The Indian Tomb | The ambitious 1921 German silent epic on Blu-ray
One of the grandest, most expensive films of the German silent era, The Indian Tomb – producer/director Joe May’s 1921 two-part adaptation of Thea von Harbou’s 1918 novel Das indische Grabmal – is an exotic mystical epic and an artistic wonder. It’s now out on Blu-ray in a 2k restoration print from Eureka Entertainment as part of The Masters of Cinema Series.
A menacing Maharajah, marauding tigers and a mystical yogi all come to play in this captivating adventure. Conrad Veidt takes centre stage as Ayan, the dominating Maharajah of Bengal, who commissions architect Herbert Rowland (Olaf Fønss) to build a mausoleum for the great love of his life, the princess Savitri (Erna Morena).
But when Rowland accepts, he soon discovers the prince is a cruel tyrant whose real agenda is to entomb his wife over her affair with a British officer, Mac Allen (Paul Richter). Infected with leprosy and unable to escape the palace, Rowland’s only hope lies with his concerned fiancé Irene (Mia May), who sets out to save him – and the princess.
The Indian Tomb (Das indische Grabmal) should have been directed by Fritz Lang, who had co-written the screenplay with Harbou and had hoped to helm the project. Producer May, however, took charge citing Lang as inexperienced, which infuriated Lang and ended their working relationship. While this heady fusion of Weimar cinema and pulp serial was a success in Germany, it didn’t take off elsewhere and reviews were mixed. It’s only recently that May’s film has been reappraised.
Lang, however, did end up making his version, in 1959 (you can read about it here), and its success led to him returning to his most memorable cinematic creation (the master criminal Dr Mabuse) in what became his cinematic swansong (my review can be found here). May, meanwhile, emigrated to America in 1933 where he ended up specialising in mainly B-features for Universal (including 1940s The Invisible Man Returns and The House of the Seven Gables, both starring Vincent Price).
May’s take on Harbou’s tale is indeed impressive, mainly for its opulent sets (although the titular tomb isn’t as grand as you’d expect – it reminded me of a pimped-up Tardis) and some haunting imagery (especially the leper colony, the crypt of yogis buried alive, the tiger attack and Veidt decked out in an elaborate ritual costume worthy of Andrew Logan’s Alternative Miss World), but it loses points with the action sequences, where May’s camera remains static.
Regardless, it’s Veidt that we’ve all come to see. Resplendent in a turban, white suit and jodhpurs, he’s in fine, chilling form and he certainly acts up a storm in the second part when Savitri finally escapes the palace.
Giving Veidt a run in the sinister stakes, however, is Bernhard Goetzke, as the icy and impassive yogi Ramigani (Ayan’s Rasputin-styled advisor who seems to possess genuine supernatural powers). He’s so compelling. No wonder Lang cast him as Death in Der müde Tod the same year. Playing the unfortunate Mac Allan is Paul Richter. He would go on to play another legendary character, Siegfried, in Lang’s Die Nibelungen.
The two-parter may run around 3hours 40minutes in total, but it passes in no time thanks to the imagery and stylised performances. The ambient, avant-garde is quite good at first. But comprising of what seems to be just two thematic structures played on a loop it becomes rather repetitive. The video essay is very informative, especially about the creative talents involved in the production. But damn it, I now have to see Joe (and Mia) May’s eight-part 1919 serial, The Mistress of the World.
SPECIAL EDITION FEATURES
• Presented in 1080p HD, across two Blu-ray discs from 2K restorations undertaken by the Murnau foundation (FWMS)
• Musical score (2018) by Irena and Vojtěch Havel
• Optional English subtitles
• Video essay by David Cairns and Fiona Watson
• Collector’s booklet featuring new writing on the film by Philip Kemp
The Hands of Orlac | The thrilling 1924 silent classic shudders onto Blu-ray
From Eureka Entertainment comes director Robert Wiene’s silent horror The Hands of Orlac (Orlac’s Hände), starring Conrad Veidt, on Blu-ray as part of The Masters of Cinema Series.
Veidt plays Paul Orlac, a concert pianist whose hands are amputated after a train crash. Shocked to learn they have been replaced with the hands of a recently executed murderer named Vasseur, Orlac obsesses over the idea that he too will turn violent.
When Orlac’s wealthy father is murdered and fingerprints match the dead man’s hands, Orlac fears seem manifest. However, Orlac’s nightmare reaches new heights of terror when a man claiming to be Vasseur threatens to blackmail him.
Blending grand Guignol shudders with German Expressionism visuals, this 1924 Austrian adaptation of Maurice Renard’s 1920 thriller novel, Les Mains d’Orlac, reunited the director and star of Das Cabinet des Dr Caligari (1920).
Featuring a wonderfully modernist set design, expressive performances and tightly executed scenes, this a silent cinema gem. And near-on a century from its release, many of the tropes conceived here continues to be used in many a film and TV thriller.
With his cadaverous looks and masterfully mannered characterisation, Veidt (who plays his playing his Orlac in a permanent state of fright) proves himself one of the true original Masters of Terror, while Wiene directs each scene like grand theatrical tableaux du dance.
There’s also excellent support from Alexandra Sorina (as Paul’s wife) who stilted movements reveal her character’s inner turmoil. While more mystery thriller with psychological overtones than straight-out horror, the film does boast a couple of very human monsters – most tellingly Paul’s horrid, unlovingly father, whose creepy house resembles a mausoleum.
Kudos to Johannes Kaltizke’s excellent avant-garde music score – which greatly reminded me of Les Baxter’s suite in the 1970 Vincent Price TV special, An Evening of Edgar Allan Poe. Among the excellent highlights is an alternate 110-minute presentation of the film from 2008 with alternate takes and a music score by Paul Mercer.
• 1080p presentation on Blu-ray from a restoration of the original film elements by Film Archiv Austria
• LPCM 2.0 audio
• Original German-language intertitles with optional English subtitles
• Audio commentary with Stephen Jones and Kim Newman
• Video essay by David Cairns and Fiona Watson (30min)
• FW Murnau Foundation alternate presentation [SD, 110 minutes]
• Scene comparisons highlighting some of the differences between the two versions of the film
• Collector’s booklet featuring new writing by Philip Kemp, and Tim Lucas
Waxworks | Paul Leni’s 1924 anthology masterpiece gets a stunning restoration
Hot on the heels of Eureka Entertainment’s 4k Blu-ray release of Paul Leni’s The Man Who Laughs comes the German director’s seminal 1924 anthology, Waxworks, presented in a new 2K restoration print on Blu-ray as a part of The Masters of Cinema Series.
This was Leni’s final directorial effort in Germany before he moved to Hollywood where he would helm not only The Man Who Laughs in 1928 but also The Cat and the Canary, The Chinese Parrot and The Last Warning before his premature death, aged just 44, in 1929.
Waxworks is expressionism in its purest form, featuring highly-stylised sets (all designed by Leni), chiaroscuro lighting, and stunning, early performances from future legends: William Dieterle, Emil Jannings and Conrad Veidt.
Leni’s silent (Das Wachsfigurenkabinett) centres on a writer (Dieterle) who is hired by the owner of an amusement park wax museum (John Gottowt) to pen some backstories of his key exhibits: Caliph Harun al-Rashid (Jannings), Ivan the Terrible (Veidt), and Jack the Ripper/Spring Heeled Jack (Wener Krauss). Adventure, history and horror then unfold, with the writer and the museum owner’s daughter (Olga Belajeff) also becoming characters within each ‘startling’ tale.
As there is no surviving original negative of the German print of Waxworks, this newly-restored presentation is composed of the 1926 British print from the BFI and additional film materials (all scanned in 4K and restored in 2K). It’s amazing how much effort has gone into this 2019 restoration, and the end result is truly stunning.
There are also two soundtrack options: a traditional silent movie piano score by composer Richard Siedhoff, or an avant-garde instrumental one by the Ensemble Musikfabrik (which is the one I prefer, check it out in the trailer below).
Amongst Eureka’s special features is Leni’s short films Rebus-Film Nr. 1 (1925-1926). These were animated crossword puzzles originally shown in German cinemas before the main feature. The one presented here comes with English translations, so you can try them out yourself.
BLU-RAY SPECIAL FEATURES:
- 1080p presentation on Blu-ray from a new 2K restoration, with stereo and 5.1 surround sound options
- Audio commentary with film critic Adrian Martin (this scholarly presentation is a perfect primer for students studying Weimar cinema)
- Paul Leni’s Rebus-Film Nr. 1
- In search of the original version of Paul Leni’s ‘Das Wachsfigurenkabinett’ – An informative interview with Julia Wallmüller (Il Cinema Ritrovato, Bologna 2020), who looks at the film’s production and restoration
- Kim Newman on Waxworks: The film critic and fiction writer explores the legacy of Waxworks within cinema history
- Booklet featuring new essays, notes on the restoration process, production photographs and promotional material
The Man Who Laughs | The influential silent classic starring Conrad Veidt gets a lauded 4k restoration release
From Eureka Entertainment comes 1928’s The Man Who Laughs on Blu-ray for the first time in the UK, and presented from Universal’s 4K restoration, as part of The Masters of Cinema Series.
Following the success of The Hunchback of Notre Dame (1923) and The Phantom of the Opera (1925) which turned Lon Chaney into a superstar, Universal chief Carl Laemmle decided the studio’s next Gothic film super-production would be drawn from another Victor Hugo novel, The Man Who Laughs.
Set in England in the 1680s, the story centres on a young nobleman, Gwynplaine (Conrad Veidt), whose face was mutilated into a permanent grin when he was a child by his executed father’s royal court enemies. Joining a travelling carnival as The Laughing Man, the now-adult Gwynplaine falls in love with his blind companion Dea (Mary Philbin), but his disfigurement causes him to believe he is unworthy of her love. When his royal lineage is discovered and he is granted a peerage, he must choose between marrying a duchess (Olga Baklanova) or fleeing with Dea.
When Lon Chaney became unavailable to play Gwynplaine, Laemmle brought in the ideal alternative – Conrad Veidt, who was also a master at physical performance as witnessed by his iconic turns as Cesare the somnambulist in Das Cabinet des Dr Caligari (1920) and as Ivan the Terrible in Waxworks (1924).
At the helm was German Expressionist director Paul Leni and cinematographer Gilbert Warrenton, who had scored a big hit with Cat in the Canary the previous year. Also on board was Jack Pierce, whose startling makeup on Veidt would echo through the decades – becoming the inspiration for The Joker in the 1940 Batman comic.
Tragedy, romance, and even swashbuckling swordplay all have their part to play in this incredible piece of silent cinema, which features excellent performances from Veidt (whose mannerisms are paid homage to by Joaquin Phoenix in 2019’s Joker), Philbin and Baklanova (who would go on to play another sleazy character in Tod Browning’s Freaks in 1932) and some truly astonishing imagery (especially the fantastic character faces that Leni assembles).
A silent classic that needs repeated viewings, and a great addition to Eureka’s The Masters of Cinema Series
• 1080p presentation on Blu-ray from Universal’s 4K restoration
• Uncompressed LPCM 2.0 (stereo) score by the Berklee School of Music
• Uncompressed LPCM 2.0 (mono) 1928 Movietone score
• Kim Newman on Paul Leni (informative as usual)
• The Face Detectives: video essay by David Cairns and Fiona Watson (well-researched with some arty editing – a highlight)
• Paul Leni and The Man Who Laughs – video essay by John Sioster (also well researched)
• Rare stills gallery
• Collector’s booklet featuring new writing by Travis Crawford, and Richard Combs
The Thief of Bagdad (1940) | The dazzling fantasy classic takes a magical carpet ride onto Blu-ray
Three brave hearts, adventuring in a wonder world!
Imprisoned by the wicked Grand Vizier Jaffar (Conrad Veidt), Ahmad (John Justin), the rightful king of Bagdad, befriends a young thief called Abu (Sabu). When Ahmad falls for a beautiful princess (June Duprez) and is magically blinded by Jaffar, who wants the princess for his bride, the intrepid duo embark on a series of adventures in a bid to undo the spell and save the princess.
GIGANTIC! The Wonder Picture of All Time!
A triumph of filmmaking in its day and one of Alexander Korda‘s best-loved films, this Oscar-winning Arabian fantasy is a magical, atmospheric carpet ride that still dazzles thanks to its sensational sets and flamboyant art direction. John Justin turns on the matinee idol charm as the messiah-like Ahmad, while Sabu has boundless energy as the pocket-sized action man. But it’s Conrad Veidt’s briliiant, dastardly Jaffar who set the benchmark for the ultimate panto villain. The special effects may look dated now, but they were sensational back in 1940. Six directors ended up working on the film, including Michael Powell (Peeping Tom) and William Cameron Menzies (Invaders from Mars).
DID YOU KNOW?
Alexander Korda had to finish the movie in Hollywood when war broke out in Europe following director Tim Whelan’s location shooting at Tenby Harbour and Freshwater Beach in Pembrokeshire. This was where the iconic scene of Rex Ingram’s giant Djinn coming out of his magic bottle was filmed.
THE UK BLU-RAY RELEASE
Released as part of Network’s The British Film collection, The Thief of Bagdad is presented in a HD transfer from original film elements, in its as-exhibited theatrical aspect ratio, and includes an unrestored theatrical trailer and image galleries.
The original 1924 version of The Thief of Bagdad, which was produced and starred Douglas Fairbanks, was one of the costliest films made in Hollywood during the silent era. This vintage classic is also available in a restored version on Blu-ray and DVD in the UK from Eureka! Entertainment. Part of their The Masters of Cinema Series, the release (which came out in November 2014) includes a new score by Carl Davies, audio commentary by Fairbanks biographer Jeffrey Vance, and a 40-page collectors booklet.
• A German Blu-ray of the 1940 version of The Thief of Bagdad was released back in November 2012 by Anolis Entertainment, which included audio commentary and a documentary on Sabu. There’s also an Italian-released version from 4k Studio. Criterion’s DVD release, which came out in 2008, features a host of extras, including a commentary with Francis Ford Coppola and Martin Scorsese.
Das Cabinet Des Dr Caligari (1920) | The German expressionist masterpiece is back in UK cinemas in a mesmerising 4K restoration
Now newly restored, director Robert Wiene’s classic of German expressionism is far more than a landmark of film history; to this day it remains unsettling, thought-provoking and very impressive. About – or is it? – a sinister hypnotist who sends out a somnambulist to commit a series of murders, the film is remarkable for its disturbingly unresolved ambiguities, for its highly stylised performances (Conrad Veidt’s playing of the somnambulist is especially astonishing) and for the brazenly artificial, dreamlike distortions of its painted sets. As such, it’s one of the best known and most successful experimental films ever made; its abiding power lies in its effectiveness in establishing and sustaining a mood of inescapable nightmare. This new digital restoration features a new score in the style of Giuseppe Becce, composer of the music for the film’s original release.
• A dual format (Blu-ray & DVD) edition of the film will follow on 29 September 2014 from Eureka Entertainment as part of their award-winning The Masters of Cinema Series.
Cinema Screenings (Click on the links for details)
From 29 August
London – BFI Southbank (14 days) http://bit.ly/1kZB5Vo
London – Curzon Victoria (7 days) http://bit.ly/1wuEqkL
Dublin – Irish Film Institute (7 days) http://bit.ly/1oYg0P8
Edinburgh – Filmhouse (4 days) http://bit.ly/1oYg7tX
Glasgow – GFT (3 days) http://bit.ly/1jPpJbF
Cardiff – Chapter (2 days) http://bit.ly/1wuFqoN
Bristol – Watershed (7 days) http://bit.ly/1t3dl81
Nottingham – Broadway (7 days) http://bit.ly/1oYgipa
Chichester – Chichester Cinema at New Park (1 day) http://bit.ly/1tR5MoV
From 30 August
London – The Barbican (2 days) http://bit.ly/1oaaI4m
From 31 August
Cork – Triskel Arts Centre (4 days) http://bit.ly/1rqOBGv
London – Everyman Hampstead http://bit.ly/1qWnkyQ
London – Everyman Screen on the Green http://bit.ly/1mlpP6b
Brighton – The Emporium (Bijou Electric Empire Forever) http://on.fb.me/1r3Y1se
Clevedon – Curzon Community Cinema http://bit.ly/WhlZp5
Aberystwyth – Arts Centre http://bit.ly/1nrquCR
Nottingham – Broadway (Kino Klubb) http://bit.ly/1t3eL2m
Bo’ness – Hippodrome http://bit.ly/1oHRTkM
Lancaster – The Dukes http://bit.ly/1l3fV8C
London – Rio Cinema http://bit.ly/1se7aNJ
Eastbourne – Redoubt Fortress (Filmspot) http://bit.ly/1zIEtxG
London – Prince Charles Cinema http://bit.ly/1oBqepz
Belfast – QFT http://bit.ly/1oYhhWm
Vintage Sunday Screenings across The Picturehouse Chain http://bit.ly/Whmm2P
Maidenhead – Norden Farm Centre for the Arts http://bit.ly/1so1pQE
Ilkley – The Ilkley Film Festival http://bit.ly/1oYhuZL