Der Tiger von Eschnapur (1959)

Genres - Adventure, Romance  |   Sub-Genres - Adventure Drama, Romantic Comedy, Romantic Drama  |   Run Time - 105 min.  |   Countries - Germany , France , Italy   |   MPAA Rating - NR
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Review by Tom Wiener

At the end of his long and largely illustrious career, director Fritz Lang got a chance to right a wrong by making this film. He was to have filmed the screenplay, written by his second wife, Thea von Harbou, early in his days as Germany's most celebrated silent film director, but producer Joe May stole the project away from Lang. The original script is set in a locale, India, that fascinated both von Harbou and Lang. The mysticism of that land, and how European visitors deal with it, supplies one of the tensions of the story. Seetha (Debra Paget) is the fulcrum, uncertain of the details of her ancestry but vaguely aware that she is part-European and part-Indian. Naturally, she's desired by both two halves of her heritage: Chandra, the powerful maharajah (Walther Reyer), and Harald, the German architect (Paul Hubschmid) brought to India to work for Chandra. Because each man manages on separate occasions to save her life, she feels beholden to them, genuinely torn between her upbringing as an obedient Indian female and her true yearning for Harald. The romantic rivalry is played out amid political intrigue involving the maharajah's older brother and assorted priests and potentates, giving Lang another chance to explore his interest in dominating rulers and the rebellion they inspire. After years of working in Hollywood on mostly contemporary thrillers, Lang took advantage of an opportunity to work with lavish sets and colorful costumes. The visuals are the clear winner here, carrying along the story over some rough narrative patches. The DVD edition restores this film and its sequel, Das Indische Grabmal, to their original running times; they were originally conflated and released in the U.S. as a 90-minute feature, Journey to the Lost City, by low-budget specialist American International Pictures. Critic Tom Gunning's DVD notes points out the influence this film had on the Indiana Jones series, noting that Lang plays his material straight rather than with the Steven Spielberg tongue-in-cheek approach. Contemporary audiences might find Hubschmid and Paget's acting stiff, but psychological nuance is not what Lang was looking for here, and the two do generate genuine sexual chemistry, especially in their flight across the desert which ends this installment.