Public Domain Theater: Metropolis (& “The Mechanical Man”)

Welcome to Public Domain Theater, your home for the wonderful world of films that have (in the United States, at least) fallen into the public domain, and are free for everyone to see!

This is an extra-special Public Domain Theater. While we’ve had some very fine films here in the past, it’s not often we’ve been able to spotlight as acclaimed and beloved a cinematic achievement as we have for you today – today, we take a look at the 1927 science-fiction epic Metropolis!

Directed by Fritz Lang, and based on a novel by Thea von Harbou, it tells the tale of a brewing class conflict in a futuristic city, where lives are dominated by both the whims of the plutocrats and the demands of the immense machines that control their mechanized world. One part cautionary tale, one part allegory, it’s a plot that some have lauded as brilliant and others derided as hopelessly naive. But the one part of this movie no one can criticize: the visuals.

From the immense, surrealist architecture, to the scenes of debauched, high-class revelry, to the unnerving performance of a robotic woman, to epic, evocative crowd scenes, showing a cast of hundreds moving as one: Lang brings this vision of the future to life with wonderful, nightmarish detail. Even now, with all our advanced visual effects technology, few films have ever been such a breathtaking visual marvel.

Now, it is an awfully long flick, but even if you don’t have time to watch the whole thing, at least skim through it for some of the all-time great cinematic spectacle.

But if you want a different kind of visual spectacle …

… Okay, look, I often try to draw a connection between our Feature Presentation and our Opening Short. I picked the cartoon “The Mechanical Man” (starring Oswald the Lucky Rabbit) ’cause, hey, Metropolis has a mechanical person in it, too. But really, the titular Mechanical Man barely appears in this cartoon … because it’s filled with so much other bizarre stuff, a robot fighting an anthropomorphic rabbit is one of the more normal occurrences.

This short packs more surreal, reality-twisting gags into five minutes than most cartoons could manage in an entire season. Of the early cartoon superstars, Oswald is one of the least well remembered, but this hilariously absurd short is evidence that maybe that should change.

So give your eyes a good solid blink right now, because you’re not gonna want to close them again anytime soon, not with all the wonderful sights coming to you straight from the Public Domain!

Opening Cartoon:

Feature Presentation: