#34 in my ranking of Fritz Lang’s filmography.
Another movie with male twins fighting over a woman with a heavy use of flashbacks. It’s kind of like an improved version of The Wandering Shadow. This is the first of Lang’s films in this early period where I feel like his skills have actually improved from one film to the next. The filmmaking is actually quite competent and put-together, but, unfortunately, it’s in service of a story that is surprisingly uncompelling. Pulling the focus away from the situation of the previous film and investing more time in character, the film is helped heavily by this emphasis on people and their motives. However, it’s still rather overstuffed and omnidirectional with a curious ending.
Harry Yquem (Ludwig Hartau) goes to an underground diamond exchange to find a present for his wife Florence (Carola Toelle) (why he goes here instead of a legitimate diamond exchange is never explained). There he sees a familiar face in another man there who is asking for the creation of a fraudulent ring. That man is William Krafft (Anton Edthofer), a well-to-do playboy who has a twin brother Werner (also Edthofer) who fled the country some years before and has just returned, broke, and looking for help, unbeknownst to William. There are a lot of near-meetings in this melodrama. The fact that both William and Werner both go to the underground diamond exchange the same night but end up missing each other is both coincidental and convenient.
Harry, though, has his eyes set on William, thinking him Werner, because on his engagement night to Florence, Werner showed up at the house where the engagement party was being held Werner showed up, went up to Florence’s room with her, locked the door, and, by the time Harry and Florence’s father had broken down the door, Werner had tied up Florence and escaped through the window. There’s been a shadow of doubt and jealousy over Harry’s head regarding his wife’s fidelity ever since, though they’ve been happily married and he goes into underground diamond exchanges to buy her stolen jewels.
When Harry spends the night away from home, Harry’s friend Meunier (Robert Forster-Larrinaga) (the fourth of the eponymous four), uses the opportunity to try and get Florence to agree to an affair with him, which she promptly refuses, much to the confusion of her friend Margot (Lisa von Marton), who happily goes out with other men when her husband is busy. In fact, that very night, she has a date with William. Harry, though, is still on William’s trail, still thinking him Werner, and forges a letter from Florence to him, asking for him to arrive that very night for a rendez-vous.
The finale sees everyone coalescing at Harry’s house with their different motives. Someone is killed. There are protestations of love in a few different directions. William stands apart from it rather ironically after a while. It even includes the diamond dealer breaking in because Harry had given them counterfeit marks. All the while, Werner is desperate to get back to her love who professes her love for…her husband and then the movie is over. Quite literally, it’s just suddenly over.
I think the pieces are here for a solid melodrama. The character work is surprisingly strong, especially around Florence (her last minute profession of love for Harry makes sense, it’s just structurally weird and counter to some other character journeys), but everything seems to be at odds. Harry’s use of counterfeit money to buy a stolen jewel for his wife combined with William’s effort to have a ring counterfeited as well seems like they should connect them somehow, but they don’t. Werner is off on his own for a while, getting a sympathetic loan that gets robbed from him minutes later, all while he’s pining for Florence, and he ends up with nothing in the end. Meunier is a skeevy weirdo that gets what’s due to him. William is just out for a good time with some ladies and seems to learn nothing. It feels like at least two different movies’ worth of material, clashing horribly against each other.
It feels like a first draft of a script that needed real ironing out. There’s no central idea that the characters revolve around, informed it in different ways with their own actions and motives. Instead, it still feels like a series of events just placed next to each other. However, the character work around these people elevates what would have been lesser material into something decidedly okay. It’s not worthless, but it’s much less than it could have been.