In 1933, Adolf Hitler swept into power in Germany, changing every aspect of life in the country. It could not have come at a worse time for the German film industry, which was still as productive as the industry in Hollywood. But many of Germany’s best directors were Jewish and they fled the country once the Nazis came in. The films made during the Nazi era are not as well known as the movies made before 1933. Most were propaganda efforts, but there’s also GOLD, a science-fiction film directed by Karl Hartl.
Released in March 1934 and produced by Universum Film AG (UFA), GOLD seems more like a throwback to the great films of the Weimar Republic. It even has Brigitte Helm, so it’s impossible to avoid linking it with Metropolis. Helm is sadly not introduced until an hour into the film and has a rather small part. Instead, the lead is The Blue Angel star Hans Albers as Holk, a scientist whose mentor has figured out how to turn lead into gold. Just as they are about to see the fruits of their success though, their machine is sabotaged, killing Holk’s mentor.
John Wills (Michael Bohnen) is a British scientist who also wants to turn lead into gold, so he planned the sabotage. When he is surprised to learn that Holk is alive, he recruits Holk to see it through. But while Holk understands the ramifications of being able to produce gold on demand, Wills is clouded by greed. Just because you can do something, doesn’t mean you should. (By the way, Helm plays Wills’ daughter who tempts Holk. But Holk has a fiancee in Germany waiting for him.)
GOLD can seem a bit slow in the middle section as the script by Rolf E. Vanloo tries to keep the rather obvious plot going. But the film’s great strengths are in the visual style and direction. The technology looks realistic (even if that funny little car they used to get around doesn’t) and the cinematography is gorgeous. Performances are also fantastic, especially Albers.
The film hits Blu-ray on June 14 from Kino, which used a 2014 restoration from F.W. Murnau Siftung. Unfortunately, there’s no bonus materials at all – no commentary, no gallery, no trailer and no booklet. That’s a real shame, because this is the kind of film that really could use some extra historical context, especially for modern audiences. It would be fascinating to hear a historian discuss the German view of the English in the years before 1939. It would be nice to know what made UFA put this film together as the Nazis were taking over and how much of it was conceived prior to Hitler.
(I do wonder if the film is supposed to be at the narrow 1.20:1 that other early German sound films are presented in, instead of the 1.33:1 that is presented here. The narrower aspect ratio was due to the sound strip. Some scenes of the Blu-ray do appear to cut off the top of people’s heads.)
Despite reservations over the lack of bonus material, Kino’s surprising Blu-ray release of GOLD is recommendable to anyone interested in German cinema of the ’20s and ’30s. While we know about Murnau, Lang and Pabst, it’s fascinating to see important work outside the established “canon” of greatness.
Thanks to Kino for providing the Blu-ray to review! Also, you can watch ‘GOLD’ in its entirety here in case you want to see it before buying.