Der Golem (Golem, wie er in die Welt kam, Der)

(director: Paul Wegener/Carl Boese; screenwriters: Henrik Galeen/from the story by Gustav Meyrink; cinematographer: Karl Freund; music: Hans Landsberger; cast: Paul Wegener (The Golem), Albert Steinruck (Rabbi Loew), Lyda Salmonova (Miriam, the Rabbi’s Daughter), Ernst Deutsch (Famulus), Hans Sturm (Rabbi Jehuda), Otto Gebühr (Emperor Luhois), Lothar Müthel (Knight Florian); Runtime: 80; MPAA Rating: NR; producer: Paul Davidson; Grapevine Video; 1920-Germany-silent)

“This classic in horror is mainly enjoyed for its powerful visuals.”

Reviewed by Dennis Schwartz

German actor-director Paul Wegener made three films built around his obsession with the Golem, the mythical creature of Jewish mystical legend. Ironically, he was later associated with the Nazis–he made several propaganda films for Hitler’s regime. The Golem is based on a Jewish folklore story by Gustav Meyrink and was released in 1914; a sequel Der Golem und die Tänzerin came out in 1917, the first sequel in movie history. This retelling of the Golem myth is the one film which has survived of the three and has become known as a landmark of early German expressionism. It is through the striking black-and-white German expressionism photography of Karl Freund that the film displayed its unusual feel for the macabre and might be considered a precursor to the Frankenstein horror films and how horror films were to be made from now on. Freund came to Hollywood and photographed the 1931 Dracula and in 1932 directed Boris Karloff in The Mummy. This classic in horror is mainly enjoyed for its powerful visuals.

In 16th-century Prague, the most learned community leader and astrologer, the elderly Rabbi Loew (Albert Steinrück), foresees doom for the Jews according to the stars and soon the emperor passes new anti-Semitic laws. The Rabbi with the help of his assistant Famulus brings to life a giant monster statue made from clay, called the Golem. He brings it upon invitation to the emperor’s castle court to show off his magical tricks, and after being disrespected by the laughing Christian guests the Rabbi threatens to have the monster kill them all by bringing down the building the Golem’s holding up unless the emperor rescinds the Jewish persecution edict. The Golem is played by Paul Wegener with much animation.

The subplot involves a forbidden romance by the rabbi’s beautiful young Jewess daughter Miriam (Lyda Salmonova, Wegener’s own wife) and the cocky Christian courier of the emperor Knight Florian. The jealous Famulus brings back the misunderstood monster to take care of his rival, but the monster doesn’t stop with tossing the Knight off a tower, but drags Miriam away with him and burns down Rabbi Loew’s house and goes on a rampage in the ghetto.

The monster is spotted outside the gates of the ghetto by a group of blonde Aryan looking girls, who befriend him and rip the Star of David off his chest and leave it on the street as the Jewish men from the ghetto come to retrieve the Golem. Wegener’s film closes with the image of the Star of David.

REVIEWED ON 12/16/2003 GRADE: B +