indeed rub some viewers the wrong way, when divorced of its personal context (note that the credits cite Harbou's novel "as made famous by Richard Eichberg" with no mention of the May version) as a throwback; however, it may indeed at the time have been the sort of film that would lead Jack Palance's Joe Levine stand-in to throw money at a Lang for an adaptation of The Odyssey in Jean-Luc Godard's Contempt.
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Video

Licensed from Beta Film – who also licensed the recent restorations of The Great Silence and the Sissi films to Film Movement – the 1080p24 MPEG-4 AVC 1.33:1 pillarboxed fullscreen transfers of The Tiger of Eschnapur and The Indian Tomb benefit for the most part from a new 4K restoration not afforded to the earlier Wild Side Video French release which appears to come from the earlier HD master used for the DVDs with identical framing and color – presumably also the source for the German Blu-ray – in terms of a wealth of detail in the sets, costumes, and facial features (not a strong point of the DVDs) and distinguishing the stock footage and doubled shots (tiger suits and humans) from the surrounding footage which could have been shot yesterday apart from a brief sequence where the image dissolves into itself suggesting that some patching was done with other sources (possibly in other places as well but less noticeable). On the other hand, the color grading is brighter, robbing the blues and greens of their richness (particularly when it comes to the gels utilized in the tunnels beneath the palace and in the temple) while saturation of reds can seem almost blinding when it comes to Paget's wardrobe but slightly pink with blood. Day for night shots also look more gray-blue here. It is certainly not a bad way to watch the film, especially a color Lang film that previously looked both epic and shopworn before.
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Audio

Whereas the Fantoma and Eureka DVDs included both the German and English dubs of the film, Film Movement has only included the German original in LPCM 2.0 mono for both The Tiger of Eschnapur and The Indian Tomb, but the tracks are just as epic as the image with regard to the expansive orchestral scoring, desert winds, and tiger growls and roars (the dialogue is, of course, post-synchronized). Optional English subtitles are provided for both films, and the translation differs slightly from the earlier one used for the DVD editions.

Extras

Both films are accompanied by an audio commentary by film historian David Kalat recorded for the Eureka Masters of Cinema DVD set in which Kalat expounds on the importance of von Harbou in Lang's professional and personal life, their shared love of Karl May novels, and the love affair with an Indian man that destroyed their marriage, suggesting that Lang's remake was not only part of his nursed grudge against Joe May but also a final collaboration with the late von Harbou, as well as a "reset button" to rectify the events that separated them and von Harbou's continued success during the Nazi regime as a favorite of Goebbels. He also discusses the differences between his film and the earlier adaptations (and his interpretation of the reasons for them), the over-budget shoot and the relationships between Lang and Brauner as well as Lang and production supervisor Eberhard Meichsner (The Death Ray of Dr. Mabuse) which was so volatile that the two men kept a written record of their exchanges through letters and telegrams (even when they were staying in the same hotel). He also discusses the successes of all three films and how that suggests that the story's popularity is neither due to the remoteness of exotic India during the twenties or escapism in the post-war period. He posits reasons for the savage appraisals of the films by both German critics of the time and German film historians – including Metropolis restorer Enno Patalas and "From Caligari to Hitler's Siegfried Kracauer – and the praise of the Cahiers du Cinema crowd, and refutes the suggestion that Lang's producers are to blame for restricting him, especially in the case of the Indian Epic where Lang ignored all of the cost-cutting "suggestions"; as such, he argues that the supposed "odd man out" in Lang's filmography may be the revered M rather than the Indian Epic.
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Disc one includes "The Indian Epic" (21:02), previously included on the German Blu-ray and U.K. DVD, featuring comments by Brauner, Bethmann, and the German Cinematheque's Martin Koerber about the other adaptations, Brauner believing he gave Lang more freedom than this Hollywood producers, and finding Paget "more erotic than Marilyn Monroe," as well as the theatrical trailer (1:03). Disc two features Debra Paget, For Example (36:37), a 2016 featurette by film historian Mark Rappaport that previously appeared on the Fandor streaming service, in which he makes a case for Paget as the "princess of kitsch" charting her career through a handful of roles as love interests to middle-aged men while still a minor, her Fox contract period, her Vegas nightclub act, and her post-Fox film career including the Lang films. Rappaport goes on some at first bizarre but interesting tangents in discussing how Paget's career typified that of Fox contract players in both its highlights and limitations, but the vocal enactment of Paget's quotes by another actress (Caroline Simonds) seem wooded rather than jaded. The disc also includes the film's theatrical trailer (1:03).

Packaging

Included in the case is a booklet essay booklet by film scholar Tom Gunning.
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Overall

A 4K restoration of Fritz Lang's Indian Epic looks more epic than ever, but will its kitsch factor overshadow its artistry with modern audiences?

 


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