Der Golem – Wie er in die Welt kam (1920)

Paul Wegener made no less than three silent films about the Jewish legend of the golem, the monster created from clay and animated by magic. Opinions differ as to whether the films form a trilogy, or if they are different tellings of the same story. But it hardly matters much anymore, because two of the films are considered lost. The only surviving one, and probably the best, is Der Golem – Wie er in die Welt kam (The Golem: How He Came into the World).

Paul Wegener's Der Golem - Wie er in die Welt kam / The Golem - How He Came into the World (1920)

The film begins with a great scene where a man is observing the night sky in order to tell the future. The man is Rabbi Loew, apparently a historical person, and he senses danger for his people. When the Holy Roman Emperor orders that all Jews must leave Prague, Loew is already working on a bold plan to awaken the Golem, the monster made of clay. The plot becomes more complicated as the emperor’s messenger falls in love with Loew’s daughter.

Much of the film’s imagery seems to draw from Mediaeval sources, although technically speaking The Holy Roman Empire had entered the Renaissance by Rabbi Loew’s time. Ah, but who cares? This is hardly a historical costume drama anyway. It is more in the domain of fantasy and legend.

Mainly linked to from this post is an 85-minute version with fairly good image quality and an excellent score. Unfortunately (for some) it only has German title cards. Available at the Internet Archive is also a 101 minute version with English title cards, a different score, no tinting and not as good image quality. Pick the one you prefer.

This film is best enjoyed for the fantastic sets and costumes. It was released in the same year as Das Cabinet des Dr. Caligari, and it shows in the expressionistic, sometimes surrealistic, images. The story and script of Der Golem are not as tight as those of the other film, but it compensates by good actors and by many novel ideas.

Paul Wegener's Der Golem - Wie er in die Welt kam / The Golem - How He Came into the World (1920)

Der Golem – Wie er in die Welt kam
Download link
Year: 1920
Running time: 1 h 25 min
Language: German (no subtitles)
Director: Carl Boese, Paul Wegener
Stars: Paul Wegener
Image quality: Acceptable
Resolution: Medium (785×578)
Soundtrack: Excellent; synchronized with the images
Sound quality: Excellent
Best file format: MPEG4 (1.9 G)

Advertisements

The Private Life of Don Juan (1934)

Douglas Fairbanks was, first and foremost, an actor of the silent era. Like many other major silent stars, he failed to make the transit to sound film. He made only a handful of talkies, and it is symptomatic that his very last one, The Private Life of Don Juan, was filmed and produced in England.

Merle Oberon and Douglas Fairbanks in The Private Life of Don Juan (1934)

The Private Life of Don Juan was directed by Alexander Korda, and is typical of Korda in the sense that very little can be taken for granted. Korda makes effective use of shadows and angles, and even though some scenes may be a bit overworked, they are nevertheless excellent examples of film artistry that can be reproduced in no other medium.

The story, briefly, is that the aging Don Juan is returning to Seville, but a young admirer and impersonator is killed, leaving everyone to believe Don Juan dead. The aged womanizer sees his chance to lead a life in peace, but finds that he can never quite live up to the legend of himself.

The film’s title was probably an attempt to capitalize on the previous year’s success with The Private Life of Henry VIII, also directed by Korda.

This film is best enjoyed for Douglas Fairbanks in his very last role. Talking or silent, Fairbanks still in his, relatively speaking, old age of 51 had enormous sex appeal and he could do acrobatics and stunts that most men half his age would envy him. He also showed his great qualities as an actor, and that he could handle spoken dialogue just as well as the exaggerated body language of a silent.

Douglas Fairbanks in The Private Life of Don Juan (1934)

The Private Life of Don Juan
Download link
Year: 1934
Running time: 1 h 27 min
Director: Alexander Korda
Stars: Douglas Fairbanks
Image quality: Good
Resolution: Medium (720×576)
Sound quality: Acceptable
Best file format: DivX (698 M)

Klostret i Sendomir (1920)

I have already written about the height of Swedish filmmaking in my post about The Outlaw and His Wife. Another of Victor Sjöström’s most famous movies was Klostret i Sendomir (The Monastery of Sendomir in English).

Erik Petschler and Nils Tillberg in Klostret i Sendomir / The Monastery of Sendomir (1920)

The film begins with two travellers who decide to spend the night at a monastery. They become curious as to the monastery’s origins and convince one of the monks to tell them. It turns out that a man who became jealous of his cheating wife decided to fuond the monastery to atone for his sins in connection with this. The majority of the film is a flashback as the monk tells the story. In the end we revert back to the two travellers for a nice twist.

Like many of the Swedish films from this classical period, Klostret i Sendomir was based on a literary original, in this case a short story by the German writer Franz Grillparzer. Compared with modern Hollywood, these Swedish films stayed close to the originals, and in many cases, such as this, they also retained the tragic endings. In fact, Hollywood started to recognize the commercial value of happy endings at least as early as the 1920s, which Sjöström became aware of a few years later, when he moved to Hollywood to continue his career there.

This film is best enjoyed if you are curious about this classical period in Swedish film. It is a genuinely good film, especially compared with most other films from the same period, but directors and producers of the time were still very much experimenting with the medium, and parts of the film tend to feel a little stiff today. Still, it is a very good story, and told in the best way known in 1920.

Tora Terje and Tore Svennberg in Klostret i Sendomir / The Monastery of Sendomir (1920)

Klostret i Sendomir
Download link
Year: 1920
Running time: 53 min
Language: Swedish; English subtitles
Director: Victor Sjöström
Stars: Tore Svennberg, Tora Terje
Image quality: Acceptable
Resolution: Medium (640×480)
Soundtrack: Poor; synthesized score not adapted to the images
Sound quality: Good
Best file format: Windows Media (939 M)

The Private Life of Henry VIII (1933)

A romantic comedy about a half-mad king who had his wives beheaded and divorced about as often as he changed his underwear? Sounds strange? Well, it is, but The Private Life of Henry VIII is also a splendidly amusing and well-made film.

Wendy Barrie (as Jane Seymour) and Charles Laughton (as the king) in The Private Life of Henry VIII (1933)

Henry VIII has gone down in history for several reasons, but in popular history he is perhaps best known for his six wives. They, and their relationships with the king, form the story of this film. Well, in fact the story is about five wives, and barely that, for the first one is entirely skipped over and the film begins as the second one is about to be executed.

Even so, one would think that an hour and a half would be too little time to tell the stories of five romances with any kind of depth, but an effective script teamed with Alexander Korda’s excellent directing and a brilliant Charles Laughton in the title role produced a film that neither feels rushed nor overstuffed.

One would perhaps also be tempted to think it would be hard to create an endearing portrait of someone who had two of his own wives put to death, but this film succeeds even at that.

This film is best enjoyed for the excellent acting and directing. As is often the case with “historical” films, several liberties and short cuts have been taken with facts of history.

Binnie Barnes (as Catherine Howard) and Charles Laughton (as the king) in The Private Life of Henry VIII (1933)

The Private Life of Henry VIII
Download link
Year: 1933
Running time: 1 h 30 min
Director: Alexander Korda
Stars: Charles Laughton
Image quality: Good
Resolution: Medium (640×480)
Sound quality: Acceptable
Best file format: Cinepack (863 M)