Metropolis: Watch Fritz Lang’s 1927 Masterpiece

Today we bring you one of the most influ­en­tial films of all time: Fritz Lang’s 1927 fable of good and evil fight­ing it out in a futur­is­tic urban dystopia, Metrop­o­lis.

The melo­dra­ma is set in the year 2026. Metrop­o­lis is a beau­ti­ful high-tech city, but beneath the daz­zling sur­face toil mass­es of enslaved work­ers. To keep the machin­ery run­ning effi­cient­ly, the work­ers have been forced to become vir­tu­al machines them­selves. The city is ruled by a heart­less mas­ter­mind named Johann Fred­er­sen, whose ide­al­is­tic son, Fred­er, dis­cov­ers the cru­el con­di­tions imposed on the work­ers and rebels against his father.

Fred­er falls in love with Maria, a mes­sian­ic fig­ure preach­ing love and rec­on­cil­i­a­tion, but his father hatch­es an evil plot to turn the work­ers against Maria. He hires the mad sci­en­tist Rot­wang to make a robot­ic coun­ter­feit of Maria to wreak hav­oc among the work­ers, dis­cred­it­ing her and dis­cour­ag­ing rebel­lion. An epic strug­gle ensues.

Lang actu­al­ly detest­ed the sto­ry, which was writ­ten most­ly by his wife Thea Von Har­bou. He told Peter Bog­danovich that Metrop­o­lis was “sil­ly and stu­pid.” But from a visu­al stand­point the film is one of the great works of 20th cen­tu­ry art. Lang said he got the idea of mak­ing a movie about a futur­is­tic city while vis­it­ing New York in 1924. Stand­ing at night on the deck of his ship in New York Har­bor, the film­mak­er looked up and was amazed:

I saw a street lit as if in full day­light by neon lights and, top­ping them, over­sized lumi­nous adver­tise­ments mov­ing, turn­ing, flash­ing on and off, spiraling…something that was com­plete­ly new and near­ly fairy tale-like for a Euro­pean in those days.…The build­ings seemed to be a ver­ti­cal veil, shim­mer­ing, almost weight­less, a lux­u­ri­ous cloth hung from the sky to daz­zle, dis­tract, and hyp­no­tize. At night the city did not give the impres­sion of being alive; it lived as illu­sions lived. I knew then that I had to make a film about all of these sen­sa­tions.

The icon­ic poster image above is repro­duced from an extreme­ly rare pro­gram print­ed for the March 21, 1927 Lon­don pre­miere of Metrop­o­lis. You can look through the entire 32-page pro­gram at the Web site of book­seller Peter Har­ring­ton. The page will open in a new win­dow, so you can look at the pro­gram and stay here and watch the film.

There’s also a 2010 restora­tion of the film, super­vised by the F.W. Mur­nau Foun­da­tion, which incor­po­rates footage from an ear­ly print dis­cov­ered in Buenos Aires, bring­ing the film clos­er to Lang’s orig­i­nal vision. You can pur­chase a restored copy with full Eng­lish sub­ti­tles here.

Relat­ed con­tent:

Fritz Lang’s M: Watch the Restored Ver­sion of the Clas­sic 1931 Film

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Comments (5)
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  • I’ve seen this ver­sion; it’s real­ly an incred­i­ble film.

    It’s fun­ny how oth­er edits com­plete­ly change the theme of the film.

  • xtr says:

    I got it on blu­ray and is much much bet­ter qual­i­ty also ost by Abel Korzeniows­ki sounds more inter­est­ing than orig­i­nal

  • Peter Easter says:

    A great film but the Eng­lish trans­la­tions of the Ger­man text are most­ly non­sense.

  • Eugene Belanger says:

    There were two dif­fer­ent ver­sions if Metrop­o­lis. One where the Grim Reaper lifts arms and then plays bone flute ( this ver­sion) and anoth­er ver­sion where the GR swings the bone flute back and forth and then plays it. This ver­sion here is the for­mer. Gior­gio Moroder’s rock score is the lat­ter and the lat­ter was the supe­ri­or ver­sion.

  • Eugene Belanger says:

    I meant to write “of” not “if” in my sec­ond line.

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