‘Gold’ Shivers Rather Than Glitters

'Gold' sees Hitler's Germany working out the psychology of power within a bland sci-fi narrative weighed down by leaden acting -- and an excess of feathers.

Resurrected from obscurity is a rarely-seen sci-fi epic, or what passed for one in ’30s Germany as the country was embroiled in electing Hitler and changes were starting to sweep over its film industry.

Far from the standard dashing hero, the main character is Professor Holk (Hans Albers), a somewhat portly and middle-aged boffin who barely survives a sabotaged experiment to convert lead into gold with atomic power. The man responsible for his misfortune is ruthless capitalist John Wills (Michael Bohnen), whose name harkens back to the concept of “will” that was freely bandied about by the Nazis, as in the propaganda film Triumph of the Will.

Perhaps for reasons of willful perversity, Wills announces to the world his intention to manufacture gold after co-opting Holk, thus creating a panic that requires Holk to interrupt Wills’ “rally” with a tongue-lashing about his hollow leadership, leading to a workers’ revolt and apocalyptic climax amid Otto Hunte’s massive sets.

In between these scenes, audiences are treated to a subdued romance with the madman’s spoiled, rebellious, and glamorous daughter, played by the iconic Brigitte Helm of Metropolis. As though still playing a robot, she acts in the most heightened, artificial manner, and it usually involves casting her doelike gaze to the ground before lifting her soulful eyes to Albers with every line reading. She’s often surrounded by feathers.

Her plotline adds nothing necessary to the story, but it keeps the long middle section from feeling too much like the film is turning gold into a leaden plod. It’s somewhat of a mystery, but her attraction to Holk is best explained by seeing him as an alternative father figure.

Historian Siegfried Kracauer observed that German cinema of the Weimar period foreshadowed Hitler with a series of megalomaniacal villains who concentrated popular fears and resentments into a self-destructive wish-fulfillment, and the film serves as the perfect example even as the man had already swept into power. It doesn’t matter that this surrogate is English (well, Scottish), for he speaks perfect German, or perhaps it matters that his character can safely be identified outside of national boundaries, like the South American autocrat who seduces and dominates the heroine of Douglas Sirk’s La Habanera (1937).

Gold was a follow-up by Albers and director Karl Hartl to their previous destructive techno-drama, F.P.1 Antworted Nicht, or F.P.1 Doesn’t Answer (1933), shot in German, English and French versions. Gold, too, had German and French versions, with Helm in both, and it’s a shame we can’t compare them since the French version isn’t included. This film’s critique of power-mad evil didn’t prevent director Karl Hartl from becoming an administrator of Austria’s Nazi-controlled film industry, while producer Alfred Zeisler wisely departed the German industry for Hollywood.

Though the print on this Blu-ray doesn’t represent a “like new” restoration, it’s perfectly watchable and a million times improved over the antiquated copy floating around on YouTube.

In July, distributor Kino Lorber is also releasing a Blu-ray of the 1953 American sci-fi film The Magnetic Monster, and viewers of Gold will recognize footage from the German film recycled into that low-budget picture, whose writer-director Curt Siodmak had also written F.P.1 Antworted Nicht! If nothing else, it’s a small example of how the German film industry permanently affected Hollywood.

RATING 5 / 10