After his colleague and a mentor, Professor Achenbach dies in a set-up accident while trying to produce gold from lead, Werner Holk seeks revenge. Meanwhile, a British millionaire suggests that Holk works with him on a similar project. Restored by Friedrich-Wilhelm-Murnau-Stiftung in Wiesbaden, Germany.
Ancient desires of alchemy meet modern-day science in the German sci-fi drama 'Gold', where scientists believe they've discovered nature's secret to turning lead into gold in a process called nuclear transmutation. At first, the plot may not seem worth much interest, especially for a two-hour early talkie that even during its own time was considered too lengthy, but the filmmakers complicate the maddened pursuit for the rare metal with notions of unrequited love, corporate espionage, and the consequences of meddling in nature's most guarded secrets. That last part is largely responsible for the production's lasting endurance among genre aficionados, pushing a simple premise to meaningful sentiments and fanciful concepts of the possible dangers if such a discovery were ever made. My initial experience with the 1934 film was brief glimpses on television and snippets on various documentaries throughout the years, continuously hearing of its importance but never giving it the time of day. But with this being the first time I've watched it in its entirety, I understand its prestige and appreciate it greatness.
Of course, the film often feels a bit dated, very much a product of its time, such as a middle-aged Hans Albers starring in the lead role as Werner Holk, a brilliant engineer with the charm to attract and be desired by women half his age. This is not to say anything disparaging about his talents because the man is a gifted singer and splendid actor with memorable performances in 'Monte Carlo Madness,' 'The Man Who Was Sherlock Holmes' and 'The Blue Angel' opposite Marlene Dietrich. Only that his appearance on this production is largely due to his being the major megastar of the time, so his magnetism and appeal is more a given than manifested on screen. And yet, Mr. Albers's charisma is on full display as a science genius traumatized by a massive explosion during one of his experiments which cost the life of his friend and mentor Achenbach (Friedrich Kayßler). Feeling broken and defeated, Albers's Holk is hell-bent on avenging his friend's death by agreeing to work for the man responsible for the accident, British industrialist John Wills (Michael Bohnen). It's a two-hour journey of vengeance and settling scores.
Starring alongside Mr. Albers is the enigmatic and bewitching Brigitte Helm, who's forever enshrined in cinema history as the legendary Maria and the robot double in Fritz Lang's 'Metropolis' and is also remembered for her roles in 'The Blue Danube' and 1932's 'L'Atlantide.' Helm plays Wills' somewhat pampered and self-involved daughter, Florence, written to suggest she might be a spoiled brat and comes across that way when she's introduced summoning Holk as though she owned her father's mining business. But in the hands of Helm, there is something sad and lonely about the character, like a little girl without genuine friends and an unnurturing father with lax parenting skills. Florence is the naïve tragic personality who is really another chest piece in a coldly indifferent game between businessmen whose only goal is to defeat their opponent. And the moment the young woman realizes this, Helm portrays her grasp of this awful reality in complete silence, shoulders slumped forward in a dejected pose and a blank stare of the floor. It's a remarkable scene that launches a series of other tragedies.
But arguably, the most remarkable aspect of 'Gold' is the fact that it was made in Nazi Germany when Joseph Goebbels served as Reich Minister of Propaganda. Some of the ideological influences of the government can be felt, especially during Holk's stately speech against Wills. And in spite of this, the classic sci-fi film speaks towards issues of scientific progress versus corporate greed and the sobering fear of the two melding together leading to economic collapse. With expert craftsmanship and style that contemporary audiences can still marvel at, director Karl Hartl immediately establishes a sense of mystery and intrigue but slowly evolves it into a harrowing tale about people with fixated desires. Holk's determination to sabotage the capitalist's underwater atomic reactor, this being a bigger motivator than some grand moralist philosophies of saving the working-class people, is on equal level to the fetish obsession for gold, wealth and power. Florence's attraction to the much older scientist is, corny as it might sound, like a cry for help, a longing for a father figure she can respect for his intellect as much as his authority and social status. It's an extraordinary piece of cinema with impressive special effects and a striking production design, a film worth remembering and admiring but needing more attention.
The Blu-ray: Vital Disc Stats
Kino Classics brings 'Gold' to Blu-ray on a Region A locked, BD50 disc inside the standard blue keepcase. At startup, viewers are taken directly to a static main menu with music.
As is often the case with Kino Lorber releases, scientists experiment with changing lead into gold with what is arguably the best presentation of the Murnau's sci-fi cult favorite. Unfortunately, the "as-is" condition of the source is both a welcome and a disappointment. Though it is step up over its DVD counterpart from a few years ago, it's not really by much.
Overall, the 1080p/AVC MPEG-4 encode is littered with white specks and dirt throughout and can sometimes be distractingly thick and noisy. There are several instances of scratches and vertical lines while hairs occasionally creep across the screen during a few conversations. Much of the high-def presentation also suffers from minimal telecine judder and mild discoloration, which is related to the age and condition of the elements used not a strike against the transfer. Contrast sometimes runs a bit hot, blooming the highlights and fading much of the image, especially ruining the finer details in the faces of the cast, but other times, whites appear lackluster and dull, creating a fairly flat picture. Black levels are decently stable, but sadly unimpressive and faded while shadow delineation is rather weak. Definition and clarity is pretty sharp with plenty of visible information in many areas, but on the whole, it's quite soft and blurry. Nevertheless, bathed in a fine layer of natural grain, the 1.33:1 image is probably the best anyone could hope for, but the film is in need of a full restoration.
The uncompressed PCM mono soundtrack is also a step up from previous home video editions, but it, too, has its minor drawbacks worth mentioning. Even in spite of the source's condition and history, the lossless mix is somewhat disappointing, as hissing, mild noise, popping, cracking and air are continuously heard in the background. The hissing is most distracting when characters talk, which is a lot, especially for sci-fi drama such as this, and although vocals are well-prioritized in the center, they are not always intelligible or come through at the same decibel levels as the rest of the track. There's not much bass to be heard, not even in the musical score, which could be an issue in the source and the design, not the codec. Dynamics feel limited and flat with a few acoustical details that tend to clip, such as the explosion of the underwater atomic reactor, but thankfully, imaging exhibits a decent sense of presence and warmth, giving this high-rez audio at least something worth admiring and remembering.
This is a bare-bones release.
Ancient desires of alchemy meet modern-day science in the German sci-fi drama 'Gold' where scientists believe they've discovered nature's secret of turning lead into gold, starring Hans Albers and Brigitte Helm. Made during the reign of Nazi Germany, at the heart of Karl Hartl's classic sci-fi drama is a remarkable tale on scientific progress versus corporate greed, the sobering, looming fear of economic collapse and about people with obsessive desires that can never be fulfilled. The Blu-ray arrives with a mildly disappointing picture quality but a slightly better audio presentation. Lacking any supplemental material, the bare-bones release is ultimately for devoted genre enthusiasts and cinephiles everywhere.