It has more in common with the films put out before the Third Reich and makes a serious effort to entangle itself with Metropolis specifically.
If you’re a film history buff, you’re probably well aware of how crazy of a time it was to be making films in 1930s Germany. In the 1920s, the German film industry was the strongest competition for American films in the international market. This was largely due to the films made by the German film company UFA (that stands for Universum Film-AG, if you’re curious) that was famous for encouraging experimentation specifically in a technical sense.
In its prime, UFA would become the biggest film studio in the world working with some of the most celebrated directors in film history: Ernst Lubitsch, G.W. Pabst, F. W. Murnau, and, of course, Fritz Lang. As Germany entered the 1930s, UFA started to struggle financially and Hitler rose to power. The Third Reich had risen. If you didn’t know, Hitler’s favorite film was Fritz Lang’s Metropolis. He desperately wanted Lang to continue making films in Germany. In 1933, the Reich Minister of Propaganda Joseph Goebbels offered a half-Jewish Fritz Lang a position as head of the German Film Industry. Naturally, Lang fled to America instead of turning down this offer directly. Many other filmmakers working in Germany followed suit as the Reich tightened its grip on the film industry and Germany society as a whole.
Exactly one year after Lang fled Germany and Hitler rose to power was when UFA released Gold. Of course, the UFA is totally under the control of Hitler and Joseph Goebbels at this point. Surprisingly, Gold seems free of all that. It has more in common with the films put out before the Third Reich and makes a serious effort to entangle itself with Metropolis specifically. Günther Rittau made up one-third of the cinematographers on Metropolis and Gold respectively. Otto Hunte did the set design for both films, and both films feature the unforgettable Brigitte Helm in a starring role. But it doesn’t stop there: Gold is a science fiction thriller that seeks to explore the same themes of corporate greed and criticisms of German society that you’d think the Nazi’s would be in direct opposition of. It’s a very unusual film for its time.
Directed by Karl Hartl, Gold is a film about that old alchemist fantasy of turning lead into gold. Professor Holk (a very good Hans Albers) and his mentor have spent years trying to perform such a feat. They’re a pair of idealists whose dreams lie more in advancing science than personal gain. Unfortunately, this is a German film and so society must get in the way and ruin everything. Someone sabotages their experiment, and Holk’s mentor dies as a result.
A money hungry businessman, John Wills (Michael Bohnen)—who Holk suspects was behind the horrible event—recruits Holk to work for him in a lab that resides deep under the Atlantic Ocean. Holk accepts his offer, but only because he wants to set things right. He intends to both see his mentor’s work through and avenge his death. While working for Wills, Holk meets Wills’ daughter Florence (Brigitte Helm, who I wish had more scenes in this one) who is concerned for Holk’s wellbeing and advises him not to trust her father. A romance develops between the two idealists, much to her father’s dismay. Things become even more complicated as Holk does figure out how to turn lead into gold. It doesn’t take an economist to figure out exactly how disastrous this discovery is. Soon, Holt finds himself torn between his desire to progress scientific discovery and better society.
Gold operates at about a third of the power of Metropolis, but of course I’m comparing it to one of the greatest films of all time. Still, it’s a very well made film that appears in a very interesting point of film history. The set pieces—featuring a very cool electronic device—are everything a Metropolis fan would hope for. This could be a much worse film, and I’d still have enjoyed it for the set pieces alone. The cinematography is very good, as you’d expect given that it features a Metropolis alum, but the absence of Karl Freund is certainly felt. Elsewhere, the script feels uninspired—it really drags at points and the stakes feel rather low here. Still, you won’t regret watching Gold as it bridges two different eras of German film history and offers plenty of technical thrills. | Cait Lore
Kino Lorber is releasing Gold on both DVD and Blu-ray with a street date of June 14. The film has been restored from F.W. Murnau Siftung, and it looks nice given its age. Still, I have some reservations as both the audio and video quality wanes occasionally. There are some hisses and pops in the audio content that can be attributed to the film’s age. Also, it’s been adjusted from the original aspect radio of 1.37:1 to 1.32:1 with the crop being noticeable in a few scenes. None of this is too much of a distraction, and I still felt like it was Blu-ray quality in terms of how sharp the image was. Overall, the restoration is satisfactory. Given Gold’s historical context, it is unfortunate that there are no features on the disc.