Metropolis (1927)

metropolis 1

“It was their hands that built this city of ours, Father. But where do those hands fit in your scheme?”

The Scoop: 1927, Directed by Fritz Lang and starring Alfred Abel, Brigette Helm, Gustav Frohlich and Rudolf Klein-Rogge

Tagline: There can be no understanding between the hands and the brain unless the heart acts as mediator.

Summary Capsule: Boy meets girl, girl prophecies a savior, girl is replaced by stripper robot…typical dystopian fare, really.


Heather’s rating: No, I did not watch this because there’s an anime loosely based on it.

Heather’s review: I’ve flirted with the idea of watching Metropolis for a long time now, but just couldn’t bring myself to take a chance on asking it out. I knew it was supposed to be a classic, but I’ve fallen for that old line before. I’ve been all excited about some purported piece of cinematic history only to find that it’s just overhyped crap. There are many films out there that get hoisted into the coveted “classic” status for accomplishing nothing more than being old, foreign, pretentious, or all three; Metropolis is old and foreign, to be sure, but it’s not pretentious and it’s certainly not crap.

Fritz Lang’s science fiction silent film masterpiece cost seven million dollars to make and was the most expensive movie of all time when it hit theaters in 1927. That seven million dollars was not wasted, as his film turned out some truly amazing imagery and fantastic special effects. I really can’t begin to fathom what went into creating this spectacle in an era when moving pictures hadn’t even been in existence long enough for anyone to imagine doing the things that were done here.

Metropolis is a dystopian story set…well about a decade from now, actually. The working class is toiling away underneath the city, unseen and uncared for by the ones who design and make the plans for the city and the city’s mastermind Mr. Fredersen.  Fredersen’s son meets and falls in love with a working class woman named Maria who predicts that one day a mediator will come to mend the differences between the working class (the hands) and the upper class (the brain). The workers look up to her as she preaches for them to have patience, perseverance and hope.

After one particularly terrible accident beneath the city there are plans found on one of the workers’ bodies indicating secret activities that they are organizing. When Fredersen is shown these plans he is furious and seeks to destroy the workers’ unity by having the local genius (no village, burg or metropolis should be without one!) create a lifelike robot in the image of the prophetess Maria to incite the workers to violence. Maria is kidnapped by Rotwang and the robot put in her place. It fully mesmerizes the workers and endears them to “her” by doing a topless dance for them. Because boobies rule the world. Seriously, all she was wearing was pasties. I thought this was 1927!

The story is very intricate and moving, the special effects are terrific, but almost more impressive to me is the foresight that Fritz Lang had in designing his Metropolis. My husband and I both marveled at the accuracy of his vision of how a city a hundred years from his time might look, and… telephones? How did he even conceive of that?

It’s classic, it’s history, it’s the forefather of great science fiction, and it needs to be on your “To See” list. Just make sure to see the fullest version one can find right now, which runs 154 minutes. Anything else has quite a lot missing from it.

A beautiful, topless female robot; Fritz Lang has just created anime.


  • Many film actors, chosen for their stage experience, carried their habits into their screen performances; Even as early as 1914 audiences were calling for a more naturalistic approach. Overacting mostly died out, but is still visible in films that were made decades later.

Expressionistic Silent Film Acting 101

  • Curl your hands up into claws. These will be your most valuable acting tool. With them you can convey nearly every emotion. For instance:
  • Fear: One claw against your chest, facing out. Other claw held above your head or in front of your face. The more you can curl your fingers toward each other, the better.
  • Anguish: Slap both claws to head and grab great, big handfuls of hair in each. Pull the hair outward for maximum dramatic effect.
  • Horrified astonishment 1: Put claws to cheeks. Dig in. The audience needs to see the craters your fingers are making.
  • Horrified astonishment 2: Hold your claw in front of your mouth, knuckles-inward so you can bite them. Self-mutilation sells!
  • Pleading: Hold claws, palm-upward, at about mid-waist. Be sure to punctuate your pleas with up-and-down movements of your hands.
  • Triumph (Good): Hold your claws out and up at about your shoulders, palm up. Top off the look with face-cracking-large smile.
  • Triumph (Evil): Thrust arms up as high above your head as they will go. Form claws, then pull wrists back until they form 90 degree angles. If your inner arms aren’t hurting you’re not doing it right.

Groovy Quotes

Freder: It was their hands that built this city of ours, Father. But where do those hands belong in your scheme?
John Fredersen: In their proper place: The depths.

Maria:  “We shall build a tower that will reach to the stars!” Having conceived Babel, yet unable to build it themselves, they had thousands to build it for them. But those who toiled knew nothing of the dreams of those who planned. And the minds that planned the Tower of Babel cared nothing for the workers who built it. The hymns of praise of the few became the curses of the many – BABEL! BABEL! BABEL! – Between the mind that plans and the hands that build there must be a Mediator, and this must be the heart.

If You Liked This Movie, Try These:


  1. Just beware Lang’s other “classic”, Nosferatu. Not only does it have everything bad about silent movie acting on display, but the pacing is horrible.

  2. And yet Nosferatu still manages to be better than 98% of every movie released today.

    Excited for the next Paris Hilton movie? I know I am (not).

  3. Nosferatu is, as the French say, “le shiz.” However, it’s not one of Lang’s films; it was directed by F.W. Murnau.

  4. What a coincidence, I just finished watching it myself. Loved it.

    Earlier this year someone discovered the only known complete copy of Metropolis. Hopefully they can clean it up and release it at somepoint, I’d love to see the whole thing. Even if it is 3 hours long!

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s