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Tuesday, September 25, 2012

DIE AUGEN DER MUMIE MA / THE EYES OF THE MUMMY MA (1918)

This German silent, the first (and least) of four collaborations between Ernst Lubitsch & Pola Negri is newly available in reasonable shape, along with three non-Lubitsch titles in POLA NEGRI: THE ICONIC COLLECTION from Bright Shining City. The first two titles, THE POLISH DANCER/’17, made shortly before, and THE DEVIL’S PAWN/’18 (aka THE YELLOW TICKET) made soon after, are mainly of interest for the light they shed in comparison to the remarkably advanced technique Lubitsch shows with dynamic composition, editing within scenes and aptly varied shot distance for psychological impact. All the more striking since Lubitsch really didn’t hit his cinematic stride till ANNA BOLEYN in 1920. And the stories? DANCER has Pola running away from her restrictive parents, using a lover or two on her way to dance stardom, then falling for a married man. (We’re not far off from ZAZA/’10; ‘13; ‘15; ‘23; ‘38; ‘44.) YELLOW TICKET sounds more interesting with Pola as a Jewess who goes to study in St. Peterburg after her father dies. There, anti-Semitic attitudes stop both her promising career & a romance till she discovers her true (non-Jewish) parentage. (Dickens would have blushed at the coincidences . . . and at the cop-out.) EYES OF THE MUMMY MA is equally silly. Pola is cruelly used by her master (a nearly trim Emil Jannings) to run a con in an ancient Egyptian Temple. But when she’s rescued by a brave & kindly German scholar, Jannings vows revenge, following her trail all the way to Berlin! Jannings, Negri & Lubitsch would all quickly top their work here, in scope & sophistication, but the historical interest is compelling.

DOUBLE-BILL: Lubitsch would soon deliver the Egyptian epic this title only promises with THE LOVES OF PHARAOH/’22, his final German production before being called to Hollywood by Mary Pickford.

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