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Content and Synopsis

The film is built upon the story of a young woman demanding that Death return her lover to life. Death leads her into a cathedral-like hall in which living souls burn, flicker and die when their time has come.

Three candles have almost burned out. Death promises the young woman that he will return her lover to her if she is able to save even one of these souls from being extinguished.

In three visions, Death allows her to experience the fate of three young women in differing circumstances: as the sister of the Persian ruler Harun al Raschid, unable to save her western knight from the wrath of the “true believers;” as Monna Fiametta in Renaissance Venice during Carnival, unable to save her lover from his murderers; and as assistant to a Chinese court magician, who helplessly watches as her lover is pursued by men sent by the tyrannical king.

Tired of perpetually winning, Death gives her one last chance. She must find someone willing to die in place of the man she loves. The young woman tries to convince old, sick and wretched people to give her “only one day, just one hour,” but no one is willing to give up even the most miserable of lives. It is only when she offers herself, by saving a child from a burning house, that she is reunited with her lover, confirming the adage that “love is stronger than death.”

The impact of this movie is due, in large part, to the film sets, which Lang incorporates into his creation by bringing them to vivid, three-dimensional life through the use of skilful lighting effects. Fritz Lang’s Expressionist film, with its spectacular special effects, multiple lighting and film tricks was, thereby, technically the absolute height of film-making at the time. The movie was very successful overseas and signalled the conclusive breakthrough for the thirty year old director.