The Tiger of Eschnapur + The Indian Tomb | Chicago Reader

The Tiger of Eschnapur + The Indian Tomb

Fritz Lang’s penultimate work (1959)—a two-part adventure saga set and partly shot in India—marked a return, in more ways than one, to his masterpieces of the silent era. On a literal level, the project is a remake of another diptych from 1921 that Lang developed with his former wife, Thea von Harbou (who also wrote the novel on which the films are based); but more importantly, it’s driven by powerful, architectural mise en scene reminiscent of that of Metropolis and Spies. The films take place in the fictional Indian kingdom of Eschnapur and center on a German architect (Paul Haubschmid) who’s been hired by the Maharajah (Walther Reyer) to construct schools and hospitals. The architect falls in love with the Maharajah’s betrothed (Debra Paget), a naive but passionate temple dancer, and their affair so enrages the prince that he turns from benevolent to wrathful almost instantly. (His transformation occurs near the end of The Tiger of Eschnapur, setting the stage for his brutal revenge in The Indian Tomb.) As all this is going on, the ruler’s brother plots to usurp the throne, and there are provocative conversations about the will of the gods that reflect Lang’s career-long obsession with forces beyond human control. This is a work of Orientalism that borders on camp—all the principal Indian characters are played by Western actors, and the depiction of India plays up the country’s exoticness—but as film historian Tom Gunning has noted, it’s an Orientalist vision as personal and visually inventive as Jack Smith’s Flaming Creatures, which was made only a few years later. Lang’s handling of color, blocking, and suspense is masterful throughout; if you’re at all interested in this major film artist, you can’t miss this. In German with subtitles.

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