The Great Leap [Blu-ray]
Blu-ray A - America - Kino Lorber
Review written by and copyright: Eric Cotenas (21st June 2020).
The Film

Severely stressed out and on the verge of a nervous breakdown, Berliner Michael Treuherz (champion skier and cinematographer Hans Schneeberger) is advised by his doctor to take a vacation (and find a wife), so he heads with his valet Paul (The Wildcat's Paul Graetz) to the South Tyrol. Paul realizes that his master is far more adept at scaling molehills than mountains, and Michael's adventurous spirit nearly gets him killed on more than one occasion. It's love at first sight when Italian goatherd Gita (Triumph of the Will's Leni Riefenstahl) rescues Michael from a watermill, but his attempts to romance her cause tension with rival suitor and Michael's guide Tomi (The Doomed Battalion's Luis Trenker). When Gita sees an advertisement for a ski race across the mountains with the prize of a small goat, she announces to the village and its visiting skiers that the prize is herself and her pet goat Pippa. While Paul endeavors to engineer things in Michael's favor with everything from macabre and misleading detour signs to an inflated "fat suit" to prevent him from injury (while also hindering his every movement), Tomi sets about trying to sabotage him but winds up breaking the wrong pair of skis. The mishaps of the race culminate in a brawl, and four-footed Pippa may be the only one to cross the finishing line upright.

Half-a-century before the skiing sex comedy Hot Dog ... the Movie – whose writer/producer Mike Marvin innovated camera coverage of extreme skiing with a series of documentaries before that feature – The Great Leap was either a comic outgrowth or departure from a series of documentaries and films that comprised what was known as the German mountain film genre – in which the mystical qualities of nature and the mountains were as much a character as the protagonists who either lived there or visited to be changed by the experience – as exemplified from more somber examples by the film's writer/director/editor Arnold Fanck with The Mountaineers, The Holy Mountain, White Hell of Pitz Palu (co-directed by Diary of a Lost Girl's G.W. Pabst), Storm Over Mont Blanc, and White Ecstasy the latter four showcasing future Nazi propaganda filmmaker Riefenstahl, then a touring dancer looking to become an actress after a career-ending injury. The emphasis on location photography is unusual for the period when most productions were studiobound, and the Tyrolean settings are not only truly stunning to behold but the perilousness of the natural environment is deeply felt in the adventurous photography – the work of six cameramen including Schneeberger, Richard Angst (De Sade), documentarians Charles Mιtain and Kurt Neubert, future Reifenstahl collaborator Sepp Allgeier, Albert Benitz (The Terror of Dr. Mabuse), and Schneeberger who would go on to shoot the second iteration of The Tiger of Eschnapur and The Indian Tomb – and the Buster Keaton/Harold Lloyd-esque comedic stunt work which has Schneeberger tumbling down mountainsides and Riefenstahl climbing phallic rocks to escape equally surefooted Trenker. Quite unusually for the time, camera trickery including jump cuts and reverse motion are used not for creating illusion but for comic effect with impossible feats that range from skiing uphill steep to seemingly reversing time while the clouds jump all around the sky as Fanck imposes small cuts in a sustained shot to give the impression of several skiers launching over a ridge in rapid succession. The love story is secondary to the comedy, and even the comedy is overshadowed by the stunning backdrop to the point where the film almost seems like a straight parody of the German mountain film when Michael elects to stay there forever, so transformed is he apparently by his conflict with nature and attempted conquest of the girl who seems to be one with nature. Fanck would only direct a handful more films and documentaries before being pushed out by the Nazis and found no work in the last twenty-odd years of his life; however, the film and the rest of his legacy cannot help but feel tainted not only by the association of the German mountain film genre with Nazi cultural ideals but also the presence of Reifenstahl who would complicate her own filmic and prolific artistic legacy right up until the her death.

Video

Long unavailable in English-speaking countries, The Great Leap comes to Blu-ray from Kino Lorber from a 2005 Friedrich-Wilhelm-Murnau-Stiftung restoration (remastered in HD in 2013), and it would not be an exaggeration to say that the 1080p24 MPEG-4 AVC 1.37:1 pillarboxed fullscreen image is frequently stunning, looking for the most part as if the materials had never been touched before with only a few light scratches, rare jitter, and a couple dings turning up later in the film (one also wonders if a couple frames are missing here or there or if the cold of the location photography effected the cranking of the camera). The settings and the people look as vivid as modern black and white photographs.

Audio

No complaints about the DTS-HD Master Audio 2.0 stereo audio since credited composer Werner R. Heymann's (Topper Returns) score has been replaced with a 2005 score by Neil Brand. The interitles appear to be original, including one or two animated ones, and English subtitles are available for translation.

Extras

The sole extra is an audio commentary by film historian Samm Deighan who discusses the German mountain film in the context of the scarcity of genre cinema under the Nazis – although she notes that this comedy may be more a reflection of Weimer Germany – Fanck's filmography and how his interest in the natural world even informs his non-mountain films, the legacies of Riefenstahl, Schneeberger, Graetz – who quit Nazi Germany for Hollywood and worked there for a few years but died suddenly before he could collaborate with fellow exile Ernst Lubitsch – and Tranker (a mountaineer who himself went on to direct films including some later not so much mountain films as mountain-set), as well as the careers of those who flourished or washed out during the Nazi regime.

Overall

Half-a-century before the skiing sex comedy Hot Dog ... the Movie, The Great Leap hit the slopes as a comic outgrowth or departure from the German mountain film genre.

 


DVD Compare is a participant in the Amazon Services LLC Associates Program and the Amazon Europe S.a.r.l. Associates Programme, an affiliate advertising program designed to provide a means for sites to earn advertising fees by advertising and linking to amazon.co.uk, amazon.com, amazon.ca, amazon.fr, and amazon.de.