THE GOLEM: HOW HE CAME INTO THE WORLD or DER GOLEM, WIE ER IN DIE WELT KAM. (1920) DIRECTED BY PAUL WEGENER. WRITTEN BY PAUL WEGENER AND HENRIK GALEEN. CINEMATOGRAPHY BY KARL FREUND AND GUIDO SEEBER. COUNTRY: WEIMAR REPUBLIC.
STARRING PAUL WEGENER, ALBERT STEINRÜCK, ERNST DEUTSCH, LOTHAR MÜTHEL, LYDA SALMONOVA AND LONI NEST. REVIEW BY SANDRA HARRIS. ©
This magnificent classic of German Expressionist Cinema, based apparently on an old Jewish folk-tale from the sixteenth century, has a 100% rating on film review aggregator Rotten Tomatoes and is so old that its country of origin doesn’t even exist any more.
The now defunct Weimar Republic was also home to that other marvel of German Expressionist Cinema, THE CABINET OF DR. CALIGARI, and it lives now only in the history books. I find that fact endlessly fascinating. Talk about shrouding a movie in the mysterious mists of time…!
It’s a strange enough story, too. It’s about an olde-timey Rabbi who creates a monster out of clay to protect the endangered Jews and then the monster runs amok, as monsters tend to do, and the townspeople end up needing protection from it. I surely hope that the irony isn’t lost on them…
The Rabbi is called Loew. He resides in a Jewish ghetto in medieval Prague, the ghetto sets having been designed by an actual architect and positively astonishing to behold. One day this Rabbi Loew predicts disaster for his people in the stars, and sure enough the next day the Jews are all ordered to leave the city forever by order of the Holy Roman Emperor.
This decree is hand-delivered by the Knight Florian, as gay a chap as you’ll ever meet with a spring in his step and a jaunty flower in his cap, who promptly falls in love with Rabbi Loew’s daughter Miriam. She’s a real silent movie beauty played by Lyda Salmonova, and Knight Florian is by no means the only man around who wants to wuther her heights, as it were.
Rabbi Loew’s assistant, who’s never named as far as I know, is also warm for Miriam’s form. But for sheer style, panache and vigour and vim (Vim? Wtf?), Knight Florian wins out every time over the rather drab but attractive assistant whom Miriam’s probably used to seeing every day by now. There’s a love triangle developing there that’ll bear keeping an eye on.
Meanwhile, however, the good Rabbi is bringing to life his extraordinary creation, The Golem, and sending it down the road to the olde-timey equivalent of Tesco to get the bread and milk. I kid you not, he actually uses the towering and imposing creature as a servant for a bit, before bringing him to the Emperor’s palace to perform his real party piece.
The downside to creating a monster, however, is that occasionally, they turn on their creators. ‘You can’t create a monster,’ says Lisa Simpson in that very funny episode of THE SIMPSONS about ‘the all-new, improved KIDZ NEWZ,’ ‘and then whine when he stomps on a few buildings.’
Indeed you cannot, Lil’ Lisa Slurry. The Golem doesn’t have any buildings in mind for stomping on, as such, but there’s one local lady who’s going to find her Rapunzel plaits being used for a purpose she surely never intended…
Speaking of THE SIMPSONS, there’s an hilarious TREEHOUSE OF HORROR episode in which Bart uses a Golem to do his bidding by posting scrolls into its mouth. At the end of the episode, a female Golem is created to keep the male one company, but he’s none too happy as his mate for life is voiced by the annoying Fran Drescher from sitcom THE NANNY. OH. MY. GAAAAAAWD…!
The Golem was one of the cinema’s earliest monsters, but I’ve never seen him as an evil creature. I actually quite like his reassuringly solid build and impassive features. The scene where he’s being gentle and docile with the little girl from the town is eerily reminiscent of the one from Universal’s FRANKENSTEIN over a decade later, where the monster created in the scientist’s laboratory meets an innocent young chum playing by the lakeside.
You know what else is eerily prophetic? The banishment of the Jews from the city totally brings to mind what happened to the Jews in real life as little as thirteen years later or even less. In 1933, Hitler and the Nazi Party came to power and the Jews were hunted and hounded into ghettos like the one in Warsaw, before being ultimately routed out of the ghettos once again and put on trains for their so-called ‘re-settlement in the East.’
We know now, of course, that that was only a euphemism for ‘the Final Solution’ to ‘the Jewish Question,’ or transportation to the death camps. It’s hard not to think about all that when the film ends on a shot of a glowing Star of David.
This silent horror film will just blow you away, with its amazingly intricate sets and the sheer aura of decades-old magic in every frame. It’s as mystical and awe-inspiring as its contemporary, THE CABINET OF DR. CALIGARI, and if you haven’t seen it yet you should make it your business to. It’s the bees’ knees and no foolin.’
AUTHOR BIOGRAPHY OF SANDRA HARRIS.
Sandra Harris is a Dublin-based novelist, film blogger and movie reviewer. She has studied Creative Writing and Film-Making. She has published a number of e-books on the following topics: horror film reviews, multi-genre film reviews, womens’ fiction, erotic fiction, erotic horror fiction and erotic poetry. Several new books are currently in the pipeline. You can browse or buy any of Sandra’s books by following the link below straight to her Amazon Author Page:
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