Sunday, October 4, 2009

The White Hell of Pitz Palu (Arnold Fanck, GW Pabst) ***1/2

Director: Arnold Fanck, GW Pabst

Cast: Gustav Diessl, Leni Reifenstahl, Ernst Petersen, Ernst Udet, Mizzi Gotzel, Otto Spring

Background: Pabst and Fanck agreed to an unusual arrangement where Pabst directed indoor scenes and oversaw the dramatic structure of the film, while Fanck focused on the mountain scenes. At the time, Reifenstahl was a notable dancer who had only appeared in a handful of films.

Story: Dr. Johannes Kraft (Diessl) has been distraught since his wife fell during a mountain climb on their honeymoon ten years ago. He meets up with newlyweds Karl (Petersen) and Maria (Reifenstahl), and they join him on a dangerous climb to find his wife's resting place.

Thoughts: Plenty to like in this one. This mountain climbing film is incredibly exciting and features some amazing cinematography. The fantastic opening sequence provides a suitably compelling emotional backdrop for the film. The film is fairly light on plot and consists mostly of dangerous mountain climbing footage, but it is thrilling enough to keep you gripped for the full 2 hour running time. It helps that the cast is much stronger than you'd think for what is basically a standard action film. Gustav Diessl is great as the mysterious man who hangs around the mountain and Leni Reifenstahl is a revelation, making for an exceedingly likable heroine. They could have probably trimmed a bit from the running time, particularly a scene where a biplane flies around for an endless amount of time, but for the most part this is a wonderful adventure.

Postscript: The film was a major success at the box office and has gained a lasting reputation. It was referenced heavily during a scene in Tarantino's Inglourious Basterds. Reifenstahl would go on to be a notorious Nazi propaganda filmmaker, with Triumph of the Will being her most notable film.

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