Fritz Lang's Metropolis is widely considered the greatest silent film of all time. Now I admit I have not seen very many silent films, but of what I have seen, Metropolis is the best.
Metropolis is a city divided up into two categories of people — the workers and the thinkers. The thinkers come up with ideas, and the workers put the thinkers' ideas into motion. The thinkers cannot work, and the workers cannot come up with ideas. The workers and the thinkers are completely separate from one another, but together they make the city whole.
Gustav Fröhlich plays Freder, who is the son of the leader of the city, Joh Fredersen (Alfred Abel). Freder has led a sheltered life, and is not aware of how the city is kept running or what goes on in the city of the workers, until one day when a beautiful woman (Brigitte Helm) comes to him and urges him to see.
Freder is very intrigued by the beautiful woman, and thus heads down to the underworld of the workers in an attempt to find her. What he finds is astonishing to him — the workers are working themselves to the bone in an attempt to keep the city running. Freder is truly touched, and offers to trade places with one of the workers. The worker is more than eager, however he promptly violates Freder's trust and goes out on the town spending Freder's money and is caught and sent back down to the city's depths.
After some period of time working the machine, another worker approaches Freder and leads him down deeper into the depths of the city. Down here, all the workers have gathered and are listening to a sermon being given by the beautiful woman who had come to see Freder earlier that day. Freder is obviously madly in love with this woman who goes by the name Maria. After the sermon, Freder approaches Maria, who is apparently very taken by Freder as well, and they plan to meet later on.
Meanwhile, Joh Fredersen has been watching this sermon as well and is concerned that Maria will lead a rebellion among the workers. He was led to his vantage point by the crazed inventor Rotwang (Rudolf Klein-Rogge). Rotwang has created a machine-man that he plans to morph into his late wife Hel; however Fredersen has different plans. Fredersen informs Rotwang that he is to turn the machine-man into Maria, so as to demolish any potential uprisings. Rotwang agrees; however, he betrays Fredersen and decides to use the machine-man to destroy the city of Metropolis as well as Joh Fredersen and his son.
How this film was made in 1927 is beyond my comprehension. The sets and the special effects and the cinematography are absolutely mind-blowing. There is a scene rather early on where Lang shows the workers working one of the machines, perfectly choreographed, that is one of the most amazing pieces of film work in history.
You are informed prior to the start of the film that the majority of the film was lost around the time of its release in 1927, and there are cards in place to inform you what you are missing. This is a damned shame; with the brilliance of what has remained you know that what you are missing must be mind-blowing.
The performances are also incredible, especially by Brigitte Helm who is absolutely superb. The facial expressions that Ms. Helm portrays are just amazing. Metropolis is an absolutely wonderful film, and I'm sure it would be even more wonderful if we were getting the entire picture. Fritz Lang (who also directed the masterpiece M) shows us yet again why he is one of the all-time greats. Definitely worth seeing.