Death (Bernhard Goetzke) and the Young Woman (Lil Dagover) in Der müde Tod
Der müde Tod, which means "Weary Death," was released in English-speaking countries under titles like Destiny, Behind the Wall, and The Three Lights, all of which miss an essential premise of the film, which is that Death (Bernhard Goetze) has grown weary of his encounters with human suffering. So when he takes a Young Man (Walter Janssen) whose fiancée (Lil Dagover) seeks out Death and pleads for his return. he is inclined to give her a break: He will give her three chances to save the life of someone destined to die, and if she succeeds, he will return the Young Man to life. So we see the Young Woman in three episodes set in wonderfully fanciful versions of the past: ancient Persia, Renaissance Italy, and imperial China. Each time she tries to save her lover from the death she knows is coming, but each time she fails. Dagover and Janssen play all three pairs of lovers, with Goetze lurking in various fatal incarnations in each episode. When she fails, Death gives her one last chance: Returning the Young Man to life would leave an empty place in the afterlife, but if she can persuade someone to give up his or her life to replace him, he will spare her fiancé. It's a beautifully constructed fantasy, written by Fritz Lang and his wife, Thea von Harbou, and directed by Lang with his usual exploitation of elaborate sets and camera effects. The art direction is by Robert Herlth, Walter Röhrig, and Hermann Warm, frequent collaborators with the great German directors of the period between the wars, such as Lang and F.W. Murnau.