Acting for Two: Brigette Helm plays both Maria and her robotic duplicate.
Fritz Rasp, who portrays the Thin Man, also plays a cathedral monk in a still-missing scene and during Freder's hallucinations.
Bad Export for You: Up until 2003, nearly every version of this movie released in America was based on the heavily edited Channing Pollock version. And then there was the version made in The '80s, an interesting experiment.
Banned in China: Soviet filmmakers and critics were very eager to see this film (Sergei Eisenstein even visited Fritz Lang on the set), but it was not considered acceptable by the Soviet government, mostly for being sort of anti-leftist (as even Eisenstein admittednote He actually planned a project called "The Glass House" that he saw as a left-wing take on the same film's themes) with the good Maria being a preacher (taboo because religion is opium) and the Maria that leads the mob to a revolt is a puppet saboteur by the ruling classes. Ironically, the original camera negatives were stolen by the Red Army and later given back to East Germany to form the basis of the first effort to restore the film.
Box Office Bomb: This movie cost 5.1 million Reichsmarks and made just 75,000 Reichsmarks at the box office; in modern terms this is the equivalent of a $293 million movie earning back $10 million.
Creator Backlash: Fritz Lang in later interviews repeatedly stated that he did not consider this film to be one of his best works (he considered M his best film). His reasons stem from his dissatisfaction with the story, its weak ending, his bad memories from his failed marriage to Thea von Harbou (who was the main visionary of the film) and the fact that the Nazis liked it:
Fritz Lang: The main thesis was Mrs. Von Harbou's, but I am at least 50 percent responsible because I did it. I was not so politically minded in those days as I am now. You cannot make a social-conscious picture in which you say that the intermediary between the hand and the brain is the heart. I mean, that's a fairy tale definitely. But I was very interested in machines. Anyway, I didn't like the picture thought it was silly and stupid then, when I saw the astronauts: what else are they but part of a machine? It's very hard to talk about picturesshould I say now that I like Metropolis because something I have seen in my imagination comes true, when I detested it after it was finished?
Digital Destruction: Thankfully averted in the 2010 remaster. A special feature on the restoration included on the Kino DVD release shows how the usual computerized 'clean-up' process for old films (which compares each frame to the one before and after to eliminate blemishes on the record) could make fast-moving objects (like a running man's legs) disappear. Therefore, the automated process was carefully supervised, and manual operations and techniques used to ensure that detail was not lost.
Keep Circulating the Tapes: Every version was different for decades. And the only full version surviving was apparently acquired by a collector before the first cuts were made, then wound up in an Argentinian archive in the 1950s. Being a dangerous nitrate print, it was later required by Argentinian law to be copied and the original be destroyed. This was done on such a low budget (something that has plagued much of the Argentinian film heritage) that the image quality was reduced to the level of an amateur production. This copy was found in 2010, and nearly all of the damaged sections were restored (as much as was virtually possible) to give the most complete version to date.
Missing Episode: Missing a third of the entire movie for many years. Even with the rediscovered version, there are still two missing scenes ("missing" in a technical sense; they were found with the rest of the excised shots, but were deemed too degraded to restore), one of which is heavily plot-relevant. To make matters even worse, there have been rumors that there are even more missing scenes that were cut from the film before its German premiere to help shorten the time of the film. It's possible that Lang didn't destroy these scenes and there may be even more unseen footage for this film.
Lang may not have destroyed those scenes himself, but either the Nazis, von Harbou, or the Allies certainly did. Understandably upset about the Bowdlerization the Americans gave his film, he went to his grave believing that no faithful version of it existed anywhere.
Reality Subtext: Maybe. Fritz Lang's wife, Thea von Harbou, was originally married to actor Rudolf Klein-Rogge, but she had an affair with Lang and ultimately divorced Rogge. In the movie and in the original book, the woman Hel was married to Rotwang (played by Rogge) but eventually had an affair and married Joh Fredersen. As Harbou wrote the original screenplay and story, it's possible she wrote it as a parallel to her own life situation, so a lot gets made of this coincidence. But on the other hand, Lang and Rogge remained good friends and worked together until Lang left Germany, while Rogge also continued to work with Harbou on several other movies.note Biographers agree that Lang and Harbou had an "open relationship" (as per the experimental climate of The Roaring '20s, cf Jules et Jim by Lang admirer François Truffaut) and Lang himself had a few girlfriends
Troubled Production: Filming lasted over a year (considered a long production these days, but almost unthinkable back in the 1920s). Most of the actors had no prior film experience, not even lead actress Brigitte Helm. The film ran drastically over-budget, almost bankrupting UFA in the process. The demanding special effects required frustrated crew members to work around the clock. Reportedly over 30,000 extras were used, most of whom were difficult to keep track of.
The worst part was Fritz Lang's insane antics. He forced actor Gustav Fröhlich to spend three full days doing retakes of a single scene that was nothing more than him falling to his knees. He made Helm dress in costume as the robot for all of its scenes, even though it cut and bruised her and hid her face, because he'd know if anyone else wore it. He also used real fire in the scene in which False Maria is burned. As chaotic as all this was, post-production was worse! The film had a large amount of footage cut without Lang's approval. After its failed Berlin premiere, the film was cut even more for its international release. A near-complete version of the film would not be discovered until 2008 (in Argentina, of all places). Regardless, the film is widely regarded as a masterpiece.
Viral Marketing: A very early example before television even existed. During March 1928, a pre-publicity stunt in Melbourne, Australia went as follows: Frederick Ward, the director of marketing for the film, placed a number of newspaper teaser advertisements in the form of editorials, asking questions of mothers, workers, clergy, business men and others about the dangers of technological advancement and becoming too dependent on machines, but without mentioning Fritz Lang's film. These editorials got people talking.
What Could Have Been: Moroder made the rock opera version after outbidding David Bowie, among others, for the rights. God knows what he scratch that, probably even God doesn't know what Bowie would have done with Metropolis.