Monday, January 07, 2008


Interesting variation on the Mountain movie: instead of a man vs. mountain background, it's man vs. ice, in the form of glaciers, icebergs, ice floes, and just damned cold water. The Kino DVD has two distinctly different versions of this film: the German-language film, almost 90 minutes long, and a shorter English version with the same basic story and cast, but a different actor playing one of the main characters. Prof. Lorenz (Gustav Diessl) has left his fellow explorers in an uncharted area of Greenland and is excited to witness the birth of an iceberg, a chunk of glacier that falls off into the water, but soon he discovers he's lost and his fellows have abandoned him. Back home, Dr. Krafft (Sepp Rist), the leader of the team, sees his reputation is taking a beating for abandoning Lorenz, and when he gets word that Lorenz might still be alive, the team goes back to Greenland. They discover journals left by Lorenz that indicate he's only a few days away so they set off across a line of moving ice floes through open water to find him. Krafft and his men find Lorenz, with a badly wounded leg, on a large iceberg which is threatening to break apart. Krafft sets out alone to cross a fjord to get help from an Eskimo village. Lorenz's wife (Leni Riefenstahl) hears that the team is lost and takes it upon herself to fly off solo to find all of them, which she does, except that her plane catches fire and she winds up as helpless as the rest of them. The cold, the hunger, and the nearby polar bears all wear the team down (and result in some deaths) until a bunch of pilots come combing the area and pull off a rescue of the survivors.

Much of this, like all of the Mountain films, was shot on location in difficult conditions and some of this footage is indeed exciting. Unfortunately, the last 15 minutes feels padded out with shots of planes circling over the ice and sea until our group is found. Rist makes an excellent lead, rugged and commanding but not so invulnerable that we assume he can't be hurt. Among the other three team members, the standout is the British actor Gibson Gowland, best known as the lead in Von Stroheim's silent classic GREED, who plays the weak link of the group who goes a bit nuts. Riefenstahl has surprisingly little to do; it's almost like the boys were sorry they even invited the girl to make their movie and cut her part down to nothing. She has even less to do in the American version, in which Rod LaRoque replaces Diessl as Lorenz. Much of the same footage is used, especially on the ice, but the American version plays out differently, fleshing out the background of the first expedition, presenting the deaths of characters in different ways, and making some plot details explicit which were largely implicit or ambiguous in the original. The dialogue is fairly sparse in the German film, but there is more in the Hollywood film (and most of it appears to have been dubbed in for the German actors by others). Both versions are worth seeing, though the German one gets the edge for me. [DVD]

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