THE HYPERBOLOID OF ENGINEER GARIN. Russia, 1965. Original title: Giperboloid inzhenera Garina. Evgeniy Evstigeev, Iosif Manovich, Mikhail Astangov, Natalya Kilimova. Screenplay by Iosif Manovich, based on the novel The Garin Death Ray by Aleksei Tolstoy. Directed by Alexander Gintsberg.

   A modicum of propaganda, a cunning visual recreation of German Expressionist cinema, and a sense of fun and the absurd inform this 1965 science fiction film from the former Soviet Union set in France in 1925.

   It opens moodily as two men, one Safonov (Isoif Manovich), explore a deserted house on a lonely island on a lake. It is there they find Engineer Petrovich Garin (Evigniy Evstegeev) and his invention, the hyperboloid, a deadly heat ray.

   From that point on, the film seems as if it will devolve into a game of hide-and-seek, with Garin pursued by all sides wanting the weapon, but instead it changes mood and, while keeping the look and feel of a German serial of the silent era, replete with stylized sets and costumes, it instead becomes a fairly subtle debate about the rights of one man to sell such a deadly weapon to the highest bidder, while never forgetting the action, comedy, and mad scientist elements of the story.

   You can guess where a Soviet era films comes down on the film’s philosophical question, but it does so with a soft, not iron, heel. The result is such that the viewer can sit back and enjoy the wonderful look of the film that makes as many nods to Fritz Lang, Joe May, Murnau, or French serial director Louis Feuillade as to Sergei Eisenstein or early Soviet science fiction like Aleita.

   Shot in atmospheric monochrome, the film features gorgeous sets and science fictional set pieces, action, comedy, and a playful sense of fun. Alas the only version I know of is in Russian without subtitles, but it is still worth a look. Hopefully there is a subtitled version available. It is surprising just how well the look of a big production science fiction film from an earlier era is captured. You have to keep reminding yourself this was released in 1965.

   The ironic comedic finale, similar to the fate of Lex Luthor in Superman Returns, is just an added bonus after scene after scene that are a visual feast. While it is different in look and style, it compares favorably with films like Dinner with Adele (aka Nick Carter in Prague) or Karel Zeman’s The Fantastic World of Jules Verne that it shares a similar anachronistic nostalgia with.