Tuesday, February 26, 2013

The Golem (1920)

Or, "Der Golem,wie er in die Welt kam".

The story of how the Golem came into the world is told in five Phapters. In 16th century Prague, Rabbi Low melodramatically reads in the stars disaster for the Jewish people, possibly by annoying violins. The next day the king melodramatically orders a decree evicting all Jews from the ghetto. Their crimes are listed as killing Jesus, not observing Christian celebrations, and using black magic. First two, well yea, guilty as charged. But black magic?

To defend his people, Rabbi Low melodramatically creates a circle of fire to summon a melodramatic demon and demands it to give him a magic word that will make a giant clay monster come to life. Sure, but black magic? Nonsense.

Somewhere around Phapter 3 Rabbi brings his melodramatic monster (ok, I'm going to dispense with the melodrama, I think you get the point) to the king (or whatever) to plead his case. During his magic history slide show, the building starts to collapse and kingie says he will spare the Jews if he saves him. So Golem holds up the beam and everyone lived happily ever after.

In Phapter 4 Rabbi Low deactivates Golem because he will become evil. However, some sort of love triangle is going on and a temple lackey (I'll call him Ygor) decides to reactivate clay man and sics him on his rival. Things don't turn out that well. Rival takes a brief flight and Golem runs off with precious Miriam (he drags her cave man style, rather than the conventional Frankenstein/Mummy/Gil Man/Klattu mode).

So (I suppose we're up to Phapter 5 by now) the village is burning and Low must do his fire dance (which puts fires OUT, go figure) to save the ghetto. Meanwhile, a little girl kills the monster. Roll credits.

This is actually the third of the Golem movies. The first two no longer exist save for brief clips available on YouTube. This is likely the best of the three anyhow as it's the one the writer/director wanted to make all along. And by writer/director, I meant the dude who played The Golem. This is the retelling of the Jewish folk tale. The other two were set in the modern day.

The sets were interesting. Very expressionistic. The acting, well, a little over the top. But this movie is remembered for two reasons. One, it's the obvious predecessor of Frankenstein (both in film and in literature), but mostly because of it's depiction of the Jewish struggle with prosecution a decade leading up to the Nazi raise to power. It's very historically interesting.

A little tiring to watch, however. I saw the first three Phapters then fell asleep, and saw the rest the following day. I am glad I watched it because of it's historical legacy, and in the end it held my interest, but with few title cards (and in a hard to read, old-timey font) the story must be followed by the ridiculous acting. During the love triangle part of the story, I didn't know if Miriam actually liked the poof or if she was pretending to as a favor to her father (it was the former).

Two silent movies in a row, a new record. When writing up Laugh, Clown, Laugh, I actually had to re-edit the post because I forgot to use the SILENT label. I had actually forgotten it was a silent movie. With Der Golem, you don't forget that fact. AMRU 3.

Tuesday, February 19, 2013

Laugh, Clown, Laugh (1928)

Travelling circus performer Tito (Lon Chaney) finds an abandoned child and decides, over the objections of his partner, to raise her. As she blossoms into a beautiful woman (Loretta Young), he discovers he has fallen in love with her. No, that's not creepy at all. Thanks for asking.

Because our sad clown must repress his forbidden love, all he can do is cry. His doctor, realizing that a woman is the blame for his ailment, gives the very bartenderly advice to tell this woman how he feels. As chance would have it, doc was also visiting with a patient who, because he lives a life of frivolity and pleasure, can only laugh. The advice for him is to find a woman, one woman, who he truly loves and settle down. The two men decide to hang out together, and unknowingly, woo the same dame. Go figure.

Another tragic romance for old friend Chaney. Certainly the best so far in the "Imperative, Noun, Imperative" genre of movie titles, edging out "Burn, Witch, Burn". Chaney again proves himself the master of non-verbal storytelling. And once again he left his mark on younger colleagues. Director Herbert Brenon would badger the 14 year old Loretta Young (ok, even creepier) when Chaney was not on the set. So, he was always present when she was working, even if he had no reason to be. For that Young said "I shall be beholden to that sensitive, sweet man until the day I die".

The movie is short (reel 4 is missing and presumed lost forever) and the story isn't anything to write Oscar about, but you can't take your eyes from Chaney. His emotive face and stage presence dominate every scene. Once again, I was totally sucked in. He appeared in a fair number of films before he died at ... about my age. Most are gone forever, but I'll try to see what's left. AMRU 4.
"Laugh, clown, laugh, even though your heart is breaking!"