Fritz Lang made Siegfried and its sequel Kriemhilds Revenge (1924) as one film in two parts, known collectively as Das Niebelungen. (The similarities between Das Niebelungen and Peter Jacksons multi-part single film The Lord of the Rings nearly 80 years later are considerable). For Das Niebelungen, Lang drew from Das Nibelungenlied, a German epic poem written sometime in the 12th-13th Centuries by an unknown author. The poem is in two parts, the first dealing with Siegfried, how he becomes immortal by bathing in a dragons blood and uses trickery to help King Gunther defeat Queen Brunhild, but how this becomes wound into court intrigue and jealousies, resulting in Siegfrieds death. The second part of the poem, which Lang made into Kriemhilds Revenge, concerns Siegfrieds widow Kriemhilds marriage to Attila the Hun as part of an elaborate revenge scheme against Siegfrieds murderer Hagen Tronje. Most Germans know the story of Siegfried and the Nibelungs through Richard Wagners four-part operatic adaptation The Ring Cycle (1848-74), which runs to a massive fifteen hours.
Even despite the technical crudities of the day, Siegfried still holds considerable cinematic power today. What one notices is that despite being seen in a muchly curtailed running length the original version runs nearly 2½ hours, while most versions available today run at around 100 minutes the film is ponderous and slow. That said, Lang crafts it with a sense of epic grandeur. The full size mechanical dragon scenes are reasonably convincing, although primitive by todays standards. One of the most impressive scenes is where the naked Siegfried bathes in the dragons blood and the linden leaf sticks to his neck, which Lang stages with majesty. The sets are all the stylised marvels that were popular in era great lakes of fire, set-bound forests and palaces dominated by geometric patterns, while the costumes come with a florid ornamentation that teeters on absurdity for many audiences not used to silent German cinema. Perhaps where the film finds its greatest effectiveness is oddly not during any of these fantastic scenes but when it comes to the palace in-politicking, particularly where an emotionally wounded Brunhild demands Siegfrieds death upon threat of her not eating or drinking and Gunther is forced to tragically betray his good friend.
Siegfried is also very different in contrast to almost any of the fantasy films or tv series made today place it up against the spoofy silliness of tvs Hercules: The Legendary Journeys (1994-9), for instance. It is rich in the sense of mythic story (what Joseph Campbell calls The Heroic Cycle), rather than simply reducing the original legend to a series of monster and maiden encounters like some Conan the Barbarian adventure. Nor is Siegfried a hero in a sense that would be recognised today. He is full of stolid Teutonic virtues but in terms of character comes across as rather of a dork, constantly being taken naive advantage of or fooled into doing other peoples bidding, and the height of his story arc is not his triumph so much as it is a tragedy.
The story of Siegfried and the Niebelungs has been filmed several other times:- as the Italian-made Siegfried (1957), the German-made Siegfried (1966), the German-made softcore film The Long Swift Sword of Siegfried (1971) with Sybil Danning as Kriemhild, the fine German English-language tv mini-series Ring of the Nibelungs (2004) with Benno Fürmann as Siegfried and Kristanna Loken as Brunhild, and the German comedy Siegfried (2005). There have been a considerable number of adaptations of the Richard Wagner opera. There was even a Bugs Bunny cartoon Whats Opera, Doc? (1957), which recasts the Wagner opera with Elmer Fudd as Siegfried and Bugs Bunny as Brunhild.
Full film available online here:-