Die Nibelungen: Kriemhild's Revenge


Reviewed by: Jennie Kermode

Die Nibelungen: Kriemhild's Revenge
"Thankfully the spectacular ending – all done with life size sets, which left Lang and his team no option but to pull it off in one take – remains intact."

The second part of Fritz Lang and Thea von Harbou’s adaptation of the epic poem, Kriemhild’s Revenge picks up directly where the first part, Siegfried, left off. The legendary hero is dead, and his wife – though it was partly her stupidity that led to it – is seriously pissed off. She blames royal advisor Hagen Tronje (Hans Adalbert Sclettow), but her brother King Gunther (Theodor Loos) won’t let her kill him – to do so would be to break a bond of honour. Engaging directly in violence, as a woman, is apparently not something she can conceive of, but she does have other options. She is still young and beautiful, and with access to Siegfried’s famous hoard of treasure, it shouldn’t be too difficult to find a new husband.

Kriemhild has a very particular husband in mind: one of history’s most famous conquerors, Attila the Hun. Played by Rudolph Klein-Rogge, whose wild eyes make him look like a prototype for Klaus Kinski, he’s amazed by the opportunity presented to him – cautious, of course, but excited, and not put off by the idea of having to fight a few battles and kill a man to please his bride. A world away from the austere stone spaces of Gunther’s castle, Attila’s is a shabby wooden affair with thick straw covering its floor. In place of elegantly clad courtiers he has filthy, ragged attendants who seem to possess little besides their weapons and fragments of armour. She doesn’t care. She has only one thing on her mind, and she’ll do anything to get it.

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After the thankless role she had in the first part, Margarete Schön is finally able to show what she’s capable of, ditching the dimwitted simpering and petty palace politics which once were all Kriemhild knew for a simmering fury that makes her magnetic. Her braids are shorter now, signalling a period of mourning, and she has a stylish new wardrobe which includes a spiked crown, along with a fierce gaze of her own. Attila can’t get enough – even though he knows, on some level, that she doesn’t love him, and it gradually grows more obvious that her relentless obsession will destroy them all.

Game Of Thrones fans may be amused by this prototypical tale of a princess seducing a horse lord in pursuit of destructive power, and by the troops muttering unhappily that “The white woman has stolen Lord Atilla from under our noses,” but those soldiers don’t have to complain about a shortage of exciting battles, and neither does the audience. Where Lang had to make do with just a small troupe of extras last time around, here he has plenty, and stunt horses too. There was very little work like this around when the film was released, and viewers must have been blown away by some of the action sequences, even though its delayed US release affected it badly because it struggled to compete with the emerging talkies.

Not all of the film has survived the ravages of time, and in the cut now available – which screened at Fantaspoa 2024 - missing material has been substituted, with some repeated material used to stitch it all together. The new edit creates a few issues with pacing but they’re not a big problem when there’s so much to hold viewer attention. Thankfully the spectacular ending – all done with life size sets, which left Lang and his team no option but to pull it off in one take – remains intact, and it’s still thrilling to watch. There’s a lot more appeal to this film than just its historical value, and no serious fan of cinema should miss it.

Reviewed on: 28 Apr 2024
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Die Nibelungen: Kriemhild's Revenge packshot
Princess Kriemhild vows to avenge her husband's murder but must overcome her brothers who swore allegiance to Hagen. She marries Attila the Hun and persuades his army to attack Hagen, but there will be a terrible price to pay.

Director: Fritz Lang

Writer: Thea von Harbou

Starring: Margarete Schön, Gertrud Arnold, Theodor Loos, Hans Carl Mueller, Erwin Biswanger

Year: 1924

Runtime: 129 minutes

Country: Germany


Fantaspoa 2024

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