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Greatest Golden Age Sci-Fi Movies -1926: Metropolis

Updated on April 30, 2009

The first truly important and for all intents and purposes the first complete science fiction film, Metropolis was shot on an enormous production budget although Germany in 1926 was certainly not a rich country. Metropolis has become one of the famous movies in the history of cinema due to director Fritz Lang's visionary ideas, well-supported by enormous sets and a plot strongly tending towards the utopian. However, the fact remains that the movie maintains a narrative power that sometimes verges onto epic and allows considerable introspection into the very concept of utopias.

The plot was strongly influenced the political climate of Germany at the time, which was on the brink to becoming a socialist country, but at the same time was being shaken from the first rumblings of Nazism. The story revolves around a future class struggle between industrial workers and a master capitalist (Alfred Abel) who is only interested in exploiting his laborers. The workers, initially encouraged by a young woman (Brigitte Helm), and then stirred up by her android doppelganger recklessly built by a mad scientist (Rudolph Klein-Rogge) to sow discord among the workforce.

Fortunately the ending is not dark at all, indeed, is almost overly light and breezy: the android is destroyed, the son of the evil master (Gustav Froelich) marries the girl, her father suddenly becomes a good man, and everyone lives happily ever after. Although Metropolis was shot well before the Hollywood studio system formally came to be known for its obligatory happy bluebird endings, regardless of how it didn't fit the rest of the motion picture, it seems that the studio heads definitely stuck their fingers in this particular ending as the overall tone seems to be quite discordant with what came before it.

It was an era where movies were seen to have a strong social and moral point that had to be made and it was imperative that good was always shown to triumph over evil. It seemed that no matter how dark and despairing the entire motion picture was, in the final act everything had to be resolved in a morally, ethically and legally proper manner.  In fact, it was the early Seventies before motion pictures finally managed on an ongoing basis to get away with an ending where the "bad guys won".

In the end, one has the impression of having witnessed a fairy tale in a modern way, rather than a science fiction film. If it is true that Metropolis, like all fairy tales, has preserved its charm even after decades it is unfortunately no longer capable of transmitting to the modern spectator of our times that awe-inspiring sense of fantasy that made it a masterpiece in a far less jaded and media-savvy era. In the last eight decades it seems that the cinema genre of science fiction has taken very different paths than those imagined by Fritz Lang in 1926.

1926: Metropolis

Directed by
Fritz Lang
Screenwriting by
Thea von Harbou (for the screenplay)
Thea von Harbou (for the novel)
Fritz Lang screenplay (not shown in the credits)

 Joh Fredersen - Alfred Abel
 Freder, Joh Fredersen's son - Gustav Fröhlich
 C. A. Rotwang, the inventor - Rudolf Klein-Rogge
 The Thin Man - Fritz Rasp
 Josaphat - Theodor Loos
11811 - Erwin Biswanger
 Grot, the guardian of the Heart Machine - Heinrich George
 Maria - Brigitte Helm


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    • Hal Licino profile image

      Hal Licino 8 years ago from Toronto

      Most definitely dark movie, and I think that it's what makes that crazy ending so dischordant. :)

    • Teresa McGurk profile image

      Sheila 8 years ago from The Other Bangor

      Great movie, with a really dark feel to it. I don't like watching it all the way through, though (fast-forward to Blade Runner: yep: guy gets gal there, too. . .).