Futurism

Master of the World

A mad scientist, an army of killer robots, a grieving widow and a dashing hero. There are the ingredients for the German 1934 film Der Herr der Welt film by action hero Harry Piel. Perhaps his darkest movie, and one of the few where he doesn’t appear on screen. A predictable script and flat filming, but the acting is good and the special effects not bad either. 4/10

Gold

This smart, well filmed and very successful 1934 film marked the beginning of the end for German science fiction before the Nazis banned the genre. Best remembered for its impressive futuristic sets and superb effects, this film is on the talkier side. It’s secret weapons are German superstars Hans Albers and Brigitte Helm. 7/10.

An Invisible Man Walks the City

Rushed into German theatres two months before James Whale’s The Invisible Man in 1933, this film is directed by and stars Germany’s biggest action star Harry Piel. Aided by functioning but crude special effects, a cash-strapped taxi driver stumbles upon an invisibility helmet. Forced comedy and a predictable script are remedied by great action sequences and a breezy pace. 5/10

Deluge

Famed for its special effects shots of a floodwave destroying New York City, this 1933 RKO production built up hype as it was thought lost for many decades. When it finally resurfaced, it was met with a collective “meh”, as all the action was packed in the first 15 minutes of the film, and then settled into a wobbly post-apocalyptic romance helmed by a first-time director. 5/10

The Whispering Shadow

An entertaining horror-inspired mystery/crime serial with sci-fi elements that features Bela Lugosi in his best paid role ever. Entertaining and well acted, if quite confusing and not very original. It did, however, help pave the way for science fiction serials in sound in Hollywood. 4/10

The Tunnel

An American engineer masterminds a Transatlantic tunnel in this German 1933 production, based on Bernhard Kellermann’s 1913 novel. Made in the spirit of international unity, it is today often seen through the lens of the Nazi rise to power. While well acted and sporting impressive set design, the film’s pacing is off and the first half is bogged down by sluggish melodrama. 5/10.

F.P.1. Doesn’t Answer

The earliest available feature film based on a modern sci-fi novel, this German 1932 melodrama concerns the then outlandish idea of a floating gas station for transatlantic flights. Filmed in three different languages with different casts, it’s not exactly a neglected masterpiece, but with talent like Curt Siodmak, Hans Albers, Charles Boyer, Peter Lorre, Conrad Veidt and Sybille Schmitz, it’s certainly a forgotten sci-fi gem. 6/10

Chandu the Magician

This 1932 sci-fi/adventure film has been called the first superhero movie. Bela Lugosi shines as the villain, William Cameron Menzies directs with style and the sets and special effects are very impressive. The inane plot is secondary in the breezy, fun juvenile adventure set in Egypt. 6/10

Doctor X

This early colour film (1932), impeccably directed by Casablanca-maker Michael Curtiz, is a stylish and atmospheric old dark house thriller with a gruesome sci-fi twist. Unfortunately it’s also an attempt at Groucho Marx-style comedy with a Lee Tracy in the lead as a wise-cracking reporter, whose comedy repertoire isn’t up to the task. Fay Wray and Lionel Atwill shine, and the whole thing has the delicious look and feel of a faded pulp magazine. 7/10

End of the World

This 1931 apocalypse film from French mastermind of the silent era, Abel Gance, is a turkey of epic proportions. The heavy-handed religious moral tale fails to cope with the restrictions of sound films, and the all too obvious script that fails to surprise or engage the viewer. 3/10

Just Imagine

A very early sound film, this 1930 US sci-fi musical comedy tries to combine Metropolis, A Princess from Mars, The Ziegfield Follies and stand-up comedy. With predictable results. Despite being the brainchild of Hollywood’s hottest musical writers, the music is dull, the SF worse and the comedy painfully unfunny. The film looks good, though. 3/10

Woman in the Moon

This 1929 movie is the grandfather of the modern space rocket movie. Fritz Lang’s German silent film has a reputation for being over-long and sluggish during its first half. But if you like Lang’s spy yarns, the build-up is pure cinematic delight — and when the actual space voyage gets underway, it is as riveting today as it was 90 years ago. Thanks to the help of the world’s leading rocket scientists, the scientific accuracy is eerily prophetic. 9/10

The Inhuman Woman

A hallucinatory explosion of art deco and visual experimentation, Marcel L’Herbier’s 1924 film L’Inhumaine has divided critics and audiences for decades. Its bold design and innovative editing inspired a generation of directors, but many find its script thin and its characters one-dimensional and uninspiring.

High Treason

This 1929 film was Britain’s attempt to create its own Metropolis. The stunning art deco visuals are counteracted by a clumsy and overtly naive script. Maurice Elvey’s direction is fluid and competent, but the actors are stuck with paper-thin characters who lack motivation. Modern viewers of this pacifist yarn set in 1940 will marvel at the accurate predictions of things like TV and Skype. (5/10)

The Mysterious Island

Borrowing the name of Jules Verne’s bestseller, this problem-ridden 1926-1929 production features good acting, some remarkable special effects and a solid-ish script, but alas, the schizophrenic semi-talkie-semi-silent film is just as equally horrible in many ways, with toy submarines and crocodiles substituting for dinos. (4/10)