Produced by Joe May — and starring his wife Mia — this is the first film that Lang wrote with Thea von Harbou whom Lang would eventually marry. Also known as “The Moving Image,” the original running time was 87 minutes and considered lost for decades. A 45-minute version — with Portuguese intertitles — was discovered at the Cinematica Brasiliera in São Paulo in 1986 and has been restored by Murnau Stiftung and recently released by Kino.
The cinematography by Guido Seeber — who also shot “The Golum” and “The Joyless Street” — and the almost decent condition of the print, makes this film watchable even if the story borders on the incoherent due to the missing 42 minutes. Even so, “Das wandernde Bild” is clearly early Lang in its use of mystique, explosions, avalanches, doppelgangers, chases and the sense of action that pervades the film.
There are numerous recaps of the plot on various film-related websites and they vary a great deal. In 1921, Lichtbild-Bühne gave this summary in its review of the film:
“Mia May, who plays the female lead, has surrendered herself to a disciple of free love, and, having given birth to a child, marries the twin brother and Doppelgänger ofher chosen lover, in his name. When the philosopher finds out about this, he retires into the mountains vowing not return to civilization until a statue of the virgin which he passed on his way in the snow begins to walk. Her brother pursues the woman he married, but she is saved by an unknown relative and escapes. Pursued, she meets the hermit. The pursuer goes mad and perishes. The lost girl devotes her life to the poor. One stormy night when the statue of the virgin is destroyed by the elements she brings a strange child back to her home. The hermit takes her for the walking statue of the virgin and is reunited with his companion.”
One side note of interest is that while Lang was on location filming with Joe May’s wife, Joe May grabbed “Das indische Grabmal” (“The Indian Tomb”) written by Thea von Harbou to direct as his next film. One review called May’s film one of the “greatest” ever made. This didn’t sit well with Lang as Lang had wanted to do the film. Eventually, he would. Although he would never work for Joe May again.
Das wandernde Bild (aka The Wandering Image) was produced by Joe May for Joy May-Film and directed by Fritz Lang. Screenplay by Lang and Thea von Harbou. Cinematography by Guido Seeber. Art Direction by Otto Hunte and Erich Kettlehut. Starring Mia May, Hans Marr, Harry Frank, Rudolf Klein-Rogge and Loni Nest