Dec. 4th, 2015

alexxkay: (Bar Harbor)
Snatching a few hours sleep at an odd hour, my subconscious served up a surprise: a previously unseen collaboration between Fritz Lang and Peter Lorre, The Deep Underground.

It’s one of those films where the setting (and set designer) is of equal importance to the actors and director. It is set in an old, never-named city, located on the side of a steep mountain. Streets are all switchback and the sidewalks are stairs as often as not. Shadows fall swiftly down the slopes. Night comes early here.

Like all old cities, it has another city beneath itself. Basements, sewers, ancient tunnels of secret and unknown purpose, all interconnecting in a labyrinth. But this labyrinth has a famous difference from many others. Usually, if one is lost in an underground maze, one can escape by always trying to go up; “up” is reliably towards the surface. Not so, here. In the deep underground, you could climb upwards for a mile, always within 100 yards of the outer world, but never actually reaching it. It’s a threat used to keep little children out of the underground, but it’s true for all that.

In this nameless, steep city, Peter Lorre is a denizen of the underworld in two senses: a petty criminal, and someone who has spent much of his life exploring the deep underground. Another criminal recruits him for a job. He has found the existence of a treasure vault, guarded well – on the surface… If Lorre can get them close enough to drill in from beneath, they can share a fortune.

As they travel through the deep underground, sometimes Lang uses shots from street level. You’ll hear just a snatch of clear dialogue echoing up through a sewer grating, accompanied by the merest flicker of torchlight, indirectly reflected below

The exact details of the plot evade me (as is typical in dreams). The treasure is found, there is betrayal in the dark, Lorre survives and emerges with a double handful of jewels. Jewels that are SO valuable, that he cannot immediately convert them to currency…

Later, there is an investigator. He probably would have found nothing on his own, but Lorre is seized by that classic hubris, and offers to guide the investigator through the underground. After all, the underground is HIS domain, and he is proven himself invincible within it. He’s already effectively hidden one body down here, another should prove no difficulty. Down in the dark with a soon-to-be-dead man, Lorre can show off his mastery, and boast of the cleverness of his crimes.

In the inevitable climactic fight, Lorre is blinded by an errant torch. The investigator escapes to the surface, with a solution, if without a prisoner.

Lorre, master of the underground, discovers that though he knows these spaces better than any other man, he does NOT know them blind. Lost, he begins to struggle upwards in montage. Daylight filters in, but he can no longer see it. On the surface, little children sing a nursery rhyme about how when you’re lost in the deep underground, going up will not save you. The rhyme echoes through the underground halls; Lorre hears it, but cannot identify its direction. He struggles frantically upwards… and inwards, away from the light. Fade to black. The End. Credits.


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Alexx Kay

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